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  1. 1. March 22, 2012 Benjamin Jackson How Tech Will Transform the Traditional Classroom Not Just a Textbook The iPad (not to mention the iPhone and iPod touch) is a personal, mobile computer capable of perfor- ming tasks unthinkable 10 years ago on a high-end desktop. For starters, the device features an incredibly na- tural user interface. Andy Brovey, one of about 1,500 teachers who have been chosen for Apple’s Distinguished Educators program, says, “There is a connection between the tip of your finger and the Ben Jackson is a writer and app developer living edge of your mind.” in Brooklyn, NY. He likes clean typography, dirty language, strong coffee, apple pie and comfortable Besides its advantages over traditional PCs — like chairs, and he writes about his obsessions at 90WPM. “instant on”, all-day battery life, freedom from messy cords, and the elimination of what Edward A s the post-PC era moves from interesting Tufte called “computer administrative debris” — theory to cold, hard reality, one of the most the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch can augment or pressing questions is: How can we use tablets, replace many classroom tools, and accomplish the and especially the iPad, to help people learn? following. Most of the focus has been on ebooks replacing text- • Lead classes on a shared digital whiteboard books, a trend fueled by Apple’s recent updates to with Penultimate, Splashtop Whiteboard or iBooks. Specifically, the company released iBooks Doceri Remote. Author, a tool for creating immersive ebooks on • Pair the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch with a the desktop. bluetooth keyboard and Writing Kit, Ele- ments or iA Writer for typing instruction Plus, the new iPad is now the first tablet with a retina and document editing. screen, making reading and watching multimedia • Remote-controlled class presentations with on the device even more enjoyable. Idea Flight or Fuze Meeting. • Teach music theory, composition and But technology is only as good as the system it’s editing with Garage Band or a number ofjoliprint applied to. Much like a fresh coat of paint will not third-party apps. improve the fuel efficiency of a ’69 Mustang, the • Digital sketchbooks with Brushes, Sketch- application of technology to a broken system masks Book Pro or Procreate, and digital collage deeper problems with short-term gains. with Mixel. Printed with • Encourage students to use apps like Reeder, Page 1
  2. 2. March 22, 2012 How Tech Will Transform the Traditional Classroom Longform and to discover and ting at Cedars School of Excellence, cautions schools consume both breaking news and long-form against settling on less-expensive Android tablets writing, and to compile reading lists with for many reasons, not the least of which is that Instapaper and Readability. Google has a poor track record delivering updates to users through carriers. If you decide to go with Of course, schools need to budget not just for the an Android device, don’t be surprised when you purchase of iPads, but for apps as well. Fortunately, receive a shipment of two-month-old tablets only Apple makes it easy to buy apps and ebooks in bulk to find out that none of them run Google Chrome. through the Apple Volume Purchase Program. How to Do an iPad Pilot Low-Budget Alternatives If your school can’t afford iPads, consider less expen- sive alternatives. Essa Academy had great success with its iPod Touch program. And there are plenty of free tools to liven up the classroom. • Online scrapbooking with Pinterest • Entrepreneurship with Kickstarter • Self-publishing with Kindle Direct Pu- blishing or Lulu • Blogging with WordPress or Posterous The majority of iPad pilots are based on the lending • Photo-blogging with Flickr or Instagram model. Speirs calls this the “iPad cart” philosophy, • Digital photo and HD film production with named after the “computer carts” common in scho- the iPhone 4S and any of dozens of camera ols before they installed machines in labs or issued accessories like the Glif, SLR Mount and laptops to students. Rangefinder However, Speirs cites it as a common error. In his Incorporating iPads does not require new classroom opinion, “The iPad, and computers like it…make equipment, and in fact, can breathe new life into school look like the society in which we live: one-to- old tools. For example, legacy VGA projectors can one computers.” This is a much more important les- be retrofitted to work with an Apple TV using a $60 son than any measurable gains, such as test scores. adaptor, allowing teachers to use Netflix, YouTube The iPad “makes the school relevant to the culture and iTunes rentals. What’s more, students can wi- in which education is happening,” he says. “And relessly project their iPad screens at any time. that’s much more important than a few points on math tests. Because if the school’s not culturallyjoliprint SEE ALSO: This Is How Apple Changes Education, relevant, then mass disillusionment is the result.” Forever Consider his analogy: “What would it be like if all the Remember, just because it has a touchscreen doesn’t people who write for Mashable had three computers Printed with mean it’s an iPad. Fraser Speirs, head of compu- between them? How would you do your job if you Page 2
