iPads can’t improve learning without good teaching Pt 1

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Clearly there is a lot of buzz around iPads in schools at the moment. You can’t log on to the Web without reading about another school or entire district or department investing massive coin in a sparkling set of the Wonder Tablets, excited that they will cure all the ills of the current education systems around the world. From reading my blog, you would be no doubt convinced that I am very much in this Pro-iPad camp. Make no mistake I am.

However, no matter how versatile and potentially powerful a product the iPad is, it is merely an extremely expensive placemat without creative, well planned teaching behind its use. Before committing to an iPad implementation of any size, schools need to thoroughly think through how these technological marvels are going to enhance the teaching and learning process.

Its about Teaching and Learning, not iPads
The kind of shift in learning the iPad (and other tablets) can initiate is dependent on good teaching practice and preparation. The iPad has an app for just about anything. Students will be able to work out how to use the app. They do that quicker than us. As teachers, its our responsibility to show them what to use it for. It’s why we have to think of what we want them to do as learners, not what can the iPad do. We have to make the iPad suit the learning, not make the learning suit the iPad to justify having it. So think of the skills you want your students to develop and then work out if the iPad can improve that skill. If it doesn’t, don’t use it.

So let’s look at how we have gone about teaching up until now and examine how the iPad can fit in to our current programs. In today’s post, I’ll focus on how we can enhance note taking skills using the capabilities of an iPad compared to what we’ve done in the past and what we might do if we don’t think how the iPad could be used. I’ll be following with other areas one the coming weeks.

Without the iPad
With the aid of the 20th century’s very useful tool known as the highlighter, we have spent years highlighting key words, squashing in related notes, scribbling indecipherable diagrams and drawing arrows from one point to the next. We would then share our ideas one at a time recording them on the board, or maybe record them on big sheets of paper collaboratively until we run out of space or time. Possibly we organized our thoughts on a mind map or some other sort of graphic organizer. Eventually the sheets of paper or boardwork get replaced by new work and your discussion gets filed under ‘done and dusted. The good note takers and memorisers get something out of it and the rest move on to the next thing without any real reflective learning taking place.

With an iPad and no thoughtful plan
We hand the student an iPad, he opens up a PDF or iBook version of a document, chapter or book, highlights some key words using the program provided, write some notes in another app, draw a diagram or download an image from Google and save it for later discussion. In this scenario, you can record and store more information, have a greater variety of visuals, the ability to retrieve information at a later date and have the greater short term engagement resulting from using the latest tech. However, there is no real shift in the learning and teaching model here from the pre-iPad model. Same work, different set of tools.

Enhanced note taking with an iPad
This is how I envisage the iPad creating a major shift in note taking. Yes a lot of it can be done with regular desktop computers and laptops, but the unique touch interface and portability of the iPad makes it more accessible and practical.

Using Notability/Goodreader/Skitch/Evernote/iBooks (depending on the purpose), import the PDF, RTF, epub file or the Notability note from another source into the app. Use the highlighter and annotating tools to highlight keywords and phrases, underline or circle or arrow sections of text. (So far same as old system.) The shift is the ability to look up meanings with inbuilt dictionary, edit annotations, add extra notes from others during collaborative discussions without running out of room, take photos of other diagrams by other students and annotate them, add web clips of relevant websites that are searchable and accessible without leaving the app and record conversations. The notes can be saved, shared with others so they can add further comments, notes, diagrams etc. During whole class or group discussions, students and teachers can record the discussion in Notability and take notes or add photos, diagrams, web clips or handwritten notes during the recording. Later on, these notes can be reviewed and clicking on a note added during the recording will locate section of audio relevant to the note.

This type of sophisticated note taking will take time to embed in both student and teacher practice. I certainly haven’t mastered it yet. But you can’t help but see the possibilities for supporting student learning, especially special needs students or just generally struggling students, those who are constantly lost during note taking sessions. The ability to review notes with audio, related diagrams, websites, photos will enable them to access information at their own pace. Teachers can prepare notes with all the supporting AV resources for these students to use during sessions so they can enter into tasks with the more able students independently.The iPad can just be an engaging but expensive replacement for books and handouts. Or it can completely change the way we go about note taking


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