Exploring the use of iPads and mobile devices in education.
You hear it repeatedly. You can't throw technology into schools without training and support for teachers. If you purchased a truckload of iPads for your school then you better have a plan for developing teachers that are skilled in using them ... but what does it really mean to be "skilled"? If I know all about technical specifications, how to download and synchronize apps, how to configure my iPad - does that make me skilled? What constitutes effective professional development? How do we train teachers to use technologies such as iPads and expect a real change in education?
The United States spends more per capita on educational technology than any other nation on earth. It's not even close. While we can bemoan a lack of thorough teacher training, by and large it has been relatively significant. The obvious question remains after all the investment in educational technology - where are the results? In the USA we are currently caught in the midst of a very public national educational crisis. Newspapers are publishing teacher ratings, schools are being closed and national academic standards are falling. It seems apparent that despite all our costly technology implementations, educational standards are falling significantly. Why?
In her study of how technology is used in industry, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff has identified two distinct phases in the way new tools are implemented. She calls them "Automating" and "Informating". In the Automating stage, new tools are used to reinforce existing practices and processes. We see this stamped all over the educational space. Smartboard use that reinforces existing frontal teaching methods. Digital content replacing paper distribution. Technology that speeds the efficiency of existing standardized testing. The essence and character of traditional educational practices however hasn't changed. It's still "business as usual" in most American schools.
The second phase of a tool's implementations - "Informating" as Professor Zuboff calls it - involves the re-imagination of processes using the new technologies. Instead of focusing on making existing processes more efficient, we start to look at entirely new methods and goals. We are in the infancy of that stage in education. In the Informating phase, educators reevaluate goals, visions and processes:
- We see a society that values skills such as critical thinking, communication and creativity over the rote memorization of content. After all, the vast majority of content can be easily accessed within seconds on most mobile devices.
- We value new literacies such as informational literacy that enables students to access, filter and evaluate the evolving mass of content now available.
- We recognize an emerging global society where development of collaborative skills far outweigh traditional demands that students sit still, listen and work only on their own.
- We understand and value the use of text as a means of conveying information but also recognize that alternative medias are the language of new generations and their use needs to be encouraged in schools.
- We feel the empowerment granted by new technologies and their ability to move us from frontal delivery of content to involving students in discovery based and interactive learning practices.
The availability of technology such as iPads is important but alone, it's not nearly enough. The value of having well trained teachers is also vital but will fall short if we only focus on "how-to" technical skills. How much value have we added if we use iPads for activities such as distributing black and white text-based documents for students to read - even if done efficiently? If we develop a "cool" method for having students create documents on the iPad and store them online, have we really innovated if we restrict them to working alone and creating simple word processing documents? Powerpoints/Keynotes - nice tools but do we really feel that they cause a significant shift in educational practice?
Professional development becomes far more valuable when it searches beyond the simple nuts and bolts of technical use and instead encourages teachers to disrupt the traditional flow of education - to dabble, experiment and re-imagine how that technology can be used to sculpt new educational horizons. A skilled teacher knows more than the simple mechanics of how to use a specific tool. A skilled teacher knows that technology implementations won't have any impact as long as you try and retrofit them on to outdated teaching methods. Only when combined with the creativity and ingenuity of dedicated teachers can technology have a truly disruptive and transformative effect.
There are many teachers finding exciting new ways to utilize iPads and other technologies to craft innovative new educational paradigms. Let's hear their stories. Add them to the site. It is the responsibility of educational leaders to usher in this "second stage" of technology integration. The future is calling us.