Oversold and Underused, the iPad edition
Larry Cuban examined this phenomenon, of finding the greatest educational technology in history, and of missing out on the opportunity, in his book Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom and more generally (remember what Edison said about motion pictures) in Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920. Now, the NYTimes is telling us how we’re going to repeat the cycle with the iPad.
A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.
As part of a pilot program, Roslyn High School on Long Island handed out 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students.
The iPads cost $750 apiece, and they are to be used in class and at home during the school year to replace textbooks, allow students to correspond with teachers and turn in papers and homework assignments, and preserve a record of student work in digital portfolios.
Cathy Davidson of Duke University, HASTAC, and the MacArthur Foundation highlights what has to happen to use the technology effectively (which is much the same thing as what Cuban said), and why it is still unlikely to happen with iPads. (Thanks to Sarita Yardi for sending this link.)
Here is the issue: if you change the technology but not the method of learning, then you are throwing bad money after bad practice. You’re giving kids a very fancy toy with enormous educational potential and, being kids, they will find exciting things to do with it and many of those things will be beneficial, exciting, and will help them be more adept in the 21st century world of new forms of communication and interaction. If you leave kids to their own devices (pun intended), they will find ways to learn. It’s what young animals of all kinds do. So from that point of view, the iPad distribution is just fine. The user interface on tablet computers is appealing, the multidisciplinary possibilities inventive, and the potential for downloading lots and lots of apps for just about anything–and even for designing apps yourself–is fun. That makes the iPad a flexible, smart device. That is the upside.
The downside is that it is not a classroom learning tool unless you restructure the classroom. By that I mean, there is no benefit in giving kids iPads in school if you don’t change school. You might as well send them off with babysitters to play in the corner with their iPads for eight hours a day. Without the right pedagogy, without a significant change in learning goals and practices, the iPad’s potential is as limited (and limitless) as the child’s imagination. That’s great on one level–but it misses the real point of education as well as the full potential of the device. What iPad and all forms of digital learning should do is help prepare kids for this moment of interactive, complex, changing communication that is our Information Age.