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Will the iPad and Similar Technology Revolutionize Learning?

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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I am writing this blog post on the new Apple iPad while on a plane returning from the Newschools Venture Fund Community of Practice and Summit in Washington DC. There, at the nation's capital, a gathering of education entrepreneurs from across the country explored the themes of technology and innovation.

We learned about strategies, about people, and about organizations that are trying to leverage the use of digital technology to improve learning outcomes for youth -- particularly those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. We learned about the approach of the School of One in New York that uses computer-based programs to customize learning for each student. We discussed the approach of hybrid schools where part of the learning is online. We learned about the High Tech High video chat system that they use to conduct teacher-sharing protocols with teachers in their network and around the world. We also used text message polls (like on an American Idol) created by Edmodo to stimulate discussion.

Milton Chen, Senior Fellow at the GLEF, encouraged us to think about developing new technologies that can assess deeper learning -- core content skills and knowledge with complex cognitive skills like critical thinking and problem solving. The meeting theme was very timely and provocative.

As I write this using an iPad, I find it interesting that we did not discuss the implications of the iPad and other tablet type devices on learning and school. I think this technology will revolutionize the way a student will access all types of information: media, academic research, and books (non-fiction, fiction, and textbooks). In addition, students can produce digital work, blog, chat, and email with peers and teachers -- all for a relatively low cost.

The iPad still has room for improvement but the technology will evolve and the cost will drop (currently, it's around $500). Look for many new applications to be built for the iPad that will serve as a course of study or a unit of instruction. Someday, teachers might just create apps for their students instead of handing out papers, or posting assignments on the Internet. I also wonder if this technology will allow access for students across the world that do not have access to schools or teachers.

At Envision Schools, we will be watching, experimenting, and learning how best to use -- or not use -- new digital technology to transform the lives of students.

What do you think? Are these and other new technology a possible silver bullet for learning? Are you using any of these or other new technologies to improve outcomes for students?

Comments (91)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

Notice that some assert that the iPad costs less than a notebook. Others complain of its high cost. At a **minimum** cost of $499, the iPad is quite a bit more expensive than some notebooks that cost well under $400. Low cost is **not** a reason to purchase the iPad.

Another reason cited is long battery life, but netbooks have similar battery life, although not quite as good yet in most cases.

Portability has been mentioned also. Yet, even notebooks are "portable," and smaller devices are available.

As far as I can tell, the main reason for getting an iPad is to prepare for a student tablet future and to experiment with new ideas that such a future will enable. I my opinion, the iPad is not ready for mainstream education at this time.

Tracey Cook's picture
Tracey Cook
High school social studies teacher

I don't know why kids would watch a lecture when it is not an interactive means of content delivery. Lectures are effective with about 20% of learners. Why not utilize technology better with brain-based methodolgy, letting the technology facilitate learning?

Tracey Cook's picture
Tracey Cook
High school social studies teacher

[quote]I agree - I cannot wait until all learners have PDL's or Personal Learning Devices. Yesterday, I was imagining with my team at Envision the day that all the best lectures on all the important content areas will posted online and students will watch them after school on their PDL's and work on projects in teams at school![/quote]
Why use great technology with old methodology? Lectures are NOT interactive. How about taking the content information and creating brain-based activities to facilitate the learning? We will need to do more work as teachers designing effective curriulum delivery to facilitate students' learning with this new terrific technology. After teaching an online history class this year, I can guarantee you that the kids are NOT going to be excited to watch a lecture after school.

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

Recorded lectures cannot be interactive. Real ones can if the lecturer so chooses AND the audience is sufficiently small.

I agree that playing recorded lectures is a very poor excuse to purchase iPads for classes.

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

Personal learning devices are in our future. It's ineluctable. The iPad points the way but is not that device today. The race certainly is on to be the market leader in this coming revolution as well as to be a supplier of content and content creation software for it. Prepare today for the technology that will knock IWBs (interactive white boards) right off of their current (undeserved) pedestal.

To use the future PLD properly, new apps must be highly interactive and should be adaptive. Let's see what our creative minds produce.

Unfortunately, our country does little to encourage such creativity either privately or publicly. That's a big mistake. It must be changed.

I speak from extensive experience in building a totally new way to learn science that's being picked up eagerly by schools in New York City now.

Mark L. Miller, Ph.D.'s picture
Mark L. Miller, Ph.D.
Executive Director, The Miller Institute for Learning with Technology

The old way: teacher as deliverer of knowledge (e.g., lectures).
The new way: teacher as designer of learning experiences.

