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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Will the iPad and Similar Technology Revolutionize Learning?

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

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

NewsNeus's picture

I agree:
"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)."

But more that the ePad, what's going to really revolutionize Learning is the compound process of:
a) Immediate access to expanded reality (data from real-time cameras, portagonists of events and news agents, conferences...)
b) New social relationships and new institudions that happen to appear on the Internet (PLN...)
c) Changes in the paradigms of dependence in learning processes (teacher/student will alternate in eLearning and in a Lifelong learning)
d) New styles of comercialize knowledge(it becoms a service instead of a product... subscriptions more that object-books )

So, formal education will evolve towards the frontier of non-formal and informal situations... Great adventure!

I agree: The next decade will be very exciting and tumultuous! :-)

Phil's picture

We have been reviewing apps for two iPad rollouts: one in 6 technology rich 4/5 classrooms, and one in a Special Education setting. I am quite impressed by the range of applications that can be used to support reading and writing activities.
One example: students who are challenged by the mechanical aspects of writing can use their own language (and spelling), and then dictate their writing in Dragon Dictation and receive a written version of their story back. This is obviously not a cure-all for literacy, but it is a new way of working on fluency (as they prepare to read their story) and word work (as they compare their spellings with what comes back to them).
Many of the education apps seem a bit simplistic at this point (more practice with little instruction), but we are finding a number that we plan to use.
In terms of accessing information, an app like wikipanion will simplify the process of accessing information, and Moe's Notes is a great app for students to store a picture, dictate a short audio note, and also type short text pieces.
The iPads are not perfect, but I'm very excited about the possibilities.

Alyx A. Knight's picture

I agree that the iPad can assist, perhaps revolutionize student learning and thinking. Last May, I sent in a Fund-A-Need request for someone to purchase an iPad for me to be used with my high school students. I wish to employ guided inquiry using this new technology. I can respond quickly to students, be VERY mobile and be so interactive as we do research for English, AP History, Science, etc.

Alyx A. Knight's picture

I agree that the iPad can revolutionize students' thinking process. In May, I submitted a Fund-A-Need for someone to purchase an iPad for me so that I can use in in my Lincoln, Nebraska high school library. My focus for our students is guided inquiry. The iPad is an exceptional tool for this: quick and reciprocal responses between me and student, HIGH mobility as I walk around to each student and, with the keyboard, a fantastic way to share knowledge with our visually handicapped students. I sincerely hope someone funds this; the iPad technology and new design brings learning strategies up close and quick---a real boon to teaching 2010 students!

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

Firstly, you can buy laptop computers for less than $500, and I'm not talking about netbooks. The $500 iPad price is the starting price.

Secondly, the iPad is only an enabling technology. You must have software and, in most instances, a teacher (mentor) for it to work in education.

I am quite concerned about schools trading teachers for technology. Until, probably decades from now, computers can do sensitive tutoring, we must have teachers in large numbers. No IWB or student tablet can substitute for a teacher. As the technology develops, it will allow teachers to handle a few more students each. If so, then we're basically running in place because so many teachers already have too many students in their classes. New technology may help them to deal effectively with those they already have.

I believe that the future of learning lies in some sort of per-student computing device similar in appearance to the iPad. The iPad is not quite there yet as I see it.

My particular work involves providing authentic science online through the use of prerecorded real experiments. The software must be highly interactive and run on the student computer to be so. For cross-platform compatibility and robust maintainability, we had to choose Java. But the iPad will not run Java. The similarly priced laptops do.

In addition, we ask students to use their own personal care and judgment in collecting data. The iPad has no precision pointing device and none is available yet through others. Without precision pointing, students cannot exercise much care in interactive data collection.

Therefore, for two reasons the iPad is not ready for our higher-order learning software. I cannot say whether similar obstacles exist for other subjects, only that it's a problem for science.

For now, I applaud the experimenting being done with this new device and hope that it leads to the ultimate per-student portable computing device.

Cynthia DeMone - 16414's picture
Cynthia DeMone - 16414
10th grade biology teacher

After reading all the comments I agree first of all with Mr. Keller that there are drawbacks in the apps on the iPad. He has a real point about the Java app not working on iPad and the non-precise pointing ability. Laptops for the same price have the computer apps that students need acccess to to do much of the computer based interactives which appeal to them.
As far as the overall aspects of technology use in the classroom I go back to what I learned a while back. If you can do the teaching more effectively using the technology then use it. If it is used just because it is novel and new yet doesn't enhance the learning experience better than previously used methods don't waste your time with it. Especially in Science, we need to get away from pencil and paper and use the technology which is used in science reasearch in as much as is possible.

Dan Hamilton's picture

I love the possibility of the iPad and the fact that it puts the kids in control of the learning. Interactive whiteboards are genuinely used by teachers rather than students. Therfore the teachers own the learning rather than the students. Students having an iPad in hand puts them in control of how and when to access new things rather than being guided by the teacher.

This year we implemented an iTouch prooject in our 3rd grade and had huge success with the students accessing new learning in new ways, much of it discovered by the students. I can't wait to see what the iPad brings to the table!

Melissa Beyers's picture

In May we purchased MacBook Pros and iPads for all administration and faculty. Faculty and admin went through a three hour training provided by Apple professional development, and have been packing summer institute sessions on how to use these new tools in their 21st Century Classroom.

The rationale behind purchasing these tools for teachers has several aspects...we wanted teachers to be able to assess academic progress based on standards in real time - by utilizing the forms feature of numbers, our online grade book, and by recording anecdotal records both in written and audio form (the iPad allows for complete mobility in recording progress anytime, anywhere), additionally we believe that the iPad can drastically increase teacher efficiency by eliminating duplicate data entry and allowing for more time to be spent on academic intervention planning, and finally we believe that access to over 200,000 apps can provide teachers and students access to software applications, books, and information in an unprecedented way.

The response has been fantastic. A very large majority of teachers and admin are embracing this technology and see how these tools can improve differentiation, efficiency, and meaningful data collection. They also appear to appreciate how the district is providing the necessary tools and professional development to help the system move forward with authentic standards-based 21st Century instruction.

Edutopia's picture
Edutopia
Edutopia Team
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Here at Edutopia, I've been using an iPad to access Safari Books Online, a commercial service that allows users to check out digital books, and I have to say its completely changed the way I stay up on new technologies. It was cost prohibitive to keep buying new computer books, or to replace outdated versions. The combination of the iPad and Safari's service is amazing, and I can easily see schools adopting tablet devices in place of paper books in the future.

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