A recent New York Times article, “Math That Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad,” discusses how schools are purchasing iPads for their students and how they are being used. It’s like the writer took the words right out of my mouth–mobile devices can be more effectively used when owned by the students. The iPad and its smaller counterpart, the iPod Touch, are great computers, but really are designed to be personal, on-demand learning devices.
The article touches on ways the devices are used in the classroom and why they are such powerful learning and teaching tools. However, I think the writer missed two critical reasons why the inclusion of these tools can be so powerful–to (1) reduce issues of digital inequality and (2) support 21st century learning challenges.
Students who are fortunate enough to go to private or public schools in upper-middle class districts usually have access to technologies other students can only imagine. These students know how to use various technologies, how to search and analyze online resources, and how to compete in a digital world. But there are many, many students who have never even seen an iPad or iPod Touch, much less know how to use them.
I was delighted to read in this article that 300 students at Kingsbridge International High School in the Bronx, a school with 83% Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, 92% eligibility for free or reduced lunch program, and 80% limited English proficiency, will be receiving iPads. These students are the ones we really need to focus on. Not only should they learn how to use these tools, but how to use them in complex ways to advance and succeed in a competitive and expanding digital world.
The iPad and iPod can replace textbooks, but this is just the iceberg tip of what they can do for teaching and learning.
The hands-on features of both devices can facilitate use over a larger segment of the student population, their small size and mobility can enable them to be used anytime, anywhere, encouraging informal as well as formal learning, and their collaborative features can engage a community of learners, helping them share ideas, experiences, and multimedia that surpasses previous personal computing technologies. Through using these devices both inside and outside the classroom, students and teachers can experience learning in new ways–by analyzing knowledge, visualizing data, and sharing information through personal learning networks and social streams.
Making sense of the world and its complexities is a daunting task, for all of us. We can still teach the same way we have in the past, with students in straight rows, sitting quietly at their desks, reading static knowledge from a textbook, and the teacher directing learning. Or, we can acknowledge that the world is evolving exponentially through technological advances (yes, I am a Ray Kurzweil fan), with fragmented information that requires much more thought, research, analysis, and synthesis. (Read a blog post by George Siemens for more ideas on a “post-course view of education.”)
Getting these devices into the hands of all students is an important first step, but helping our students make sense of this knowledge is probably our biggest challenge.