How will the education machinery respond to tablet technologies? I am iPad enthusiast. In this technology, unlike many others, I was an early adopter. I had gained enormously from having an e-reader – its convenience and storage capacity simply meant that I read more books. I saw the iPad as a useful addition to enable to me read magazines, newspapers and other texts dependent on colour and illustration. I got my iPad for my birthday and we are both now a year older. My iPad has made significant enhancements to the ways I manage and enjoy my life – and my learning.
The iPad is one of many similar ‘tablet’ computers and communication devices. Whilst there are many brands of ‘tablets’, the iPad reigns supreme – and technology consumers, unlike pharmaceutical consumers, are not ticking the cheaper generic brand box. According to a June 17 BBC report, tablet usage has increased by 2,500% in the past year. Sales of personal computers in the same period fell by 23%. So it’s not just me who’s an enthusiast.
Historically students have led the way, seeing current technologies as tools to enhance their engagement with learning. Educators have traditionally been slow to respond to technological change. The ‘biro’ pen was banned from schools in the 1950’s, Mathematics teachers forbade the use of primitive electronic calculators in the 1970s, the Internet was, and remains, for teachers a distrustful source of information. Tablet computers and other pocket devices provide the current technological enhancement that schools are considering excluding, or harnessing, for educative purposes following their students’ leads.
Mobile phones are the most common student-owned computing as well as communication tools. They are used, and misused, by our students to enhance their education, to manage, and mismanage, aspects of their adolescent social development, to participate in local and global societies, to engage with their world. Mobile phones have morphed from communication to information and data generating, storage and processing devices. A very few schools are experimenting with mobile phone use in learning; for example in Christian Brothers’ College in St Kilda East Victoria students are ‘permitted’ to use their mobile phones to support their learning. They can, for example, use the phone’s camera to photograph experiments and black-boarded notes. But, by and large, schools are fearful of managing in safe and educative ways the use of mobile phone technologies and have excluded them. Student subversion will, nevertheless, win that battle. Perhaps a future blog on mobile technologies and social networking in education?
There is a greater institutional enthusiasm for the portable tablet device. The iPad enables students to gain information and then use a host of analytic and creative tools to manipulate, recreate and present new knowledge. The enthusiasm for the iPad has been stimulated by, and, in turn, stimulated the production of, educational applications, ‘apps’; there are now over 6,000. There are reading apps that gauge a student’s fluency and e-mail the results to the teacher, to full texts of many books, to virtual dissections of frogs, to the creative possibilities made possible by the on-tablet creative applications. Many schools are trialling the use of the iPad and other tablet devices with learners.
The following is a snapshot of global ‘tablet-taking’. The Victorian DEECD is currently trialling the use of iPads at 10 education institutions, covering primary, secondary, P–12 and specialist settings. One of them is Ringwood North Primary School, where 138 iPads were distributed to students in years 5 and 6, during September 2010, in a trial due for completion at the end of this year. The students have been permitted to download their own apps, music and videos. Pulteney Grammar School in Adelaide has given all Year 9 and 10 students an iPad as a trial, which if successful, will be extended to other areas of the school. The New York City education authorities have ordered more than 2,000 iPads for city schools. More than 200 Chicago public schools have applied for grants to purchase iPads for their students.
Every pupil at Cedars School of Excellence, in Greenock, Scotland, is now armed with an iPad, creating an environment a world away from the typical ‘computer room’, and providing the potential for seamless integration of technology and traditional teaching. Teachers at this school have found that the flexibility and portability (including long battery life) of the iPad and have integrated their use into learning. iPads, unlike laptops, do not interfere with the students’ eye-line to the teacher because they are flat ‘tablets’, and each tablet can be individualised to each student’s program and need.
A growing number of schools in Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore and South Korea, are replacing students’ paper notebooks with iPads and other tablet computers. Japan’s communications ministry has given tablets to more than 3,000 pupils at 10 elementary schools. In South Korea, where schools have WiFi zones, the education ministry has been testing ‘digital textbooks’ in some schools since 2007. In 2012, the ministry says it will decide whether to supply tablets to schools nationwide. The Singapore education ministry provides a grant for schools to buy tablet computers, as well as software and services.
Gary Brown, a team leader at the Catholic Education office in Parramatta NSW, has been exploring ways that schools can use social networking sites and technologies to support learning without putting students at risk. Brown believes the only way to tackle the challenge is for schools and teachers to take on the responsibility ‘to create digital citizens’. He is using iPads that have the look and feel of ‘large’ 3G smartphones but are limited to wireless connections and therefore have connectivity that can be monitored and managed by teachers and administrators. (Education Review, Nov 2010).
iPads and similar tablet devices are also being used in the provision of special education. In the USA, Westmark School, a private middle school in Encino California, which serves students with ‘learning differences’ such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and comprehension difficulties, is using the iPad to meet specific individual learning needs. In Canada, the University of Toronto has undertaken a research project aimed at determining if devices like iPads make it easier for physically, emotionally, mentally and developmentally challenged children to communicate and interact with others.
So a lot is happening. And it needs to. The 2011 New Media Consortium Horizon Report promotes the need for continuous technological engagement by students:
Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate, and succeed. Technology skills are now critical to success in almost every arena of life. The digital divide, once seen as a factor of wealth, is now seen as a factor of education: those who have the opportunity to learn technology skills are in a better position to obtain and make use of technology than those who do not. Evolving occupations, multiple careers, and an increasingly mobile workforce contribute to this trend. http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2011-Horizon-Report-K12.pdf
It is, of course, the curriculum and pedagogies that need to change as well. The tablets and their notebook cousins enable individualised and personalised learning, portable engagement in learning, communal learning beyond the school, and power over information and knowledge creation and dissemination. There is no stand-and-deliver one-size-fits-all pedagogy required here.
The 2011 New Media Consortium Horizon Report lays down an important professional challenge for us:
The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing. Innovation is valued at the highest levels of business and must be embraced in schools if students are to succeed beyond their formal education. The ways we design learning experiences must reflect the growing importance of innovation and creativity as professional skills.
As educators we understand our importance in the learning process. Our students need us, as well as their tablets. We have the diagnostic skills, the ability to construct learning programs, the capacity to professionally engage students with learning that accounts for their experiences, interests, circumstance and moods. I was impressed by a young Egyptian protester during their recent revolution. ‘We are the internet generation: we will not put up with this government control’, he said. So let’s go with our students, let us show professional creativity and use the technologies to make a new form of individualised and tailored curriculum and pedagogy. We need to avoid the Mubarak outcome. The tablet might not be the solution, but it may have more impact than usual placebos.