iPads In The Classroom – Year in review

Well the year has come to a close and I guess it is time to start reflecting on how things went with our little iPads in the classroom pilot. If you have been reading my blog, you are well aware that things have not been perfect but I am comfortable in saying that more good came of it then bad. Both teachers and students managed to learn a few things from this experience and we will be able to move forward and improve on how we teach and learn using digital devices.

In addition to what was going on in my iPad classroom, I also was able to experiment at home with my child. Up until this year she hasn’t really had very much access to digital technology for work or play, at least on the home front. This gave me the opportunity to work with a kid who was pretty close to a base line of digital exposure and allowed me to really control how the iPad was used for an educational purpose.

The most important lessons I learned this year however, have nothing to do with the iPad. These lessons were beyond the utilitarian business of learning and teaching with a digital device. Sure I learned what  apps work best or how best to demonstrate learning using the iPad but what this year REALLY solidified for me was that all digital all the time is not necessarily good, appropriate, best practice or even needed.

After this year, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that we need to teach our kids to be competent in the real world before immersing them in a digital one. Again this might seem like common sense BUT if you are a casual onlooker, you could not be blamed for thinking that all digital, all the time, is all good.

So without further adieu, here is a short but long-winded list of things I have come to believe after this years iPads in the Classroom project.

There is no replacement for good old-fashioned reading and writing skills. Although I am sure that I’m stating the obvious here, people seem to always forget or perhaps hope that technology can compensate for weaknesses in basic academic skills. Unfortunately, those who are hoping that the iPad can do that miraculous task, will be sorely disappointed. What digital technology seems to be able to do best, is amplify good academic skills. Kids who have strong foundational skills are able to use technology to leverage their abilities and push themselves even further ahead of their peers who have weak or average academic skills. I saw this both at home and in the classroom and I am certain this will probably continue to be the case for many generations to come.

Pen & Paper are still useful learning tools. I know this is akin to the point above but this is more about the process of creating digital content. During the school year, I quickly discovered that simply turning kids loose to work in a digital environment, is a hit and miss endeavor. This was especially true with my own 13-year-old daughter. It seemed that their ability to organize their thoughts and do a thorough job of the work at hand, suffered in a purely digital environment.  Quality of work was instantly improved when I required my students and my daughter to begin their work with a pencil and paper first. I would seem that, brain storming and outlining on paper first, especially in group situations,  was a far better way of organizing your work.

Now whether working in a purely digital environment is just a “new” skill that needs to be learned or whether pen & paper is simply superior for some tasks, I am not sure but time will certainly tell. For now, I will be requiring both my students and my own children to produce at least some of their work with pen and paper as part of a comprehensive learning process.

Self Regulation is this years pedagogical catch phrase. Everywhere you turn someone is using it. You see it in blog posts, hear it in staff meetings, on news reports… As much as I like the science behind it, the term has already become tiresome. If you run in education circles, it is one of those words you could use for a drinking game at one of those crazy off the hook teacher parties. Every time someone uses “self-regulation” in conversation, you take a shot of Petrone.

Although I jest, when it comes to digital devices, the ability to self regulate is absolutely imperative when it comes to classroom success. Students HAVE to be able too put down their device and direct their attention to something other than what is on their device screen. This could be during a group discussion, direct instruction, a presentation or just for a 10 second question and answer session.

Again it seems like common sense but as we all know, sense in not all that common. Everyone needs to learn to self regulate when it comes to their digital addictions. Of course there are examples of this everywhere. Texting while driving  is a perfect example of a lack of self-regulation . We need to be able to detach from the device to attend to real world situations when the needed. While texting and driving distracts you from doing the important task of driving safely, digital distraction in the classroom causes the learner to miss the opportunity to participate in their learning environment.

This leads to my next point and what people really seem to struggle with.

A new culture of learning needs to evolve in our schools, which accounts for the presence of digital devices in the classroom. One where students, parents and teachers recognize and respect that there is a time and a place for the use of digital tools. As I started formulating this post, I found a great blog post by Lisa Velmer Nielsen who suggests that all schools need to establish a Social media or BYOD policy. Although I agree with what Nielson has to say, I would argue we need to get beyond the notion of “policy”  and toward a universally accepted understanding around appropriate use of digital devices. It is most commonly referred to as being a good digital citizen but the question is how do we accomplish this? Currently the device seems to control the person rather than the person controlling the device and we need to flip this relationship between user and device.

