In the grand scheme of things I am still very much a n00b in the edtech world. I didn't rise up through the ranks of yard supervisor or some other certificated union ranks. I didn't spend years in the computer lab at a school rather I have been involved in and with technology for as long as I can remember. Professionally I started as a C++ programmer, software developer and GUI designer during the early tech booms. I have seen great ideas come and go, dreamed up amazing vaporware, speculated about future developments and played with some amazing technology. I live and breathe this stuff and nothing gets me more excited than tinkering away on the weekend with some new idea.
Over the years there have been some great tech battles, Betamax vs. VHS, Laserdisk vs. VHS, Mac vs. PC so on and so forth but none seems to raise up the hairs on the arms of my fellow colleges as the iPad vs. everything else debate. Scores of brilliant manifestos have been written on the virtues and deficits of the iPad as a valid educational platform. I have been verbaly insulted and have even had my intelligence called into question for even suggesting such a notion that the iPad could very well be the most efficient and viable tool for education available today.
Let me be the first to admit there is no "perfect" solution for any educational environment. What works in one setting could very well be a total failure in another. Many things play into this such as; the skill level of staff, the willingness of the staff to stretch themselves and the vision of the leadership. I will say this though, the iPad has proven to be an very functional and reliable tool in our educational arsenal.
In August we launched a 1:1 iPad program at our middle school (6-8th) and I think what sets us apart from other 1:1 programs is our 8th grade students are allowed to take the iPads home with them and the fact that we are a public school. It has been a whirl wind ride to say the least. Since that time we have been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School and have been reported in the press several times. All the accolades are fantastic but what has been the most impressive is what is happening in the education of our students. The first question people invariably ask is, "how have test scores improved". I hate that question for so many reasons but the simple answer is, "we don't know yet" as we haven't participated in any standardized testing at this point. Here though are some things we have noticed and believe we have benefited from, tangible or not:
1. Differentiation - This i believe is the byproduct of any 1:1 program regardless of the device. Differentiation seems to be one of those terms that has been touted in education for some time but in my opinion it is truly achieved in a 1:1 environment. For example we provide many different note taking applications, some are plain text based, some are audio based, linear, abstract... so on and so forth. The point being that we don't require a student take notes in any one manner but provide the platform that allows students to decide the method that works best for them. This same concept applies to all disciplines and we have found no shortage or applications to support this model.
2. Engagement - We have immediate buy in from our students. We "adults" like to talk about these things with such authority and pat ourselves on the back for our ideas and implementations but the reality is we are barely keeping up. This is the students world, this is their norm, like it or not. By engaging the students with the iPad we are just meeting them where they already are in terms of technology. This alone is a very delicate topic and I have witnessed some amazing discussions around this concept. The reality is though we have seen an increased turn in rate on assignments, student participation has grown, attendance is up and get this... discipline rates have decreased. That last point alone should sell any school board.
3. Hardware - I come from an open source bent, so getting into cahoots with Apple was a bit of a stretch for me. I will tell it as simply as I can, it just works. The battery life is astounding, the applications work every time on time, the simplicity of the iOS greatly decreased our implementation times. Say all you want about the closed environment, about Apple's tight control and unpredictable behavior but what the iPad provides and that no other device has done is to give a predictable user experience. In a 47 minutes class giving up precious time for technology mishaps just isn't acceptable. When the instructor feels confident that they can say, "go to this application and start your assignment" that the technology will not hinder that directive, you have a winner.
4. Content Creation - Yes you heard that right, creation not consumption. This misnomer that the iPad doesn't allow project based learning or content creation gets under my skin like nothing else. Our students are producing amazing work in terms of written, artistic, musical on and on. It's my intention to start a gallery of our students projects to show them off a little.
I guess I could go on but I won't. I am not much of a writer so grammar police please take it easy on me. I have offered many times on the CETPA list and through Twitter our campus as a place to come and visit and see it work for yourself. That's the key really, once you see it in action, you get it. I hope I have given just a little insight into one school's plight to date. I look forward to dialoging with open minded people and am so excited to be involved in what I think is a very transformative time in the education of some of the coolest people I know, students.