iPads in Education: Bandwagon vs. Purposeful Integration

Photo credit: 138-Who's iPad is it? Holtsman, http://www.flickr.com/photos/holtsman/4620019487/

So on a discussion list, a question was posed about whether or not it would be worth it to buy iPads for students. The discussion online was heavy on the hardware, light on the pedagogy, and hardly a mention of student learning. There were some who always buy what Apple releases, others on the PC bandwagon with netbooks. Interspersed were a couple comments about the disruptive nature of technology for teachers and the challenges it presented (disruptive in the sense of having to redo lesson plans, not disruptive in the sense of thinking or challenging pedagogical practice). There was little discussion about STUDENT learning. So I though I would throw my two cents into the conversation and try to ask some thoughtful questions with the learner in mind.

Choosing to use an iPad, or any other selected technology tools and platforms, comes down to the learning opportunity it provides for the student. Before buying any hardware or software, the bigger questions for me are:
What is/are the desired outcome(s)? What do we want students to know and be able to do? And how do we want the students to show what they know, understand, and can apply?

Any hardware or software will potentially impact a teacher’s professional practice, as well as students’ learning.

Any hardware or software can be used for purposeful, insightful learning experiences, or, conversely, for useless, superfluous activity. I’ve seen interactive whiteboards turned into amazing learning environments as well as simply used as an electronic blackboard, simply recording what the teacher writes. The power of any tool, high tech or low tech, is in the opportunities it affords.

So thinking about the iPad specifically, questions I would ask off the top of my head are:
1. What are the students going to be able to access and how will that help the students learn?
2. What are the students going to create and how will that help the students learn and let others know that they know it? (formative and summative assessment)?
3. What can students create vs. simply be passive consumers with this device?
4. How does this device empower students?
5. What kind of training will I provide for teachers, students, and parents around the technical and application aspects of the device?
6. What are the licensing ramifications?
7. What is the expected life expectancy of the device?
8. What rights and permissions are needed in order for the device to be truly useful to students? (And I lean more toward a positive critical tech literacy approach vs locking down networks and devices)
9. If working with younger students, what are my responsibilities toward those younger students with regard to the law and protecting them?
10. What kind of ongoing training and support will I have in place for this new initiative?
11. How will I share the trials, tribulations, and success?
12. Does the student save locally, on the network? Is the device the individual student’s device or part of a class set that stays with the class? Even this question has huge ramifications of access and ownership.

For me, at the moment, the iPad appears to be a device that allows the consuming of media and information, and does not necessarily facilitate the easy creation of products and content (a test would be how easy the device is to use in various Web 2.0 publishing environments where students can now create content, as well as putting some of the other standard apps to a user test). Flash and Java are still common in Web 2.0 authoring environments. I am sure as more apps are released the device will hold greater potential for K-12, but in its current state, I don’t think the return on investment will merit the purchase.

Yes, the iPad may change the way we consume media, data and information – it will become transformative when it can become equally as powerful in creating with media, data and information.

Other questions come to mind? Are you using iPads with students? What do you think?

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