Adventures with iPads: Three Questions

Graphic from IDSGN: A Desgin Blog

Graphic from IDSGN: A Design Blog

After using an iPad for the past month, I can say I like it for my personal use. All of the apps that keep me organized, entertained and enlightened are on there: Notes, Kindle, Pulse, Weather Channel, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Instead of lugging a laptop bag to each class, I’m travelling lighter these days with just an iPad and a folder or two. I can see why students prefer iPads over laptops and certainly over those gigantic literary anthologies.

Because this iPad came into my world relatively late in the school year, I’m not really using it directly in class yet. The vast majority of my students do not have iPads, so I’m just kind of getting used to it and thinking about how best to use it next year when many more of our students—but perhaps not all—will come to class equipped with an iPad.

My questions and concerns boil down to three questions:
1. Is an iPad the best device, or is it the most obvious way to settle on a device?
2. Does using an iPad enhance student writing?
3. Does using an iPad enhance learning?

Is iPad the best device, or is it just the most obvious way to settle on a device? The starting point for this question is whether or not a school has an obligation to provide technology for its students. Why not simply require that students bring some kind of “smart” device to school? In a perfect world, that might be the best approach, but our world is far from perfect. Some students simply don’t have the means to possess a personal device like this.

So, if we want students to use personal technology for instructional purposes but can’t presume that all students can provide their own devices, we need to accept the responsibility for providing the technology. But why iPad? Why not some other device?

iPads have a decent price point, and their size is student-friendly. No more spinal curvature problems from hoisting eighty-pound backpacks. But if price was no object, would we still choose iPads? I’m not so sure. Laptops are a little bigger but quite a bit more powerful. Would smaller notebook-style laptops provide more oomph than the app-based iPad?

If we’re choosing iPads because they are the best instructional format, that’s great. If we’re choosing them because they are the most affordable and best fit for student lifestyles, that’s maybe fine too, but we should always keep an eye on the ideal while recognizing when we’re choosing to settle for something less than ideal.

Does using an iPad enhance student writing? I won’t be 100% sold on iPads until I see that they help students become better writers. As I said in a previous post about iPads, I’m not comfortable typing on it, even with an external keyboard. Maybe I’ll get used to it, but my own preferences matter far less than what students experience while writing. If students are uncomfortable, will they write less? Maybe students are less finicky than I am about how the keyboard is supposed to feel. Before the school year ends, I’d like to observe a class of experienced student iPad users as they write.

Will using an iPad make students better writers than they already are? I have my doubts about that, but I definitely don’t want to see students go backwards as writers because of the device they are using. I can see how iPads can help students think in new, interesting ways, and that might have a heuristic effect on how students approach writing. I can also see how iPads can help students produce writing with more digital components. But are the physical acts of manipulating and negotiating the keyboard as much of a hindrance for students as they seem to be for me?

Does using an iPad enhance learning? Aside from writing, I can see many exciting possibilities coming into focus when all students have an iPad.

Our school’s tech director recently shared a graphic showing the SAMR model:

samr

I can easily see how my classes will quickly move to the Modification stage of the Transformation level if everyone has an iPad. To a certain extent that has already happened because I use tech-oriented assignments that I expect students to complete outside of class. My students frequently amaze me with the ways they complete these open-ended assignments. In the future, as they work together with homogenous devices, I can only imagine what that intellectual synergy will produce as they move to the Redefinition stage.

My schedule and teaching assignments for next year are still undetermined. I do not know what classes I will teach in my final year at our school, and I may not know until after school starts next fall what percentage of students in any given class will be issued iPads. (It’s very possible that I’ll be a teacher with an iPad in classes where only a minority of the students has them.) Depending on how that plays out, I may find myself using an iPad to design instruction in new ways but see it presented to students in more traditional ways that are not dependent on personal devices.

On the other hand, if I have a class or classes where 100% of the students have iPads, let the flipping commence! If those classes materialize, we will see learning take off in exciting, dynamic ways.

What am I missing? Am I concerned about the right issues? What can I do to prepare for classes that may (or may not) be iPad-based next year?

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6 Responses to Adventures with iPads: Three Questions

  1. Glenda Funk says:

    Question: Is using a device from the past synonymous w/ “going backwards”? I’m not convinced we’ve seen improved writing since students moved from the typewriter to the computer, although I believe it’s possible.

    Also, have you see the latest issue of “The Atlantic”? There’s an article I think you’d find interesting. Here’s the link: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/04/goodbye_mr_conti_a_westhill_hi.html

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    • I think the process of writing became more efficient and dynamic in the move from typewriter to computer because revision became so much easier. The new devices make it easier to incorporate digital elements other than text. Does that mean moving away from text? I hope not. As a text-based life form, I put words above other elements, so I’m not sure if the emergence of other digital components represents a move forward or a move backward. It’s probably a forward movement as long as we don’t get dazzled by all the bright, shiny objects.

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  2. From a managerial perspective, Apple products require significant investments in time, training and resources to keep them all tidy. I’m actually surprised at the move, since the Windows tablets are much more (IT) administrator friendly. An Apple consumer fan myself, I’m becoming warmer to Microsoft’s Surface or others. Our district stopped supporting Apple products… period. To split the organization was becoming too resource-intensive. Plus, it required multi-licensing of software, whereas Microsoft tablets can use the same software that the district has already purchased and is already using. There are a lot of seen and unforeseen costs with this kind of initiative. And it doesn’t end with the hardware purchase.

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    • Thanks, Adam. That’s an interesting perspective. I wonder if the future will have students (and their families) being responsible for providing the device and maintaining its hardware.

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  3. I’m with you on the question about writing. iPads (or any tablet for that matter) are way more convenient to carry around, and I love the iPad for that. But I’m not sitting here writing this post on my iPad. I love my laptop for writing. I’m not happy with how cumbersome it is, but hey, it’s school issued, and I appreciate getting to use it for free. It’s interesting what Adam says about licensing and how the Microsoft tablets seem to work better in a group setting. I’ve heard from other schools that use iPads that it takes a LOT of organization to maintain them in large numbers for classroom use. Hope our pilot teachers get a chance to report out to the department sometime before the end of the year. And it’s super cool that in your last year teaching you are doing something so exciting and innovative. Doesn’t surprise me.

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