Saturday, June 21, 2014

iPads In The Classroom: The Right Questions You Should Ask

This article first appeared on Edudemic in May 2013.

Arguably, the iPad can be a great classroom tool. However, lately there have been concerns about Apple’s tablet and its current role in the classroom. For instance, many have suggested that some of our schools are making the iPad the center of classrooms instead of remembering that students must be at the center of the classroom. Inevitably, this raises questions about the future of the iPad in the classroom.
Does the iPad foster or hinder creativity? Is it a comprehensive tool or just a mere distraction? Do we use the iPad just because it makes our classroom look cool? Are we missing the forest for the trees here?

The iPad On A Pedestal?
Some of the people who write about using iPads in the classroom, including some leading and influential people in the field of educational technology, are trying to inform educators, researchers, and stakeholders about the worrisome possibility of putting the iPad on a pedestal, so to speak, by focusing too much on logistics and creating an “iPad-centric” classroom environment.
One might argue that these concerns are quite real. There are countless examples of teachers structuring their classrooms and their lesson plans with the iPad in mind, instead of the students in mind. Too often we, educators, forget that our main responsibility, mission, and commitment should be to provide the necessary tools the students need in order to blossom their creativity and reach their full human potential. Instead, we frequently linger towards technology or the iPad not as the means to an end, but as our main objective, failing to remember that the iPad is not why we get up in the morning feeling excited that we are going to school.
The truth is that that no device can match the value of human interaction with real life situations or with other human beings. The iPad can be a tool of immense value in the classroom. However, it should remain just that: a tool that complements instruction, and offers learning opportunities for situations and learning concepts that are impossible to be accessed, observed, or analyzed in a classroom setting without the assistance of technology.

The “How” vs “Why” Of iPads In The Classroom
One of the arguments that keeps resurfacing in the discussions surrounding the iPad in the classroom is the idea that if the iPad complicates things in the classroom, we have to move away from the question “how to use an iPad in the classroom?” and think more in terms of “why to use the iPad in the classroom?”. This is a logical argument because moving from “how” to “why” suggests maturity. That is because if one manages to move past the “how” question, then he/she can begin planning meaningful integration. I remember when my school decided to implement a 1:1 iPad program, we were all about “apps, apps, and more apps”. Later, as our understanding of the potential role of the iPad in the classroom evolved, we witnessed our thirst for new and more efficient apps die down, and our curiosity for other, more meaningful ways of using the iPad in the classroom increased.
We, like so many other educators, progressed from “searching for the perfect apps” to realizing that the iPad is a tool that can provide unique pedagogical practices in our student-centered classroom. As our questions about the iPad evolved, so did our vision about our classrooms and the role of the iPad in helping our teachers create a classroom environment that fosters innovation and creativity. Which brings me to my final point. Maybe asking “why”, and “how”, is not a bad thing after all.
Even more importantly, we may HAVE to ask the “why” and the “how” questions first. Perhaps “how” and “why” are to be perceived as necessary steps we have to take as we go through the developmental stages of our classroom technological evolution and our understanding of the iPad as a classroom tool. If that’s true, then this is good news. Given the fact that the iPad is only 3 years old, and its classroom integration timeframe even shorter than that, one can safely assume that it is still in its infant stage, which can mean only one thing: the idea of the “iPad in the classroom” right now seems to have a great life expectancy. Therefore, the future of the iPad seems bright.
However, it is up to us, educators, to find the best ways to exploit the bright future of the iPad in order to create an even brighter future for our students.

What do you think? Is the iPad a revolutionary agent of change in education, or just a distraction?

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