preload
Mr G Online
Feb 03

Technology has been trying to ‘revolutionize’ education for a long time now. The mistake we’ve been making all along is placing all of the focus on the least important component of the revolution – the tech itself. It’s where all the money goes and then what? Nothing left to actually ensure it’s going to make the difference we want, with the the people we want to impact – the teacher and the student. It’s happened all throughout education tech history in recent times. The film projector, the photocopier, the typewriter, the desktop and laptop computer, data projectors, interactive whiteboards, digital cameras were all heavily invested in ( and many still are today ) to bring engagement and improved teaching and learning to the educational world….But talk of the revolution is still going on.

And now we have the tablet. The iPad has begun a new “education revolution” and now the obligatory opposition tech companies have joined the battle. The question has to be asked – are we again starting from the wrong end of the battle lines? Is the iPad (inserted alternative tablet if so desired) the real catalyst or is there so much more to this than money spending school systems can see beyond the new and shiny?

It’s why I ask the question: Is it the iPad, the App or the User?

The iPad

What is it about the iPad that has enamoured so many in the Education World? Spare me the trollish jibes about Apple’s Reality Distortion Field and slavish fanboys. Educators aren’t that shallow. There is something about this tablet, originally aimed squarely at the consumer, that lends itself beautifully to educational pursuits. The desktop computer, for all its power and potential, leaves the learner anchored to a desk and reliant on other tech tools to increase its functionality. The laptop improved on this with its portability but it still lacked flexibility and true mobility as well as clunky touchpads that lacked precision.

Then came the tablet. Yes, Microsoft predated Apple with a tablet but the iPad brought its use into the mainstream. In a school setting, it brings big changes to the learning experience. It takes mobile learning to a level far beyond the laptop. Its tactile interface brings the learner in direct contact with the screen with positives and negatives. The touch screen allows for direct drawing, handwriting and screen navigation beyond the capabilities of a mouse of trackpad. The built in A/V capabilities, in particular the front and back facing cameras for photo and video, adds one stop access to multimedia use that adds engagement and creativity that other computers can’t match. Its ‘always on, instant save’ nature means instant interaction, replacing the wait time that can slow down learning in class. And its unique lack of filing system, while a fault for many computing traditionalists, makes accessing work for younger children in particular far easier than combinations of menus, commands and hierarchical folders. The touch interface makes it a familiar experience and easier for children to pick up experiment and learn to use ( although this is not always the case for adults with computer behaviour engrained in their physical memory.)

That in itself, though, falls far short of what is necessary for an “Education Revolution”. Beyond a web browser with its well documented Flash deficiencies ( whether we like it or not, educational web 2.0 tools are dominated by Flash ), basic A/V viewing and editing tools, an e-book/PDF reader, a text messaging system, a VERY basic text editor in Notes and some time management tools, what you get out of the box has serious limitations. So obviously, to get closer to revolutionizing education, we need to tap into the vast system of the App Store.

The Apps
“There’s an App for that!” has become part of the English conversation. While early on, we were inundated with countless games, social apps and a mind boggling selection of skills and drill apps of dubious value, it wasn’t long before every possible educational opportunity could be addressed by an app. For years, many schools have been hamstrung by expensive software packages tied into bulk user licences that added up to hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars, preventing us from going beyond the internet and the obligatory Microsoft Office package. True, there are a great number of Web 2.0 tools that have brought creativity and collaboration to the classroom, but while some are free, many expect yearly licences from schools to use them.

As I have written in my post “Essential Paid iPad Apps”, for a reasonable cost (obviously some will disagree),especially under the half price VPP system, the limitations of the ‘out of the box’ iPad transforms into an all purpose teaching and learning machine. Suddenly students have access to video editing, animation creation, ebook publishing, comic book production, digital storytelling in many forms, annotation tools, note taking, audio recording, collaboration tools, painting and drawing apps, content curation and news feeds all at the touch of an icon. In a 1:1 environment, the user has all of this stored within the apps he uses, making for efficient use of time and a non-reliance on accessing messy network folder hierarchies.

But………and it’s a BIG BUT…..

All the tech tools in the world mean nothing if they are not used effectively. Too often over the last 2 years, I have seen way too many examples of half finished, poorly edited creations in the name of “experimenting with the apps”. That, however, is as far as it goes. The lesson is about the app, not the content or the skills that needed to be developed to make a real difference. This is why the role of the User becomes Number One Priority.

The User

No amount of tech or any other educational innovation can make a difference if the users aren’t prepared to take advantage of the opportunity. The so called “digital natives” in our classrooms may have grown up using technology but it doesn’t mean they know how to use it to its full potential. Teachers have a great opportunity to revolutionise education with what has become available but just because their cupboard is full of iPads (or laptops, digital cameras etc, etc) it doesn’t mean the revolution will happen.

Politicians need PD. Leaders of Education need PD. Teachers need PD. Parents need….whatever we call PD for parents. Students need to learn what  is possible with what they know.

