The Swiss Army Device

The year 2012 saw many schools purchasing iPads for use in their classrooms.  The iPad has made made huge in-roads into education, and quickly developed a reputation as being a must-have device.  The content available through the AppStore has appealed to teachers of all learning areas, and across all ages in the K-12 spectrum.  The iPad’s ability to be an all-in-one device with access to camera, microphone, internet, custom apps, has been a big draw card, but schools have had varying results with the device.

Some schools have commented that the iPad hasn’t lived up to expectations.  Perhaps, rather than wondering why the iPad seems to fall short in some respects, we should look at whether or not the hype was justified in the first place.

There is no question that the iPad is an extremely powerful tool.  Couple that with its portability and we start to get some rather high flying ideas about what is possible.  Before we get carried away writing checks the iPad can’t cash, it is worth considering a couple of things:

  • The iPad was initially created as an “I” device.  The iPad offers access to so many different hardware and software combinations that can be used in creating content.  iPads in a shared environment may be inhibited by the need to  register accounts to use software, whereas iPads in a 1:1 environment are likely to be able to negotiate this issue more easily.
  • The iPad is a jack-of-all-trades.  A Swiss Army knife will allow me to do some lightweight cutting, some stick-whittling, maybe pull a splinter and even file my nails.  These are all useful, but if I want to chop down a tree, the Swiss Army knife is not the right tool for the job.  Similarly, it is important to know where the limits of the iPad are.
  • Overuse.  There is sometimes a temptation to use the iPad for every task undertaken in the classroom.  Keep in mind, just having an iPad nearby does not mean it must be used for every stage of every task.  If it cannot add to the learning experience (or at the very least, substitute for another task with minimal disturbance to the lesson’s flow), it might be best to leave it out, for now.
  • Underuse.  A great many of the students in your classroom already have some experience with an iPad or similar device.  The catch is, they probably see it as a toy, for watching movies or playing games on.  It will be important, at some stage, to model and demonstrate that the iPad can be a learning tool, not just a toy.

We have seen some amazing things created on the iPad in the last 12 months or so.  It seems the most successful activities are part of a larger body of work, where the teacher has carefully considered the role of the iPad in the curriculum.


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