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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?

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Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

[quote]The iPad is a tool like a chalk board or a computer; nothing more, and yet not only will it be used to create learning, but I'm sure there will be as yet unforeseen and unimagined uses, just as we have that awful sound of fingernails on the board and surfing unauthorized sites on the computer. Its portability will provide students with the tools to complete assignments on the go, and link to things they enjoy and learn from.

I teach technology and I'm seeing these things already in my classroom. Can't hold back the floodgates now. Hooray.[/quote]

Yes! These are all tools. The real learning happens in the engagement of the learner with the work. Tools like the iPad change the way we engage.

Don D Johnson Jr's picture

If all students could get one. If all the students could have one in the classroom equally dispersed and the school own the tools it be great . Seeing some bring their ipad and others cannot afford one is wrong.

Don D Johnson Jr's picture

If all students can have an ipad and it be equally dispersed and not just those who have one bring it to school ,but the school own the ipad from a donation maybe from apple.

Gary Cope's picture

I'm one of the few teachers on my campus (high school) who was chosen to try out an iPad and report back to the administrator how effective I think it would be in education. From the use of iBooks to Pages, Numbers, and Keynote on the iPad, I could see fully integrating this into the classroom. I could put any and all books we read (I teach English) in iBooks, and our textbook has a full .pdf version available so I could put the assorted texts in Cloudreader or another pdf app. Designing projects for the students to complete that requires them to use Pages to design a pamphlet and Keynote to design a presentation would make for an amazing classroom experience. I already have a cart of 40 iTouches in my classroom and my students use them every day. I put their warm-ups on Google Docs as a form and then post that to the class Google Site. The students have already placed a shortcut right to their class' site and they can then open the form and fill it out. After finishing with the warm-up, students submit the form and it gets sent to me in a spreadsheet format for quick grading.

As for the technology vs. teachers thought, one major problem with categorical money is that it has to be spent on things in its category. It is illegal to attempt to pay teachers' salaries out of technology money (or any other category for that matter). So, most often, the money spent on technology will in no way impact a school's ability to keep teachers.

Tamara's picture

I like what you are doing and your response to realize that we are linving in the tech age now not tomorrow. Teachers must teach now not in yesterday's classroom.

Roxanna Montes-Bazaldua's picture

I feel one thing that we fail to address is that yes technology is great, but what about that great digital divide? The haves and the have nots. Many schools may have the budget to provide the most up to date devices while others are struggling to even have to have reliable Internet access. What can be done to even the playing field?

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

Many schools don't even have functioning science labs. I've been to schools whose computers are Apple IIs. Even those with better equipment don't have the money to invest in $500 per child iPads.

The concept that equipment and salaries are separate budgets is specious. Someone takes the entire budget and divides it up.

Until teachers are not being laid off and don't have to buy supplies from their own funds, the only technology that should be added to schools is the technology that SAVES money.

And while we're at it, let's stop using drill-and-kill software on the few computers we do have. They have better uses.

Gina's picture
Online Learning Administrator

Only teachers will revolutionize learning. An iPad may open up the opportunity to introduce and use new teaching methods, but remember it's the methods, not the technology that impact learning. Technology used poorly doesn't help - before we throw too much money at this technology we need to consider if there are other means to deploy these interesting new strategies.

Harvey Howard's picture

I first weighted in on the exciting aspects of the iPad in the classroom. I truly believe it will have an impact on teaching and learning.
What I am more concerned with is what seems to be a lack of understanding of school finance. Catagorial funding is common, I am sure, across the nation. Some grants will pay for technology, National school lunch funds can pay for many things as long as it does not supplant federal funds (Title monies). Sometimes districts MUST spend money on technology.
It is sad that teachers are losing their jobs. District level administrators should be watching the cost of employment. The quickest way for a school district to fail is thru financial distress. A bankrupt school district is not good for anyone.
It also disturbs me that I am hearing there is a lack of technology in buildings of some of those that are posting. Since the beginning of public education the playing field has not been level. Some States have worked hard at leveling with a strong accountability system that touches all areas of education. Good luck to you all in our common goal of providing a quality education to our children, and if I may, encourage you to be a part of the solution.

Harvey Howard's picture

Gina you are right. Doug Reeves, PhD, in his book "Accountability In Action" addresses the fact that classroom teachers are the difference makers. His research on the 90/90/90 schools underlines that fact.

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