          • Facebook/Twitter/Social media in general isn’t just for organising parties, telling us where in the city you are having dinner or writing funny responses about awkward situations. If that is all educators, students and the community think its for, they won’t use it to collaborate, to share, to investigate, to innovate.
          • If teachers aren’t shown how iPads or any other tech tool can improve their current practices and given time and support to gain confidence in their use and possibilities, they will continue with whole class instruction, worksheets and textbooks and every other practice that worked for them in the past.
          • If we only focus on the tool and not the purpose for using it, then we will still get substandard essays and projects – they’ll just look better.
          • If we spend all of our time talking about increased engagement in class because of iPads, but don’t evaluate the improvement in learning, nothing has been accomplished. After all, a 15 year old can be engaged in an all night movie or video game party. Doesn’t mean they’ll learn anything.

I said at the start that Educators aren’t shallow. We can, though, still get caught up in the latest craze, whether it’s the latest buzzword or the next great tech tool. This Education Revolution has been talked about for a long time. We need to focus on the teaching and learning, the teachers and the learners before we focus on the tools. Instead of investigating and experimenting with tablets and apps, let’s make sure we  investigate and experiment with the pedagogy that’s need to make the difference. Let’s put the user first.

What’s your experience in your schools? Are you planning for change or just having tech thrown at you with the hope that something will stick? Join the conversation.

Print Friendly

11 Responses to “Is it the iPad, the apps or the user?”

  1. Viv Says:

    So true that all the tech in the world does not a learner make.
    “If we spend all of our time talking about increased engagement in class because of iPads, but don’t evaluate the improvement in learning, nothing has been accomplished. After all, a 15 year old can be engaged in an all night movie or video game party. Doesn’t mean they’ll learn anything.”
    I had to laugh at this part, because it is so true. Teachers need PD to use tech in a meaningful way.

    • mgleeson Says:

      Hi Viv. Engagement is overemphasised today. It’s easy to have students looking engaged on iPads and laptops as leaders go around on observation walks. Doesn’t mean they’re learning. While I have no doubt engagement and as a result improved learning is enhanced by iPads, we have to do a better job investigating how best to do it. It is not just having the tech in their hands.

  2. Tammy Morris Says:

    Excellent thoughts! I believe you have hit the heart of the problem. Although bringing the user along and beyond is recognized as the heart of tech infusion into the curriculum by many, I appreciate the way you have methodically thought-through and explained all the aspects involved. So much so that, with your permission, I would like to use this article as a discussion prompt in a couple of online courses I am facilitating. Please let me know if this is not acceptable to you.

  3. Anthony Says:

    Outstanding article – thanks for sharing. I want everyone I know in the education arena to read and reflect.

  4. Mrs W Says:

    I think the idea is getting them to reflect on their learning – 3-2-1, or pmis or exit cards. Just to see if they did learn. I love technology, but it is, after all, just a tool. Comes back to PD, for meaningful use of ALL classroom tools.

  5. Mr D Says:

    All of the above! Just like any tool. It is what you make it to be!

  6. Rachelle Says:

    It’s true much of the true revolution will be realized when the user knows how to wield the tool. I’m also concerned that many teachers feel overwhelmed with testing, deadlines, meetings, etc. and have not made the paradigm shift from teaching is a “would like to do” to a “need to do.” It’s challenging! It’s also my motivation for researching and examining the effectiveness of the tech tools we use in classrooms.

  7. Brad Says:

    No one goes to the hardware store to buy a drill; they go to the hardware store because they need to make a hole in something. It’s the user that matters: http://www.ovenell-carter.com/blooms-pencil/

  8. Rochelle Says:

    I read the article and the posts in the discussion forum. I think the main thought that struck a chord with me is as follows:
    “No amount of tech or any other educational innovation can make a difference if the users aren’t prepared to take advantage of the opportunity. The so called “digital natives” in our classrooms may have grown up using technology but it doesn’t mean they know how to use it to its full potential.”
    *Challenge number one- I am a student of technology at the same time I am trying to provide instruction to my students. They can only progress if I am willing to invest my time and energy in becoming a better consumer of technology.
    *Challenge number two- Many of my students come with some preconceived ideas about tablets. Many of them see tablets and apps as nothing more than expensive game machines, or book readers.
    The central objective is to help my students see the iPad as a tool that will help them gather information and manage their workload. Educators must continue to identify learning goals and then use the best strategies high tech or low tech to facilitate educational growth among our students.

  9. PJ Says:

    M Gleeson you have an outstanding, well thought through, cogent message. I am glad you didn’t equate this to Snake oil salesmen and the like. As I sat with my Assistant Supt. at this Technology conference I said, teachers want to love it but they must have time to practice, update their class, and use it with fluidity, if no time they will continue to do the same thing that has worked.

    Students practice, they may not know everything but they practice and then do what works. We must move quickly, be fluid, and understand that paper is not a sustainable resource. The IPAD well it looks like the chalk tablet of old.

Leave a Reply