Having said this, sometimes lectures can be very efficient, when used wisely and in small doses. More importantly, there have been studies showing that -- contrary to one of the earlier comments -- students watching a lecture "offline" IN A STUDY GROUP actually learn better than students who attended the live lecture. The reason is that study groups will pause the lecture to DISCUSS key points and thereby make their own learning experience more toward the interactive and "knowledge construction" end of the spectrum versus "instruction."

Any new technology has strengths and limitations. I bought an OLPC, for example (the $100 laptop that I paid $400 for, if you know what I mean) a few years ago, and eventually gave it away as a raffle prize at one of our workshops, without ever finding it to be very useful (yet). Nevertheless, I think the OLPC project has been extremely important in focusing educators (and their vendors) on the long-term goal of 1:1 computing. Similarly, I see the iPad and Netbooks as "watershed" points along the way to empowering every student with the power tools of knowledge and learning.

Ultimately the real power of technology is that it forces us to reexamine our roles as educators. We need to move toward learner-centered rather than teacher-centered, and tools such as the iPad can help. That Bob Lenz's original posting has stirred such a rich conversation here illustrates how important this milestone is in our journey toward a better way.

Regards, Mark

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

Of course, any general comment is subject to people pointing out exceptions. Naturally, a group discussion is preferable to being talked at. The group discussion has nothing to do with the medium (e.g. recorded lecture). It could be about a book, a movie, or a field trip. Talking among themselves allows each person to expand their ideas and improve their learning.

When it comes to technology, I come to a different conclusion; but with a few exceptions. The real tool, in my view, is the software rather than some piece of hardware. The hardware can be less expensive, more portable, and so on. But the hardware does not move us toward learner-centered education. Instructors definitely can. Software can help.

Ultimately, the hardware becomes a commodity. That's great because then PLDs will be in every student's hands, and learning will become something entirely different as new software comes into play and instructors begin to utilize new ways of encouraging learning.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Not a fan of Apple products and having said that will not be buying an iPad. However, recently bought a Kindle and REALLY love it! They are testing out the Kindle in Universities as a substitute for big heavy text books. Really think that this technology could be an amazing replacement in our high schools as well! Just thought I'd throw my 2cents into the mix. :-D

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

The Kindle is great for many of us. You can read books, many for no charge, nicely even in bright sun. Its light weight and compact size make it very portable. Its high price does prevent it from being used by those with less money, however.

In education, it's a different matter. The old books and lecture approach has to yield to new ideas that are being enabled by new technologies being introduced. (Actually, some ideas are old, but couldn't be implemented widely before.)

The Kindle will not show color illustrations and does not allow interactive learning. For example, you cannot do online science experiments with it. You cannot do them with the iPad either, but you can with netbooks. You can't even do the non-interactive animated simulations that masquerade as science experiments with a Kindle (or an iPad). No Flash.

Truly interactive experiments require Java today and will in the future if you require broad multiplatform support (Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux).

The Kindle is just a book reader. Textbooks are on the way out, however slowly that may happen. And the textbook publishers know it.

Ted Curran's picture
Ted Curran
Instructional Designer, Samuel Merritt University

Hi Bob-
Great post! I have been watching the iPad with skepticism-- finding myself agreeing with Cory Doctorow's take on the subject, that it transitions users from empowered creators to restricted consumers. http://j.mp/9bLH2I
Since my time at Envision I have been exploring the world of higher ed. academic technology, and finding that there is a burgeoning movement (call it Edupunk, DIY U, or what-have-you) that rejects costly techno-panaceas like the iPad for open source, low-cost devices that can expand access to sophisticated web-based tools.

Even while I was at Envision, I was constantly struggling with the Digital Divide, frustrated that many students simply did not have the means to own basic, internet-connected learning devices such as personal computers, laptops, or smartphones. I started volunteering with the Marin Computer Resource Center, (MCRC.org) a non-profit that accepts donated old computers and rebuilds them into functioning Linux computers that can be given, free of charge, to people and institutions in need. They taught me how to rebuild computers and install the operating systems, and we were just planning to open the program to CAT students before I got laid off.

Many of the iPad's competitors are built on open source, Linux-based operating systems (Google Android, Palm WebOS) that empower users to improve their devices instead of autocratically controlling the software, hardware, and app developer communities. In my experience with open source tools such as Linux, Wordpress, and Firefox, I have seen opportunities for people and communities to educate themselves towards lucrative careers just by "looking under the hood" of how their learning devices work. This is a pursuit that Apple actively quashes at every opportunity.

As more and more sophisticated software moves from the desktop to the web browser (see Docs.google.com, Aviary.com, Wordpress.org, 280slides.com), it is becoming less necessary to spend $500 or more on a full-featured computer. While I'm personally excited to have a touch-screen, location-aware, accelerometerated, eReader, web tablet thingy-- I'm going to wait until it says "Google Android" on it.

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