iPads and iPedagogy
Posted January 11, 2011on:
There are mixed responses to such articles, of course. A few in the US might lament that in tight financial times iPads are an unproven extravagance. Some among that number don’t deny the importance of technology-infused curricula and propose the use of cheaper tools like PDAs or netbooks.
I agree that cost-effectiveness is important in practically any context. But the iPads need to be looked at in the historical context of 1:1 computing programmes, tool affordances and pedagogy.
No matter how well-intentioned, 1:1 computing programs of the past were an administrative game. Put one laptop computer in front of everyone. If they owned it, great. If not, they shared the laptops from a pool so that the 1:1 ratio was met. Laptops were also the de facto choice. Two years ago, netbooks entered the fray. Before that, a few schools tinkered with PDAs and iPods.
Now the iPads are centre stage. Compared to laptops pound for pound and feature for feature, iPads are cheaper. Do your research and your sums and you will realize this to be true. (At least until the next big but cheaper thing comes along!) You, a sponsor or a parent can put one in the hands of learners.
iPads are also generally more durable, run a lot longer and are easier to tote than netbooks. In terms of screen size and human-computer interaction (HCI), the iPad blows the smaller mobile devices out of the water. The iPad is also supported by a very large app store. Those are just a few key technical affordances. But given what users have got used to in laptops, the iPad is still not a laptop replacement (nor was it designed to be).
That said, the technical “shortcomings” could actually serve pedagogical ends. The biggest bugbear seems to be that the iPad does not run Flash. While this might cut off access to certain Web sites, they ensure the stability and battery endurance of the device and challenge the teacher to think of other strategies. In any case, more and more Web sites are adopting HTML5 and this bodes well not just for the iPad but for mobile computing platforms as a whole.
Consider another side benefit. Most owners of the iPad will use them in personal consumption mode. If they challenge themselves, they might try simple collaborative tools (existing ones like Google Docs and made for the iPad ones like shared maps and boards). Any teacher who tries to use the iPad in presentation mode will face several challenges. The fact that the iPad does not mirror its screen to a projector by default is a big one.
Again this is an excellent opportunity for teachers to rethink their approach to teaching. How might they promote more student-centred and self-directed learning via personal consumption instead? How might they put the iPads in the hands of learners to promote various forms of collaboration instead?
So I think the cost-effectivess of the iPad is not an issue, particularly in the Singapore school system where money was poured into education even during a bad economy. It is mindset. The device is unproven only because it is not given a chance by those who hold the pursestrings.
If there were any bad edtech interventions in the past, they were partly due to the perception that technology was a panacea for all schooling ills. We know better now. We also know that technology alone isn’t going to improve grades; there are many other contributing factors. So taking technology out of the equation does not make sense. If it did, we should also be firing bad teachers, rejecting unmotivated students and correcting parents with bad attitudes.
Most of the articles and blogs I have read on the educational use of iPads and the personal stories I hear from users back up what I already know and experience: Teachers and their students are excited about the tool. That excitement is something to take advantage of. But excitement can only take you as far as a sprint. The initial energy needs to be sustained with pedagogies in the marathon that is teaching and learning.
With just about the implementation of any edtech, a question that gets asked is whether to place the pedagogical horse before the technological cart. This seems the wise thing to do in theory since you would want the pedagogy to drive the use of technology. But while you might be able to do this with some edtech in the past, the so-called “disruptive technologies” challenge that notion.
I’ve said before that the iPad is more like a motorbike. The horse and cart are one. You have to hop on to learn how to ride it, and after you figure out what it can and cannot do, you show others how to do the same on their own. iPedagogy: It’s a balancing act that borrows from mobile learning and putting learners armed with mobile devices like the iPad squarely in the centre of a learning ecosystem.