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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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mick kilburn's picture

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.

mick kilburn's picture

An added post: now if we can get schools to stop blocking things like youtube and other sites they feel are inappropriate to students, teachers as well as students will be able to access a plethora of useful and entertaining information. Hey, kids are able to use proxy servers to get around the blocks anyway, and it's simply a stumbling block to keep us away from what we need. Lets get serious about technology and go cutting edge.

Harvey Howard's picture

I agree with your vision. I bought 2 I-Pad's for our school. Digital access to books, writing, tracking their (student) progress with charts, etc. The student and teacher use is exciting.
I am exploring how to make this work in a classroom. I look forword to following your work.
Harvey Howard, Principal
Central Math/Science Magnet
Batesville, AR

Harvey Howard's picture

I believe the iPad will change the landscape of classrooms. I bought 2 to experiment with at our school. We are working on how to make it work in our building. Two of our other schools are using mini's in the classroom. Our district is open to our use of the iPad to determine its strengths and weaknesses.
I am looking forward to following any work in this area.

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

I think all of us who have worked in Educational Technology (or Education generally) realize that there is no one silver bullet. Students can't learn if they are hungry, or don't have clean water, or a safe place to sleep at night. They can't learn if they suffer from physical or verbal abuse at home or from a bully, or if their school was washed away in a hurricane, or if the rest room is so unpleasant to use that they wait uncomfortably all day long so that they can use a cleaner one at home. But, they also can't learn the skills needed for 21st century lifelong learning and careers if they don't have nearly-ubiquitous access to modern technology and connectivity. Not an hour a week down the hall at the computer lab, but anytime, anywhere access to personal devices that suit their millennial habits of mind.

The last few years have seen a migration from "fat ware" applications to "cloud computing" (e.g., from MS Office to Google Docs) in K-12 and a changing price point where we are at last under $500 and so -- if the economic pain would ease off, even a little -- 1:1 computing could start to be the presumed goal instead of a pipe dream. Netbooks have a similar appeal and currently are even less expensive; but the iPad seems to offer amazing ease-of-use and Apple's long history of appealing to educators and students, thanks to early efforts such as Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow and even as far back as Woz's "Kids Can't Wait" donation programs. Based on record-breaking initial sales, it is clear that Apple has hit a grand slam home run with this product. It bridges the gap between their recent major successes with handhelds and PDA/phone device, and the laptop/desktop world in education, multimedia, and desktop publishing that defined their original focus. Today, at a professional development session in New Orleans, where we worked with charter school leaders from four schools serving communities hard-hit by Katrina, one of the Principals brought in her personal iPad. Just to see how well it would work, we stuck it under the "Elmo" (document camera) and she demonstrated things like a very interactive, talking version of Dr. Seuss's "Cat in the Hat." The digital natives who are now learning to read and who log over 40 hours per week in front of some form of screen (computer/PDA or TV, with computer/PDA increasingly in the lead) will simply expect these kinds of experiences as the norm for learning. So I cannot imagine that the iPad won't gain a tremendous following within K-12 as well as higher education and result in huge, positive impacts on student achievement.

It is interesting that just a few years ago there was a lot of excitement about "tablet computing" in the Windows world. I've seen easily a half dozen schools get all excited about that idea, only to later realize that they had purchased under-powered laptops which were awkward to use and lacked features that the users expected, and that the "tablet features" went largely unused. So I took a "wait and see" approach when rumors of an Apple "tablet" first surfaced. But it does seem that anything they touch these days turns to gold.

I don't think the platform is nearly as important as what you do with it. But I can see lots of reasons to be excited about the iPad as "the next platform" for K-12.

Finally, we must always remember that technology isn't the whole story ... but it does change how the story is told.

Best, Mark

Graham's picture

There is no question that technology is a part of the education solution. Hardware like the iPad and iPhone will enable new academic models to be developed. I am specifically interested in the development of hybrid school models that utilize experiential/service learning.

Dodie's picture

Don't forget the Nook. Having just purchased one I see English teachers no longer buying paperbacks and passing out preloaded nooks for the classes. Now that's cool!

mauricio aldana's picture
mauricio aldana
esl/efl teacher

I think technology is an extraordinary tool that happens to be one more appendix for digital natives. It is important to have a clear purpose when using it for educational purposes. I think we should really learn how the brain learns in order to make the most out of the different gadgets we have at hand. As facilitators, we should not use technology for the sake of it. You can have a cutting-edge classroom, but if your teaching approach is obsolete, the results you will get won't be any different.

Katie Robey's picture

I'm a new user to the Ipad but agree it and other tablets could be very useful in the classroom. I have two concerns, the need to be able to connect to the Internet for resources and the keyboard for typing. First, when I'm at home and using our wireless connection, it's a great tool, but when on the road, unless I can connect, it's not as useful. I know the next model will have the ability to buy a data plan, and that's good, but for use in school's unless they are wireless, it might not be such a good deal. Second, I wonder how long it took you to type your blog, I find myself hitting keys on the bottom row instead of the space bar and having run-on-words that I have to fix. Not such a big deal when emailing, but when typing up papers, it can be a big issue.

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

[quote]Don't forget the Nook. Having just purchased one I see English teachers no longer buying paperbacks and passing out preloaded nooks for the classes. Now that's cool![/quote]

Yes very cool!

I am excited about a device like the iPad because we can load the books - text, fiction and non-fiction AND have kids research, write (blog, essay, etc.) and present. The Nook and Kindle are basically only reading devices.

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