The following piece is by the amazingly talented Adam Webster, Assistant Director of Learning and Teaching at a secondary school in Surrey, England. He writes for both the Edudemic Magazine and his blog ‘Cageless Thinking‘ (worth bookmarking). This article originally appeared on Cageless Thinking and was cross-posted with Adam’s permission.
1. It’s not a laptop
The biggest and most oft-heard criticism of the iPad usually revolves around it not behaving like a desktop PC or laptop. The people making this complaint are simply missing the point. Apple aren’t trying to make a laptop replacement, why would they? They make a couple of extremely good ones! The iPad is a new kind of device that asks you to think and work differently.
The fact that it isn’t a laptop, to me, is its greatest attribute:
The SAMR model suggests that there are 4 degrees of sophistication for using technology in education:
As you can see from the diagram (created using Paper by Fifty Three) the most sophisticated levels involve ‘Transformation’. This means using technology to do things that weren’t possible before technology came along, rather than just modifying the existing status quo.
I believe that the iPad makes transformation far more possible, indeed likely, than a laptop. A laptop does the first two stages in the SAMR Model really well. Word processing and all of its tools for example is an outstanding innovation, but it isn’t changing anything except our efficiency and accuracy. The iPad, its workflow and its apps, allow for real change and makes it easy. Your students will create work that not only wasn’t possible before their innovative use of the technology, but that you as their teacher had never even thought of.
2. Creative workflow
Because the iPad doesn’t run Windows, but its own unique operating system (known as iOS) it works very differently to what many people are used to when they pick up a ‘computer-like’ device. The iPad functions through a clever combination of internet browser (Safari), email and apps.
In the latest update to iOS we have seen far greater connectivity between apps, meaning that they ‘talk’ to each other far more willingly, making the workflow even more exciting.
The fact that you can take a photo using the camera, import this into a whiteboard app to annotate, import it again into a screencasting app to discuss it and then save in a cloud-storage app, simply by following the workflow of ‘open in’ means that what was once cumbersome on a desktop or laptop is now obvious. What required lots of lengthy downloads and expensive, specialist software can now be achieved by quick downloads, with easy to find and very often free or very inexpensive software.
Occasionally though you will hit a brick wall; either you personally will not know how to do something using the device, or it simply won’t be possible. In many ways this is when the device comes into its own. Whilst this can be frustrating, I think that the iPad’s strength lies in the fact that there are always multiple ways of doing things and the setup of the iOS is such as that it encourages you to think about problem-solving in a creative but also remarkably logical way. Students will invariably find their own way around this device and it is highly likely that it will prove to be a different and perhaps more effective path than the one you chose – I know I have found this time and time again!
3. Apple ecosystem
Yes, Apple devices are more expensive than most other devices. But I think it is fair to say that you get what you pay for. If you can find a way to not just integrate iPads into a Windows ecosystem, but to actually create an Apple ecosystem then you will know what Steve Jobs was talking about when he said ‘it works’ because it really does. The simplicity of how Apple devices talk to each other and work together is a remarkable thing.
I have seen the difficulties of working in a Windows environment and how frustrating it is when teacher’s want a specific piece of software, or download and I have seen the hassle vanish in an Apple environment.
Undoubtedly this takes a financial and training commitment that few schools can afford, but seeing it in action is to discover a real meeting of efficiency and style.
If this simply isn’t possible, then it is worth knowing that Apple is making it easier for their devices to work with other types of machine. Apple TV works irrespective of what type of desktop or projector you have and devices such as iPads will work seamlessly on a wifi network even if it is Windows based.
4. Focus on education
Over the course of a year I receive a lot of promotional material from people running training programs for IC T development, ICT in the classroom and best practise with regards to technology in the classroom. Of this mountain of material I would say that 60-70% is specifically to do with iPads or other Apple technologies. Of the other 30%, Apple will feature as part of the package being offered in almost all cases. I don’t remember the last time I received something from a course supplier that said ‘come and try out the latest Windows-based technology that will make your classroom a better place.’ (Perhaps the introduction of the Surface will change this, but its early incarnation is not hugely promising.)
There is no doubt that Apple have invested heavily in education and they want to capitalise on this. I read recently that Bill Gates has given many millions of pounds to education funding as well, and yet over here in the UK, I have seen little evidence of this.
Apple and Google both offer programs for educators who are keen to demonstrate what their products can do and having attended conferences and meetings with such people present, it is clear that the investment in finding these representatives who are, or have been teachers, makes a real impact on you as a delegate.
It’s great to hear stories of how others have made technology work in their classroom and it makes you want to go out and achieve the same thing.
It may not sound entirely convincing to say, but the truth is that Apple products are highly desirable and respected. Students want to own iPads and iPhones and anything really that starts with ‘i’. This makes a difference when introducing new technology and more importantly, new pedagogical strategies.
To do so with a device that they want to engage with makes the learning process better. In a recent questionnaire to my students, one commented that ‘materials that were learnt using the iPads are remembered better.’
It’s a simple reality that if you give someone a way to do something that they can relate to, engage with and enjoy, they will do the job you give them better. Students are vey workman-like when I give them laptops. They know what is ‘expected’ and they get on and do it. When I give them iPads, I don’t know what they’ll produce at the end of it and often neither do they. If that scares you as a teacher then iPads are probably not the right device for you. If this excites you, then try and get hold of just one. Hook it up to an Apple TV and see what you can do with a few apps and a newly revitalised class,