There is much enthusiatic, almost evangelistic, hype surrounding tablets in classrooms that it can be hard to see the wood from the trees. In the last week two articles have surfaced asking the question about the validity of tablets in classrooms. One asks how much are iPads really helping
in the classroom and the other simply states that a worksheet is still a worksheet
even if it has been digitised. One vlogger has even gone to the lengths of advising against purchasing iPads
becuase they are a waste of money.
There is a lot in each of these sources that should encourage us to pause and reflect. I have been working with schools over the last 18 months who have been slowly integrating iPads and other tablets into their classrooms. And almost uniformly I see the following pattern. Teachers are initially very excited about this new tool, they rush off and install hundreds of free apps and play. They marvel, they enthuse, they share. The hype that surrounds the iPad in particular imbues it with almost mystical powers. Spoiler alert,
- it is not mystical, it is not education's panacea, it is a tool. And like any tool, used well it far exceeds its promise, used poorly then it grossly under-performs. And this is where the natural attrition happens. Many teachers are looking for a silver bullet to solve their elearning integration issues and hope that merely having an iPad with a plethora of carefully chosen education apps arrayed in curriculum folders will provide the solution. And this is where the comments from Tom Whitby's post come in. Teachers do not get the expected bang from their iPad when they simply digitise their existing practice, a worksheet is still a worksheet.
Where the magic happens is when a teacher adapts their classroom pedagogy to integrate the collaboration, the problem solving, the publishing that the apps can enable.
When working with staff I encourage them to audit their apps into four categories and then place them into folders marked with the appropriate category:
Enrichment - practice tasks
Publishing - tools that allow them to share learning quickly, often getting stuff off the iPad is the issue
Collaboration - apps that enable students to work together in cyberspace
Problem Solving - speaks for itself
On the face of it enrichment apps can be seen as digitised existing practice and it is tempting to label these as bad or irrelevant. But once the staff have sorted their apps they have a very visual audit of their apps and the vast majority of them are indeed enrichment. The question I then ask them is "If a child is using a particular app, how do you know what they have done? What formative assessment information has that activity provided to you?" Often what is educationally a good app, is also very poor at enabling information to be stored or shared, especially the free ones. Without this kind of feedback, to the casual observer a child working on an iPad could simply be seen as doing busy work. Which is why I the encourage teachers to review their apps using the following series of questions:
Once teachers start to ask these kind of questions about their apps, I then show them how to "layer" apps together to enable them to get the information they want, to enable students to publish their learning quickly and independently. At the heart of this is good planning. A teacher needs to know what learning intentions an app or a suite of apps can facilitate and plan accordingly. What tablets offer in the classroom is immediacy and mobility. What the teacher needs to bring to this immediacy is creativity, good classroom management and planning backed by a robust assessment strategy.
Computers in education have promised a new dawn for learning for over a generation. For a long time much of that promise was in the too hard basket for all but a die hard bunch of techie teachers. With convergence of technologies, interoperability and now mobility, tablets really do offer that new dawn in an easily accessible and intuitively interfaced package. But and there is a but, there needs to be a shift in teacher pedagogy backed by revised classroom management strategies and excellent planning and assessment strategies to realise this dawn. Where teachers have made this shift, then the breathless accolades for iPads maybe warranted, but at the heart of that impact is a talented teacher who has seen the potential this tool offers to learning and they have adapted, they have assimilated and are succeeding.