One of the most challenging lessons for schools to learn in implementing iPads is that the iPad is not a laptop. The conversation can sometimes get bogged down around the device, trapping schools in these definitions as they lose sight of the central reasons to use technology:
- To enhance teaching and learning
- To differentiate instruction
- To personalize the learning experience
- To solve authentic problems where technology must be used to solve those problems
This is not an easy lesson. It requires a paradigm shift in teaching and learning.
iPads vs. Laptops
It's worth noting the different features of laptops and iPads and to see the benefit of both devices.
While the laptop is heavy, takes a long time to boot up, and is often used as a word processing tool with typing and keyboarding being paramount, it's also a powerful device for computer programming and accessing Adobe Flash-based simulations, particularly in the sciences. And the laptop is not bound by the app store. Many adults often prefer using a laptop over an iPad. And many students feel the same way. The laptop is often the default go-to device, full of power and possibility.
The shift to iPads over laptops does not have to be a zero sum game. The ideal setting, being adopted by many schools, is moving to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs to allow for flexibility and for students to work on their own devices. And BYOD also shifts the conversation away from the device and toward the learning experience. In other words, based on the learning experience, which device will best allow students to achieve the learning objectives? It might be a laptop or a tablet -- or even a smartphone.
Fast and Nimble
For teachers making the transition to iPads, frustration can set in if they continue to view the iPad as being deficient as a laptop. For example, they might talk about how difficult it is for kids to keyboard and edit on an iPad. We need to put the keyboarding issue to rest. Dr. Mark David Milliron comments, "While the new generations send text messages at 60 words per minute, the Baby Boomers text at six words per minute on average."
The iPad is a mobile device, and kids can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Through using the split screen to type in the manner of texting, they can get their thoughts down quickly. In watching students use iPads, it's remarkable to see how facile they are in moving, adjusting and rearranging text in a Pages document, for example. It can be blinding to watch this fast, nonlinear workflow that is completely alien to the way adults were trained to type.
Clive Thompson in The Globe and Mail explains the concept of speed:
When it comes to writing and thinking, speed matters. It's what's called transcription fluency: If you can't write fast enough, you can lose an idea or a way of phrasing something, and it never comes back, Steven Graham, a literacy scholar at Arizona State University, told me. In contrast, when you can write and edit more swiftly, you can include more ideas and flesh them out more deeply.
Speed writing, outside of the boundaries of the traditional typing model, can be unsettling and baffling to many educators. The iPad is mobile, light, nimble, and boots up easily and quickly. To get started in class, all a student has to do is open the case and the iPad is ready. It's not meant to sit on a desktop. Instead, it is designed to be transported and used in flexible spaces.
In a science class, the iPad is a perfect device to video the steps and evolution of a lab, where a student can walk the viewer through the experience of conducting an experiment. Or students can photograph different components of the lab to create a virtual lab writeup. A laptop is more difficult to maneuver for capturing this type of learning experience.
For a world language class, students can interview each other outside of the classroom to practice authentic dialogue. They can create scripts and scenarios, and teachers can assess accents and pronunciation. But kids should be able to get out of their seats, and teachers should be willing to collapse the classroom walls.
From a visual standpoint, the iPad enables a whole new version of note taking. Sketch-noting has transformed note taking away from linear and toward artistic, creative, visual and free forming information capture. In T.H.E Journal, Paul Glader explains how sketch-noting works:
Many practitioners of sketch-noting use a stylus pen to draw on the iPad and use a drawing app such as Paper combined with apps like Evernote or Google Drive to save and manage notes in the cloud. Some snap their own photos of blackboards or PowerPoint slides, integrating images into their visual notes. Others grab photos from the web, cropping and dropping them into their notes and jotting maps, arrows, and words to connect and illustrate the ideas.
A Mobile Device
Again, the message is that the iPad opens doors to meeting the needs of a wider range of learners, learning styles and modalities.
As schools continue to explore the transition to iPads, it is critical to push the question back to teachers whether they are viewing the iPad as a replacement for the laptop or as a mobile device capable of dismantling time, space and linear approaches to learning.
Of course, this can be a terrifying thought, especially as schools have been designed for students to learn inside classrooms, at desks, and in a daily, weekly and yearly schedule constructed in a linear fashion with a one-size-fits-all mindset.
The recent Apple iPad ad, "Your Verse," shows users outside employing the iPad as a mobile device. Not a single image in the ad has the user sitting at a desk.
The benefit of the iPad is that it can be one size fits each, with boundless opportunities for differentiated, customized and personalized learning that gets kids out of their seats and classrooms, and into open, flexible and modular spaces.
Have you had positive experiences with the iPad or with mobile learning in general? Tell us about it in the comments section below.