A few months ago, shortly after the first EdTechTeacher iPad Summit, I spent the day with a college friend out on Cape Cod. In telling me about her daughter’s class iPad pilot, my friend seemed both excited and hesitant. At one point in the conversation, she turned to me and said, “The one thing I hate, though, is that writing just stinks on iPad.”
Initially, I took a bit of a defensive position and prepared to launch into my iPad is NOT a computer schtick. However, the more I listened – and have since listened – to not only my friend but also educators in workshops, webinars, and conversations, the more I realize that parents, administrators, and even teachers fall victim to 5 Myths of Mobile Writing which lead them to believe that this critical facet of education cannot seemingly occur on a mobile device.
“Every time I would turn around, she would just be deleting everything on the screen.” My friend told me. “I bought her a bluetooth keyboard and that has helped.”
How does the purchase of a keyboard magically improve the writing process? It doesn’t – though it may help with typing.
When it comes to mobile devices, especially those with touch-screens like iPad or Android tablets, the effectiveness of the virtual keyboard immediately comes into question, and therefore the concept that writing can’t happen on a mobile device. Tech Directors have told me that their teachers oppose touch-screen tablets because they don’t allow students to type, and thousands of dollars have been spent on expensive cases with external keyboards.
Interestingly, Brady Cline, an ICT Coordinator in Bangkok, conducted an informal study in his school to compare the typing capabilities of students using virtual vs. traditional keyboards. While anecdotal evidence over the past 12-18 months has suggested that students adapt to touch-screen keyboards much more easily than adults, Brady’s post provides a set of quantitative data indicating that students can potentially type equally well on both a traditional as well as a virtual keyboard.
“…this study seems to illustrate an important point: adults who have spent decades typing on a traditional keyboard, find it very difficult to imagine that students can be successful typing efficiently on a virtual keyboard. The evidence here, however, does not support this bias.”
Once we disconnect the process of writing from the mechanics of typing, then we can begin to look at the potential of mobile devices.
“Once they got Pages, writing became easier.” My friend continued.
Last week, I recounted this conversation to my colleague - Suzy Brooks – who is piloting BYOD with her third graders this year in Falmouth. She responded by saying, “I don’t think my students know what word processing means.”
Many adults have come to associate writing with Word – as in Microsoft Word. In fact, one of the most common questions that we get at EdTechTeacher when talking with schools who are moving towards iPad programs is “What about Word?” While a host of Word-like apps exist, thinking beyond the traditional word processor opens up so many other avenues. For example, Drive allows for collaborative writing, while AudioNote (iPad or Android) syncs recorded audio with typed or written words, and Evernote makes written content available on any device.
During one of my first years as Director of Academic Technology at St. Michael’s, I got in a heated discussion with a parent over my decision to NOT put Microsoft Word in the computer lab. As an all Mac school, it made more sense for us to go with iWork over Office. The parent asked how I could be preparing his child for the workplace without teaching Microsoft. My response then is similar to my reaction with mobile devices.
“It doesn’t matter what tool I teach your child to use right now.” I told the parent. “By the time she begins working, it will all be different anyways. I just need to teach your child how to learn to use the technology.”
Much like writing does not equal typing, it also is not word processing. In fact, Suzy uses Educreations – technically a screen casting tool – for everything with her students: drawing, writing, recording audio, and screencasting. They have mastered the app as well as its workflow, allowing her students to focus on the task rather than the tool.
This brings me back to my friend’s initial comment that iPad is terrible for writing. How can a device be responsible for a process?
Last year, Greg Kulowiec and I spent an entire day working with a group of middle school teachers in Shrewsbury, MA on iPad workflow as the culmination of a year-long T21 program. This group explored integrating Notability, Pages, Dropbox, and Evernote as part of their writing instruction (a concept Greg refers to as App Smashing). However, after exploring the process in which they wanted students to engage, it became clear that they would use not only iPad but also paper.
Whether it is iPad, Nexus, Chromebook, Macbook, or Windows laptop, with writing, the focal point should be the process: from idea to outline to editing to final. When teaching in a computer lab, my students integrated technology at various stages depending on their learning needs. While all students followed the path outlined below, they shifted from paper to computer at varying stages.
Digital Writing Process for My Students (Grades 2-8)
While we applied the process above to working in a computer lab, it could certainly still apply to a mobile situation. Graphic organizers could be completed on paper and then photographed or completed with a number of mind-mapping tools. Outlines could be generated with a pencil or an app. Editing might include reading to a peer, listening with Speak Selection, or screencasting feedback.
Imagine a group of students working on a writing assignment…. what do you see as a final product? In a traditional setting, we envision words on paper (or on screen) – a text-based output.
With mobile devices, we have instant access to cameras and microphones as well as the ability to write, type, draw, capture images, and create videos. As a result of these tools and capabilities, the writing process no longer needs to be limited to solely text-based output. In fact, by leveraging these capabilities, students who would otherwise be labeled as having “output issues” suddenly have a voice.
“With writing on iPad – students who HATE writing to actually do it without thinking they are writing at all. They actually think we haven’t had “writing” in a day or so when iPads have been used.” – Suzy Brooks
If the writing infers a process used to generate and communicate a coherent idea or concept, then why do we make the assumption that the communication has to occur solely through text? By expanding upon our definition of “writing” with mobile devices, then the possible becomes redefined.
Too often, when we think about writing curriculum, we focus on essays, paragraphs, and the occasional creative writing assignment. In that context, iPads or other tablets may not be the most efficient tools to use. A full keyboard and mouse do certainly facilitate copious amounts of typing and editing.
However, does writing always have to be about paragraphs? Can students still demonstrate their ability to generate and communicate a coherent idea or concept in non-paragraph form? When we thinking about writing with mobile devices, we now have the opportunity to Redefine our expectations.
Is writing possible on a mobile device? Absolutely. Could it be easier on a computer? Possibly. In listening to friends and colleagues, I understand that there are certainly limitations to writing on various devices, but also plenty of benefits depending on how you choose to define the process.
Confession: while I brainstormed this post using Penultimate on my iPad, I sat down to actually write (type, edit, and publish) on my Macbook.
Before I left my friend’s house on Cape Cod, I wrote up a list of apps to install on her daughter’s iPad – Popplet (graphic organizer), AudioNote Lite (record audio and take notes simultaneously), and Educreations (screencasting). Will they improve her daughter’s writing? It all depends on the process…
My colleagues and I will be addressing the writing process this summer during our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston.
Note: EdTechTeacher advertises on Edudemic.