One of our iPad pilot program teachers was planning on having students start a new web based research project and I wanted to observe and evaluate how smoothly it went. Students were being split into groups of around four and each group was given the task of researching one civil rights leader. They would have to deliver a speech as that leader later in the week.
I had several first impressions when entering the room:
Most groups had split the tasks so that some were researching and others were taking notes. It was extremely interesting to note that out of those taking notes, around half were taking them on the iPad and the rest were taking notes using pen and paper. It did seem really odd that they had the latest technology at their fingertips yet they were using a very "un-technological" approach to the recording of information. There seemed to be three primary reasons:
- Students were sitting in groups and were busy working. It wasn't quiet - effective group work requires discussion and interaction. They definitely were busy researching and discussing the articles they found.
- As opposed to being buried behind screens each student had their iPad sitting flat on the desk or in their lap. The device did not get in the way or interrupt the discussion flow. You actually barely noticed their presence.
- Most but not all seemed to be working efficiently and were very comfortable with the touch screens. I made a point of going around to each group and asking how they felt about the touch screen and general iPad interface. Most loved it but 3 out of 16 students responded that they didn't like the touch interface.
- Some simply were not comfortable typing on the iPads. When asked, it seemed to be a pretty even split between those students that "loved" typing on the device and those that preferred paper and pen.
- The iPads are shared and it gets a little complicated getting notes off it easily. Those that did take notes on the iPad generally used Pages and emailed the document to themselves at the end of the period.
- The lack of multitasking made it difficult to switch between applications and take notes. For some it was simply easier to take their notes on paper while reading from the iPad. This will be an ongoing impediment to effective workflow in the classroom unless and until Apple comes up with a smooth multitasking interface for the iPad.
It's been about a month since they started using the iPads and all the students seem to have become extremely comfortable using them. Overall the ease with which they searched for and manipulated information on screen seemed to be significant. When asked whether they would rather use laptops to do the research most responded that they preferred the iPads, primarily because they are light, easy to use and turn on and off instantly.