It should come as no surprise that tablets are changing the classroom landscape and as summer draws to a close, teachers and students alike look to the start of a new school year and the exciting possibilities it brings. Teachers are particularly focused on innovations in classroom technology and may feel slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of incorporating classroom technology into their existing lesson plans.
Sifting through the available technologies and selecting a good fit can be a daunting task. Even more challenging, teachers must decide how often to allow students to use mobile devices for educational purposes. Often, these devices can be viewed as a crutch of sorts and that notion leaves educators and parents leery of new classroom technologies.
iPad as Crutch
Why not use an iPad, or any other mobile device, as a crutch — quite literally — to get started on a path toward innovation? I’ve been on crutches for the past few months. If, according to definition, “A crutch is a mobility aid that transfers weight from the legs to the upper body” (source: Wikipedia ), then why the negative connotations of using a crutch? Having broken my leg, I might have spent the past few months confined to a bed without this device. With crutches, however, I have support, access and mobility — not unlike what can be gained with iPads.
We would all like to provide constant, individualized support to our students 100% of the time; however, that is far from a reality in the classroom. Speak Selection lets students listen to text in eBooks, on web pages, or in any app where type appears. A student who needs to hear directions or questions read aloud can now do so independently, and a struggling reader can focus on comprehension, rather than decoding, since he or she can listen to passages. Numerous apps (Evernote, Notability, Audio Notes and Sound Note, to name a few) support audio recording.
For students who struggle with output, the option now exists to record ideas directly “onto a page.” Similarly, teachers can leave audio feedback for students who benefit from hearing input multiple times. With the built-in camera, students can quickly snap pictures of class notes on a board, or record a quick video of teacher instruction. Leveraging just these few features has the potential to personalize learning and differentiate instruction where it might otherwise be impossible.
In addition to having near-instant access to the Internet, students with iPads also possess dictionaries, encyclopedias, calculators, graphing tools and atlases. Beyond print-based materials, they can watch videos, listen to audio, and even manipulate 3-D models. Without iPads, research and learning depend on immediately available resources. With iPads, students can potentially transcend time and space — accessing primary source materials, curating content from their teachers or peers, and connecting with content in the modality that best suits their learning needs.
Given their size, weight, dimensions, battery life and easy-on-easy-off nature, iPads are true mobile devices to be used anywhere and anytime. Like with a literal crutch, mobility then provides freedom. Students no longer need to confine their exploration and learning to the walls of the classroom or a computer lab. Having a student walking around with a laptop can be cumbersome (and even terrifying), but with an iPad, it could become the norm.
iPad as Innovation
The ultimate goal is not to walk with crutches but to walk without them. So, much like crutches support walking, iPads can buttress teaching. Once support, access and mobility become the norm, new ideas can form — like using crutches as giant chopsticks to pick things up off the floor — leading to innovation.