I recently came across an old posting of mine from March 2013 with regards iPads in education. See the full posting here. In the posting I expressed concerns over the very generalized benefits of iPad devices in lessons being espoused at the conference I was attending. I expressed a concern that this general positivity towards the impact of iPads was very similar to the unrealized positivity which for many years surrounded the Interactive Whiteboard.
It is now over three years further on so I thought this was an opportune time to reflect on my thoughts now, how things have turned out and my thinking as it is now.
Thinking back to 2013 I believe now that I was skirting around the key issue. My concerns at the time were very much around the lack of significant evidence to support the benefits of using iPads in schools. The conference had plenty of examples of where iPads had been used however the benefits were very generic such as pupil engagement, pupil collaboration and pupil directed learning. I was looking for more quantifiable evidence of the benefits as opposed to these more general and anecdotal benefits.
Reflecting the key issue I missed was this idea of generalization and the issues which surround it. My concern was the generalization of the benefits being stated by presenters at the conference however this generalization was inevitable as presenters strove to present in a way which could engage and be appropriate to attendees from various backgrounds and experience levels. They were seeking to explain how they viewed the iPad as having the potential to have a positive impact on learning. What I should have been more concerned with was this suggestion that the iPads benefits could be extrapolated to schools in general as opposed to the suggestion that the iPads had general benefits.
Every school is different in a multitude of both small and large ways. This make the possibility for a single device to have benefits for school in general unlikely. In addition the iPad as a piece of #edTech is a tool for learning and the impact of any tool depends on its usage. A well used hammer will fix things to the wall whereas a poorly used hammer will just result in a sore thumb and fingers. Given the dependence on usage and the likely significant variance in how devices are used again makes it unlikely that a single device such as the iPad could have benefits for schools in general.
Considering the presentations, and on reflection, what I should have been wanting to see was a school that told me what they had sought to achieve, what they had done and how they had assessed their success including what measures and data they used in measuring their success or failure. The presenters should have been specific about their context and the impact of their use of iPads in this context, with no attempt made to generalize for the wider world.
As more schools look to engage in mobile learning this is my key message:
- Be sure what you want to achieve through the use of mobile devices including iPads including considering how you might measure your impact and hopefully success.
- Do your research on what devices can and cant do including seeking feedback from schools already engaged in using mobile devices however also remember that your context will most likely be different than theirs. Don’t assume as it worked in one school it will work in yours.
- Consult widely. Use social media and your professional learning network (PLN) to get feedback and ideas. Again, as indicated above always ensure you remember that the context within which those providing feedback are operating may differ from your context and therefore don’t assume what they have done would be transferable to your school.
- Review, review and review some more. No matter how much planning and research you do there will always be something you miss. These might be unexpected issues however equally possible are unexpected opportunities, new ways to apply the technology, unforeseen benefits, etc.
Above all if you are implementing mobile devices remember you are doing it for your students and staff and your school and therefore any solution or project needs to meet their needs and not the needs of the abstract concept of education or schools in general.