It is easy to simply slide into creating a list of  thou shall not’s but the goal here is not to create a book of punitive measures for those who break the rules. We need to figure out how to create a culture, where everyone knows when to be immersed in the real world and when it is ok to slip into the digital one.

Access to information does not an education make. Again this is not rocket science but a far to common rationalization for not bothering to “learn the material” or “understand a concept” is that the answer is immediately available on your digital device. If you can Search it… why remember or understand it?

This past week, I saw a reprint of a blog post by Larry Cuban in the Washington Post  The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educatedIt takes my original thoughts far beyond what I intended and is well worth the read.

Regardless of who is saying it… The simple message is that WE MUST NOT equate easy access to information, with learning or becoming educated.

Finally, I realize that this post isn’t what some people were hoping for and I apologize for not writing a RahRah SisBoomBa feel good post about the iPad but everyone already knows that the iPad is cool and holds incredible potential as a learning tool. I feel what we need more than anything else is to hear the voice of the common old, run of the mill teacher, slogging it out in the trenches trying to make technology work in the classroom.

At some point, I will post something in the next couple of weeks about all the AMAZING and FANTASTIC things I did in the classroom with the iPad but for now, I leave you with these bigger observations, which are perhaps more important than the  nuts and bolts of using iPads in the classroom.

Happy Summer all!


  1. Sheila Stewart

    I appreciate what you have shared about your experiences, Keith. This part has left me thinking a lot,

    “What digital technology seems to be able to do best, is amplify good academic skills. Kids who have strong foundational skills are able to use technology to leverage their abilities and push themselves even further ahead of their peers who have weak or average academic skills. I saw this both at home and in the classroom and I am certain this will probably continue to be the case for many generations to come.”

    I look forward to further follow ups!

    1. Post

      As always Sheila, thanks for the comment. I am glad to make you think.

      When I write my posts I always worry that I am perceived as the Eeyore of the #edtech world but I just think there is too much Rah Rah! going on and not enough sober reflection.

      Tech is great and I use it always but we cannot in all good conscience advocate its use without being critical in its use.

      1. EdTechSandyK

        You are not an Eeyore! You are realistic and write from your front-line experience. Many of the most-read “experts” on edtech, iPads, and mobile devices in education are no longer in the classroom. We need voices of classroom teachers to help maintain a balance. Thank you for being one of those voices!

        1. Post

          Ya but “educational Eeyore” has such a nice ring to it don’t ya think? Thanks for your comment. I fully intend to be a positive naysayer for the foreseeable future.

  2. Brian Kuhn

    Good to see some honest reflection. I am at ISTE 2012 right now and attended a workshop today on iPad use in the classroom. A light bulb went off for me in how useful they are for creating learning. Using QR codes, photos, stop motion, claymation, video editing, book creation for multimedia reports, presentations, cartoon digital stories, etc and how each tool supports such diverse learning, ways to demonstrate it, create digital products that embody learning, etc. the challenges though are there for teachers to understand the possibilities, allow students freedom, incorporating project based learning, and technical where to store all this stuff, how to make it accessible to parents, privacy issues, etc.

    But, I’m excite by the possibilities 😊

    1. Post

      Brian, I totally agree with your feeling of excitement toward technology in education. The possibilities are endless, I wish I just had the time to play and try stuff out with kids.

      Imagine if we could take a group of kids and tech crazed teachers and let them loose for a year. Make Curriculum secondary to finding ways to teach, learn and demonstrate learning using current technology.

      In many ways, this is what we hoped would become of our little iPad cohort this year but as always, we unfortunately had to become a slave to the curriculum and get the content crammed down the kids throats.

      technology quickly takes a back seat to the curriculum and so we continue to limp along.

  3. Dualla NS


    You summarised things well here. We introduced iPod touches to our senior classess this year. They worked well.

    We will probably invest in some iPads this year as you can potentially have 2 people using an iPad at the same time.

    When used sensibly iPads/iPod touches can be a great support to the curriculum and indeed, your teaching. We focused mainly on Literacy & Numeracy Apps & also on getting the children to self assess.

    The iPod should never become the teacher. It can however enhance a lesson and on occasion, one’s teaching.

Leave a Reply to EdTechSandyK Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *