iPad-Centric Classrooms?

At Edudemic, I saw another interesting article by 4th grade math & science teacher, Nikolaos Shatzopoulos, iPads In The Classroom: The Right Questions You Should Ask. The article seems written out of the concern that we are making our classrooms more “iPad-centric” than “student-centered,” a concern I share.

In an especially apt quote (no pun intended), he says,

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.

I might say the same about other pieces of technology. How does technology (or how do certain resources or applications) contribute to the learning goals for a class?

Mr. Shatzopoulos offers an intriguing observation:

[W]e 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?”.

Then he surprises me by saying that before we even start to plan a lesson, we need to ask not just one but both questions as a movement along our developmental path.

I think this is right. It’s not that we want to keep technology out of our classrooms, but it’s more that we want to find just the right applications for our purposes, and the fact that there are so many options makes it more likely we will grab onto something that seems to work well on a given topic, is easy to use, and has an attractive GUI or interface.

An application may not be the best, but we have only so much time and energy to sift through our options, and additionally, to learn how to use them. We are all (well, many of us), trying to operate in a new language – the language of technology – and we have to think twice as hard to juggle all our cognitive tasks.

The people creating the content are also working away. Yes, I’ve seen apps that address student’s unique learning styles and challenges. I’ve also seen good ideas in half-baked development. I’ve seen productivity apps that are little more than a glorified scratch pad, albeit with cross-playform capabilities. I’ve seen “educational” apps that seem more game glitz than learning practice. Even well-developed apps sometimes contain glaring bugs or omissions. Not every resource can serve all ages and populations.  (See my next post for more on sifting!)

I think the real trick is finding those unique capabilities that a given resource can offer to the learning process. So for the iPad, what can it offer teachers and students? Or what unique capabilities do Interactive White Boards offer, a question I’m considering as I’m planning a sample IWB lesson plan.

I think part of what makes it so challenging is that technology applications offer a dizzying array of possibilities, and we are caught in learning them all, or enough to make use of them. Maybe we are so engrossed in learning about the “how” that we lose sight of the “why.” Mr. Shatzopoulos also points out that it’s been a scant few years since the iPad has been introduced into the classroom, so of course, we are still adjusting to its very presence. This reminds me of the learning curves I’ve experienced with each new technology I’ve encountered, such as my first computer with email, my first chat rooms, my first data processing applications and encounters with social networks. It’s the same with blogs, RSS feeds, and asynchronous collaborations. I’ve lost a lot of sleep while investigating each new technology. It was and is exciting, but exhausting too.

Don’t we all just take in big gulps of information as we try to take it all and find our footing? After a while of thrashing about and losing sleep while working with the new capabilities, we settle down and really focus on what role a given technology can fill in our lives. Some applications become incorporated into our workflow, while others drop away as insufficient.

I’m sure we won’t wait to implement new technology into classrooms until we work out all the bugs. We’ll continue to take in our big gulps of new exciting Web 2.0 tools. I hope we will soon finish the “big gulp” phase, though, and move onto tailoring the applications for our actual needs. As the author says, we’ll work on discovering the “potential roles” and “meaningful ways” of addressing learning needs.

My hope is that someday educational apps and Web 2.0 technology will include educational ratings to help guide their use, much like Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (and the Common Core Curriculum derived from it) help to guide our lesson objectives and learning goals. Until then, we’ll continue to swim about in our sea of new apps. Happy swimming!