Is the iPad changing perspectives on media use in the classroom?

in Education (E)

[] Temiskaming Shores, Canada - When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested last September that the time had come for electorate to engage in meaningful debate on the issue of handheld media devices in the province's classrooms, the backlash was swift. The public wanted nothing of it. Those darn things will be nothing but a distraction to the already over-stimulated and disengaged youth of today, the detractors said. Next issue, please.

But with the sudden emergence and breakaway success of tablet computers, namely Apple's iPad, some educational experts believe it may be time for the public to reconsider McGuinty's comments.

It's what happens when phones become computers and computers become more mobile. The lines blur.

Tablets aren't phones, but they certainly can be used as communications devices for instant messaging, which is one of the most disconcerting points in terms of educational application for most Ontarians.

"Here is a device that has tremendously useful properties as an educational tool," says Dave Brown, an Ontario teacher who also heads Interactive Elementary, a company that builds educational applications for the iPad. "It can be your textbook, word processor, calendar, whatever. Really it can be a zillion things, but no one will be focusing on all of the potential ways in which students can use tablets until we address the misguided perception that these devices are nothing more than toys."

Brown believes his company's first release, Middle School Math, is helping change the way educators and parents think about the application of mobile technology in the classroom. Emphasizing game-playing and skill development, the app debuted on Apple's' App Store in June with activities based on basic algebra, data management, and coordinate geometry. The app is being utilized by students in twenty countries, and yesterday the company released its second major update in two months.

"Give a tablet to your two-year old and have her do a puzzle. You might experience a paradigm shift."

With several schools south of the border experimenting with tablet computers and other hand-held media devices, the debate as to whether mobile devices have a place in the Ontario classroom is certain to find its way back on the radar before long.

In fact, the tablet may be the example McGuinty wished he had a year ago when an overwhelming majority of his electorate found his suggestions ludicrous.

"Over time, student use of mobile devices will gain acceptance in Canada," argues Brown. "But the bigger question is who is responsible for purchasing the hardware and, by extension, who is given the reigns for controlling the software. That's really the issue school boards will be wrestling with over the next decade."

This is no small point. If the freedom for students to bring their own mobile devices to school is not the most pressing issue in terms of how school boards manage technology today, it is certainly the most contentious.

Brown sees both sides of debate, but points out the need for cash-strapped schools to look at utilizing the tools that their students already possess.

"I think the vast majority of the public, and for that matter the vast majority of the educational establishment, would be very resistant to giving children the freedom to bring their own devices into the schoolroom. Long term, though, I think society has been headed in this direction for a while, and I see it as an inevitable conclusion."

"It sounds cliche, but we can't keep doing things the way were doing them thirty years ago. The world is a rapidly changing place and we need to examine ways in which our institutions can respond to these changes without putting on our collective earmuffs. I'm not preaching an overhaul. I'm suggesting adaptations."

Societal trends aside, the concerns of detractors are abundant.

For many of the province's teachers, the fundamental issue is how the software is controlled. On board-owned laptops and desktop computers, students have very few opportunities to use technology inappropriately as they are not given the power to install programs. Administrators have this power, and instant messaging programs usually don't make the cut. So when students start bringing mobile devices into school from home, the fear is that control is lost. Hence the policy of the majority of the province's schools: Leave your personal devices at home.

David Ashby, a Dallas-based educational technologist and a proponent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, urges detractors to consider their concerns within a historical context.

"When students only used paper and pencil how did you know if they were using it to pass notes or to take notes? It should be no different than before the students used the devices. The main question is this, is the student on task? "

According to Ashby, fairness is another big sticking point for those hesitant to embrace a BYOB culture. If schools aren't supplying the hardware, some fear a two-tiered system is created where some have tools others simply can't afford.

"BYOD is not about everyone doing the same thing in the same way. It allows for individuals to use the tools and techniques that are at their disposal, but if you do need everyone to have a device, it is much easier for the campus to provide 5-10 devices for students who do not have their own, rather than the district or campus to have to supply all 25-30."

When asked how a teacher should respond when a student's device chimes from a notification or even rings, Ashby is straightforward.

"Has your phone ever gone off in a professional development meeting? We as adults are just a guilty. Do what you can to communicate the expectation of silencing all devices. However, be patient and forgiving. You've probably forgotten a time or two also."

Device Requirements:
* Compatible with iPad
* Requires iOS 3.2 or later
* 19.6 MB

Pricing and Availability:
Middle School Math 2.1 is $4.99 USD (or equivalent amount in other currencies) and available worldwide exclusively through the App Store in the Education category.

Launched in 2010, Interactive Elementary develops educational applications for the Apple iPad. Its products fulfill the need for engaging, cutting-edge software in today's iPad-equipped classrooms and homes. The creative team behind Interactive Elementary strives to build applications that enhance the learning experiences of children around the world, empowering them by providing hands-on, technology-driven resources. Copyright (C) 2011 Interactive Elementary. All Rights Reserved. Apple, the Apple logo, iPhone, iPod and iPad are registered trademarks of Apple Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries.


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