  3. 3. March 22, 2012 How Tech Will Transform the Traditional Classroom only got your computer on a Friday?” Speirs equates many reasons why students have difficulty learning technology education to handwriting education, and — and not having enough computers doesn’t top believes computer literacy should be taught along- the list. These reasons generally fall under three side other subjects rather than confined to a lab. umbrellas: political, pedagogical and cultural. An Oklahoma State University study indicated that Politics greatly influences school curriculum. Elected 75% of the students in the pilot agreed that the iPad school boards make decisions about what to teach; enhanced the learning experience, and only 3% federal funding is contingent on meeting standar- would opt out for a similar course with no iPad. dized testing requirements; and local governments determine who may open a school, where they can Another common pitfall is not using iCloud. For one, build it, and who can attend. students doing work on an iPad will never again be able to say that the dog — or their PCs — ate their Often, poorly thought-out or outdated legislation term papers. In addition, iCloud abstracts the file and policies not only hurt the existing educational system, putting an end to misplaced documents experience, but also block technological progress. and wasted class time while students search for And because policies are made on a local basis, there the previous week’s assignment. Spiers also cites is no way to ensure that sensible ones are put in iCloud in his argument for student email accounts. place across all schools. While giving email to an eight-year-old may seem risky, Google apps for educators allow schools to use Pedagogy is more ingrained, and harder to change. Gmail while administrators monitor student use. For example, it was long thought that the most ef- fective way to teach most subjects was through rote While it may seem obvious, all the iPads in the world memorization. We now know this not to be true. And are useless without fast WiFi and plenty of power while a community may elect new officials every outlets. What’s more, many schools forget that tea- two to four years, teaching methods are developed chers need their own iPads, and must become avid over decades and rarely change without a fight. users, too. Speirs reminds educators, “You have to think through how it is to actually live with this Digital whiteboards, for example, have many bene- device.” fits over their analog equivalents. But try explai- ning that to a science teacher who’s been using an Finally, Speirs cautions teachers not to be intimida- overhead projector to teach biology for the last 30 ted by parent and faculty expectations, to gradually years. As Rob Kling wrote in 1996, “schools do, on introduce the iPad rather than rushing in. Teachers some level, understand the implications of the tech- and school administrators may wish to refer to Ru- nology, and they resist them.” ben Puentedura’s excellent argument for tech in education and to the NMC Horizon Report. And look The most difficult problems in education, however, for inspiration in existing iPad pilots. are often cultural. For instance, one might suggest that more efficient classrooms through the use ofjoliprint Obstacles to Progress technology could allow for a shortened or stagge- red school day to serve more, smaller classes. But, The media loves to hold up technology, and especial- according to Brovey, “It is difficult for us to imagine ly the iPad, as the savior of America’s overworked a school structure where [class time] becomes more Printed with public school system. In reality, however, there are fluid.” Page 3
  4. 4. March 22, 2012 How Tech Will Transform the Traditional Classroom This also ignores one of the primary cultural roles SEE ALSO: Pinterest or Porn-terest? What the Social of the American school: It is, effectively, the largest Network Is Doing to Keep It Clean babysitting service in the country. What is to be done with those children once they’ve finished class? But what happens when these sites cease to be Where will they go? What will they do? niche communities and become the go-to sources for information in the real world? Twitter is the These kinds of questions are enough to make any undisputed channel for everything from breaking school board official quickly change the subject to news to political and cultural debates. How long less-controversial solutions. At each turn, educators can schools block access to it before they become must reconcile their desire to bring technology to completely irrelevant? The important thing when