It seems the honeymoon is over with iPad devices in education. Whether it’s people questioning the efficacy of turning a personal device into a shared tool, the complex ethical dilemmas Foxconn presents us with, or the sheer consumerism and corporate lust that the words ‘iPad rollout’ imbue, the critics are many and mostly intelligent. As someone who has been lucky enough to use iPad devices with students since pretty much their release, I feel the need to briefly address and delicately admonish those that express perhaps the greatest criticism of iPad use in classrooms: it’s a consumption, not a creation, tool (you never hear this criticism of books).
After using the first generation of iPad with students for a year, I agreed with this point. That’s because, in 2011 (yes waaay back in 2011!) iPad apps were mostly consumption and game based. It also had no camera. As a result, we spent most of the year using the devices for a small degree of creative activities, but mostly as dummy terminals to the internet, connecting to our social media tools.
2012, equipped with iPad 2s, has been a far different story. The constant and exponential improvement of apps, coupled with the camera (integral, because it allows you to use it as a tool for capturing live learning), has turned it into a different device. I would describe our iPad 2s now as shared, digital scrap/sketchbooks. In fact, my students mostly use them for creation. Apps such as Sketchbook Pro and iMovie, while incomparable in capability to their desktop counterparts, are not silly little apps. They may be comparatively ridiculous for your average professional graphic designer, but are just what the doctor ordered in a classroom that values simple, embedded digital storytelling. On a daily basis, you will see my students using an iPad to:
- mind and concept map
- draw pictures
- make movies
- film learning as it happens
- make music
- create presentations
- make animations
- play games
- make calculations
- use manipulatives
- (come back to me next week after another of my students discovers something new).
When people say that the iPad is not a creation tool, it’s mostly because those of us who write this stuff are coming from the perspective of the experienced, advanced desktop/laptop user. Based on that, everything mobile is a disappointment. What is more, I’ve noticed a trend that those who point out its lack of creative potential have often never used it for creative endeavours themselves. In fact, I myself hardly use my own iPad 1 for anything other than reading my RSS feeds. That doesn’t mean I cannot see its value for classroom use. The iPad presents us with a host of limitations for classroom application; perhaps that’s a good thing.
I loathe the fact that this post could be interpreted as an endorsement of a product. Nevertheless, I’m not going to hide the fact that I absolutely love using the iPad with students. It’s not my own personal favourite device, but I’m a big fan of its classroom application.
So, are we witnessing a natural backlash against the proverbial popular kid in school, or are iPad devices really bad for education? What do you think?