Winnie Hu of the New York Times, recently wrote about the increasing use of the iPad in American schools and, in a short time, there have been a number of follow-up articles, some supportive and some negative.
Hu’s article mentions a pilot program at Roslyn High School on Long Island, which distributed 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students.
I recently had the opportunity to visit a small, rural, high-poverty school system and observed pre-school and kindergartners using iPads. I have recent experience with both iPads and one-to-one computing. Even though I was the principal in a large urban high school in which each of our students had their own laptop and I have my own iPad, I had some questions about iPads and how they could be integrated into classroom instruction to actually enhance student performance. In other words, were the iPads toys or personal computing devices?
Any doubts that I held were quickly dismissed by the effortless manner in which these four and five-year-olds and their teachers have integrated used the iPads into the learning experience. For these beginning readers, the iPads were a normal part of their learning experience. In fact, if I hadn’t known, I would have thought the iPads had been around for years, instead of months.
The students used the iPads both individually and in pairs. As is their custom, the teachers had students working in groups of 6-8 students. While one groups was using the iPads, another was working with an instructional aide and another was working with the teacher. The iPad group required little or no direction from the teacher or her aide. They simply launched the app as instructed and proceeded to work.
I was particularly impressed by one specific app that cost a mere 99 cents because, several years ago, our school had purchased a software package that addressed the very same literacy skills. The difference is that that software cost tens of thousands of dollars more.
Additional thoughts on iPads and technology intergration:
- iPads are durable enough for use by even the youngest users.
- The software/apps are low-cost and are getting better all the time. So, the teachers can afford to experiment to find the apps that are best for their students. Furthermore, if they have a student with a specific need, they can find an app for that.
- Those favoring a "back to basics," pencil and paper approach to classroom instruction would be impressed by the fact that the students were actively engaged and on-task. The iPads were not being used as toys, but to support personalized student learning.
- iPads have long batter life, ease of mobility, and a screen large enough to allow for active social interaction. Battery life was a big issue for us in our one-to-one project.
Novelty, Nicety, or Necessity?
Think about it! How extensive would your personal use of technology be if you had to share a computer with two or three other people in your office? My guess is that you would be years behind where you are right now. I know that I would. The fact is that, when it comes to adults, we know that they need their own computing device.
I have believed for a long time that, until each student has his or her own computing device, we have not fully implemented technology and we cannot claim to be serious about integrating technology into instruction. Going from a high school with an excellent computer to student ratio that took years to achieve, my move to a school in which every student had a laptop confirmed for me that my dreams of a paperless classroom and 24/7 learning could be realized.
As long as computer labs are the best that we can do, technology will be a novelty or a nicety. Only when every student has a personal computing device will technology become a necessity. Until then technology integration is only a dream.