the classroom closer with their legal obligations. deciding school online policies, says Brovey, is that “you have to show that you’re exercising due dili- Tumblr, Twitter and CIPA gence.” The only way to ensure that important resources are not blocked by the school’s firewall is to allow teachers to bypass those filters, and to have a simple, fast whitelisting process, ideally from the page that appears when a user visits a blocked site. Brovey notes, “[Students] can help us to act as ga- tekeepers,” by identifying false positives as well as inappropriate sites that slip through the filter. Rethinking “Homework” With its recent updates to iTunes U, Apple is clearly The issue of Internet access in schools is particu- positioning itself as a poor man’s Blackboard. For larly thorny. The Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) many schools, a free system from Apple, even a li- requires that school intranets filter inappropriate mited one, is better than nothing. content. To that end, many schools err on the side of safety, often to an unnecessary degree. For example, iTunes U allows students to time-shift more of the YouTube is blocked by most schools, even though passive learning that currently makes up the majo- the site doesn’t violate CIPA. rity of class time. This has a few benefits. For one, tea- chers only have to give a lecture once. And students In addition, many popular websites lie in uncer- can watch as many times as they want, rewinding tain territory. Those which rely on user generated and fast-forwarding recordings as needed. content, like Pinterest, Tumblr or Twitter, are po-joliprint tential minefields. But most importantly, removing lectures from class allows students and teachers to work closely with Tumblr poses a particularly vexing problem. The hands-on assignments. There’s a world of difference site has become a hub for sharing news, links and between practicing algebra with a trained profes- Printed with inspiration, and yet it also hosts innumerable sites sional in class, and struggling with the student’s that consist of little more than nude photos, both parents at home. artful and pornographic. Page 4
  5. 5. March 22, 2012 How Tech Will Transform the Traditional Classroom SEE ALSO: Kids and Tech: Parenting Tips for the Services like CourseKit are simple, free course ma- Digital Age nagement systems that compete on design and user experience. They look less like classroom tools and However, instructors must establish limits. Watching more like social networks. one lecture per night is fine, but how are students to deal with six or seven lectures per day outside of These kinds of innovations may not impress parents class? Schools will have to consider how and when or school boards as much as ebooks with interac- students will consume the material. More impor- tive charts, but they begin to dig at the roots of the tantly, simply inverting the school day misses an problem, rather than pruning the tips. important point: We need to provide students with new and engaging ways of learning, rather than just Technology’s real promise lies in its ability to disrupt shuffling around the current methods in hopes of established systems and change the way we frame improved efficiency. problems. How should we address the real issues plaguing our schools? Do we need technical solu- A Way Forward tions to everything? Are these problems better ad- dressed the old-fashioned way, or should we just Apple’s ecosystem presents an opportunity to allow accept some of them and move on? students to learn in new and engaging ways, and opens possibilities that were inconceivable even Until we acknowledge which problems really need a few years ago. But technology is not a cure-all. fixing and begin working on ways to solve them, Until society addresses the larger problems facing we’ll be stuck with fancy, expensive — but ultima- schools, introducing tablets and laptops into packed tely useless — toys. classrooms with overworked teachers is like putting a band-aid on a broken femur. Image courtesy of Flickr, flickingerbrad, iStockphotp, arakonyunus Many educators are still skeptical of the iPad, citing the lack of empirical evidence that tech improves test scores as proof that the iPad is all talk and no walk. But this ignores other important metrics, such as student satisfaction and drop-out rates. And at least one controlled study has now confirmed that the iPad does in fact boost algebra scores significantly. Joel Rose focuses on disrupting long-standing, ou- tdated practices in education with new approaches, rather than adding technology to existing ones. His program, the School of One, focuses on providing personalized instruction that moves at the pace ofjoliprint each student. Technology only comes into play in- sofar as it advances that personalized instruction. Machine-learning algorithms adapt the curriculum as each student progresses, and monitors direct each Printed with student to his or her next lesson. Page 5