Dec 152011

A student asked me last week if I was going to “do the iPad thing next year” and strangely I said yes without hesitation. You would think after all the frustrations I have had and all the bellyaching I have done over this little digital device, I would have at least gave him a five second “ummmmmm” before I answered.

When I think about it though, it is a no brainer. I have been given the opportunity by the powers that be, to break new ground in the brave new world of education. Plus, I love technology! God forbid a solar flare should knock out all electronics on earth, I would be doomed both in and out of the classroom. Whether this kind of digital dependence is a good thing for me or my students is another story but I digress…

As much as I would love to say that the iPad experience has been GREAT! So far it has been a mixed bag and to be brutally honest, I would have to say that everything that didn’t work, was all the kid’s fault!

Kidding! The collective gasp of horror by my superiors reading that, is almost audible. I am going to pay for that one tomorrow 😉

We did do a number of good things this term and I will share at some point, I promise but it seems that people want to know about our difficulties so they can steer clear of them or fix them. The positives are there and we are building on them, we just need to clear the playing field of the pedagogical land mines first so more people can come and play.

With all that said, in keeping with the pointing out the negatives theme, here are my 3 biggest issues up until Christmas Break.

Me – I have to take some heat for this but then again, I am not sure that blame need be assigned but teaching strategies might need to be retooled.

As with any course, there is curriculum you need to plough through and every kid needs to have equal and measured access to it. This term the content I was doling out simply did not lend itself too much creativity, collaboration or individualized learning. The only difference between the iPad version of the course and my regular class is the way the information is dispensed, processed and ultimately presented.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and we actually learned something from it:

  1. Traditional curriculum is no more engaging coming off an iPad, then is out of a book, handout or other traditional delivery method.
  2. When you have to plough through material which does not lend itself to individuality, the iPad is not necessarily the way to go.
  3. For cranking out work, a laptop is a far superior tool.

Now with all this said, after Christmas break, things are going to change as the curriculum lends itself to some very cool possibilities from this point on. I am looking forward to turning the kids loose on a project where they will be creating 15 minute documentaries on health and or social issues relating to teens, using only the iPad. There are just so many fantastic things that could come of this and I am really quite excited about it. Alternatively, it could be a complete unmitigated disaster but I am shooting for the fantastic option so stay tuned.

The iPad – Regardless of what Apple would have you believe, the iPad is not the end all and be all of learning tools.

It is my opinion that before the iPad can be considered education’s panacea, Apple needs to step up and address some of the functionality issues that I have discussed in previous posts. Whether they do or not, is anyone’s guess but as long as they continue to take the position of “the iPad way or the highway” then there will continue to be problems around functionality in the classroom.

At this very moment, (as I type the blog post on my PC) if I had to buy an Apple product for my child, I would choose the Macbook air. If I had to buy a tablet, I think it would be an Android device rather than an iPad. The reason being is that the file systems of both the Macbook and an Android tablet are not locked up like the iPad, giving you far greater freedom in how you use the device.

At the moment the iPad’s primary purpose is for dispensing media and it will remain as such until they give users access to the file system

The kids – Yes the kids have to take some of the heat too but I will be kind.

The intent of this little pilot was to see if the iPad would be a tool that engaged kids, made assignment completion easier and ultimately improved learning. What we were hoping for (but all knew better) was that the iPad alone would somehow be so engaging that no matter what we did, learning would take place. Now a little of that has been happening but not enough of it for us to jump up and yell “IT WORKED!”.

What we have discovered is that the ability of a student to self regulate, is imperative in order for the iPad to be a useful learning tool in a classroom. Kids need to be able to put the device down when the learning situation calls for their attention elsewhere. Kids need to be able to stay on task and not compulsively default to game play or other non productive activities when the teacher is not watching.

Certainly, the teacher needs to create a classroom environment where these things are expected but ultimately, the kids who can self regulate will thrive in an iPad classroom and those who cannot, will have greater difficulty succeeding without constant teacher intervention.

I am sure most of this will all be ironed out as we move along. In time we will develop best practice around using these tools K to 12 but it wont happen over night. When you think about it, we are creating a new academic culture that will define the classroom etiquette by which kids conduct themselves in Twenty First Century learning environment. There is still some heavy lifting to do but we will get there.

So, as I settle in for a long winters nap and visions of sugar plumbs dance in my head. I think all of us who are involved in the iPad cohort can settle in for a great Christmas break knowing that we did good. Sure there is a TON of work ahead but it will be fun. I liken it to getting first tracks on the ski hill. You look down the slope and it is all yours to do with what you will and you just know it will be a great run.