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Implementing iPads (Part 2)

In the last posting I looked at the technical setup of our iPad initiative, but never really touched on our rational for the project and some of our initial realizations. That will be the focus of this posting.

Our interest in iPads was two-fold. We wanted to find a product that encouraged content creation with the freedom a mobile device permits.

We knew that we needed to find a product that could be used as a productivity tool. It is too easy to use technology as a passive consumer of information. We needed to find a tool that allowed our students to become active producers and creators of content. This meant that we wanted to move beyond basic web searches and word processing. Media literacy needed to be a key component of our program.

The portability of IOS devices provided us with opportunities that laptops did not. The ability to take pictures, video and create podcasts without other peripherals and then have students organize and synthesize their work in real time was very powerful. The solid state drive also allowed students to turn on their iPads and utilize them in situations that would have stressed a laptop.

Our intention was to make the technology seamless, but disruptive. We did not want our educators to teach the exact same lessons only using technology. It was important for our staff to make a pedagogical shift. They needed to evaluate the way that technology could be integrated within their classrooms to open up new learning opportunities. Without this visioning, technology turns into an expensive pencil. We needed to harness the educational potential of this tool and not treat it as a new way of accomplishing old tasks.

I did not anticipate it, but one of the biggest obstacles we initially faced was acceptance of the device among a select group of our students. There was a 'honeymoon' phase when everyone was extremely excited about their mobile devices, but after that, there was an undertone of discontentment among some students for the first couple of months. Students and staff have many positive things to say about our iPad implementation now that we are two thirds into the year, but I would like to share my thoughts on the initial unrest.

This initial dissapointment stemmed from their own expectations and experiences. These grade 7 students already had access to a school MacBook for their three previous years within our school. Students and teachers had been using laptops for so long that they initially wanted to use their iPads the same way. This provided some different learning opportunities for everyone involved:
  1. These students had developed strong media literacy skills over the years. Many of these students were accustomed to activities such as extracting audio from a video file and editing the colour, pacing and style of video clips. They needed to rethink the projects and products they wanted to create on the device. Students were forced to think about content and not simply focus on the aesthetics of their projects by embedding more bells and whistles.
  2. Many people talk about how quickly students pick up concepts related to using new technologies and I took for granted that this would happen with iPads. Although many things on these devices are intuitive, I should have provided students and teachers with more initial support. Students believed that they had a strong understanding of the operation of different productivity apps (such as Pages, Keynote, iMovie and Garageband), but there are many distinct differences between the ways they are used on a laptop and iPad. This training and support should have been more deliberate, not accidental.
  3. These initial student perceptions were then taken home and discussed at the kitchen table. Although we had done an initial information session for parents, it was necessary to provide more information as to why we embarked on this new initiative and provided more initial support to families.
  4. We provided these students with access to a class set of laptops. Our intention was to provide the tools for a blended-learning environment, but it initially provided students with reasons not to use their iPads. I believe in the benefits of a blended-learning environment, but students should have had to use their iPads more before they were provided with a laptop option. It took time for students to realize that many of the tasks they wanted to use with laptops could be accomplished on their mobile devices. When teachers began asking students why they needed the laptops (instead of using iPads) and students analyzed the pros and cons of both devices, the demand for MacBooks began to diminish.
  5. Teachers needed to rethink the ways that they were integrating technology into their curriculum. They found it was not realistic to do the same projects that they had done with laptops in previous years. It was not a matter of simply modifying rubrics and lesson plans that had previously been used with laptops. It was necessary to understand the strengths of the iPad and develop inquiry-based projects that took advantage of these new tools. Teachers had made a shift when they transitioned to laptops. They needed to make another shift as they identified the strengths of iPads.
My travels to different schools and conferences has shown that many educators want to focus on the apps. It is true that specialized software is important, but it should not be the focus or driving factor for the creation of lesson or unit plans. I think it is too easy to find a 'cool app' and try and force its usage into a classroom situation. Many people talk about the importance of student engagement, but are they engaged in the right things? Some of these apps can capture a student's interest, but may not satisfy a specific educational need.

I believe that there is a lot more meaning and authenticity to look at the outcomes a teacher wants to achieve and then assess the best way to achieve those goals. Technology will undoubtedly be the best way to accomplish some of those tasks, but probably not all of them. We need to determine the right tools for the right job.

This realization by our teachers and students has enhanced the importance our school has placed on this device. The meaningful inquiry-based projects that our teachers have been developing has brought value to the iPads. I have been extremely impressed with the innovative ways our teachers have integrated iPads into their curriculum. I hope that you have taken the time to read about these projects in our Connect! Blog.

I read a tweet about a month ago by Brad Overnell-Carter @braddo (check out his blog at - A Stick in the Sand) who suggested that we are being short sighted if our goal is 1:1. I agree with his assessment. Personally, I have an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Macbook Pro and 2 iMacs (one at work and home). If we want to teach students to identify and utilize the right tool for the right job, more choices need to be made available to them. It would be like suggesting that students can write and print with pens and paper so no other drawing materials need to be provided for art. Students are missing out on many unique learning opportunities when we limit them the same way with technology.

I have written and edited most of this article on my iPad, but for longer word processing tasks, something with a keyboard and a larger screen is my preference. Although the screen on my iPad is smaller than my laptop and iMac, I prefer to do all of my email on my mobile device. I find that I am switching technologies depending on the task.

If we realize that adults need to use multiple electronic devices on a daily basis, why would we not provide students with the same learning opportunities? It is too easy to try and dismiss this idea by arguing about the cost and infrastructure needed to enable it, but if we acknowledge the educational benefits it would provide, we would be negligent to not try. There would be tangible benefits to developing a blended learning community for students. To quote Ian Jukes, "We need to prepare students for their future, not our past."

If you would like further information about our iPad project, please feel free to comment on this blog or email me directly.

Scott Petronech


Wendy Baillie said...

Scott - really interesting to read this assessment of the implementation so far. It is remarkable to consider all the tools at our disposal and that we must select the right technology for the job. Your art analogy was spot on.

Garry McKinnon said...

Scott, you provide a great overview of the rationale for the iPad project and highlight the focus on having students as producers and creators rather than passive consumers of information. Through your blog you have articulated a well thought-out vision for exploring the full potential of the iPad as a learning and teaching tool and the ultimate goal of having a blended learning environment in which teachers and students have opportunities to use a variety of tools and to select the right tool for the job. As you observe, there were some significant challenges to deal with, but through the pilot process there were some valuable lessons learned relating to the unanticipated potential of the iPad. You make a critical point in regard to the possibility of students being engaged in using technology, but not being authentically engaged in learning.

Dropshipper said...

Nice blog , I'll happy to read it,so much necessary inf. get from this

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