iPads In the Classroom

December 18, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, In the Classroom, Technology Integration

The debate over iPads in the classroom has been discussed, deconstructed, and reconfigured every which way over the past year. However, despite our feelings toward the new devices, the presence of tablets in U.S. classrooms is ubiquitous, and bound only to increase with time.

Just a few months ago, The Journal magazine reported that Apple has been selling twice as many iPads as Macs to U.S. schools, and U.S. News & World Report found that, generally, tablets were trumping laptops in High Schools across the country. Apple CEO Tim Cook even told investors, "The adoption of the iPad in education is something I've never seen in any technology.”

For teachers, I suspect the more interesting question is not whether, but how? How do you implement a 1:1 tablet program in a school or classroom, and who has done it well?

Giving students tablets is all well and nice, but the sheer act of providing and accounting for such a large number of digital devices sounds like the makings of a logistical nightmare. Successfully integrating tablets into schools, and incorporating them into existing curriculums, turns in part on the implementation method and preparation before the big distribution day.

Education consultant and principal Ben Johnson recently faced the potentially daunting task of assigning and dispensing more than 700 iPads to every ninth- and tenth-grader at Southside High School. His goal was to distribute the devices on launch day without severely impacting the instructional school day – which he and his administration accomplished in just over 45 minutes!

Of course, such an achievement required a lot of planning, training, and organization. Johnson discussed the steps behind this “monumental feat” on Edutopia, which we boiled down into a few key tips:

  • Assign a staff member, or team, with the time and organizational skills to keep track of all the details.
  • If using iPads, make sure every student has an email address, iTunes account, and any other requirement needed to activate the iPad and enroll it into the school’s network.
  • Have all students sign an agreement outlining school regulations and expectations.
  • Remember to complete any insurance paperwork before the devices are handed out.
  • Allot a specific amount of time for teachers to record who has which tablet, and to show students how to log in to their school accounts.
  • Invest in protective covers for the devices. Johnson suggests military-grade cases of the neon variety (to ensure that school-issued tablets are secured and easy to identify).
  • Require a tablet training session for teachers.

Of course there were a few minor setbacks. Students used the iPads outside of class for non-school-related fun, and seniors, who did not receive the tablets, were envious. However, these small obstacles were unmatched by the immediate change Johnson saw in his teachers and their students.

“My fabulous teachers wasted no time in getting the students to look up information, create presentations, take quizzes, and submit assignments on the iPads,” said Johnson. “The largest disruption of the normal instructional day was that teachers did less talking and students did more learning.”

This idea of “less talking and more learning” is one supported by educator Robert Schwartz, a self-proclaimed “edtech enthusiast/skeptic.” In a recent piece at Huffington Post, Schwartz noted the importance of providing students with a few digital liberties, which allow them to explore the possibilities afforded by their new tool. Schwartz also suggested that teachers take a step back, instead of heavily policing students’ online activities.

“Is it possible that schools are going about this all wrong?” asked Schwartz. “In their quest for regulating every aspect of how students use the technology, they are removing one of the most powerful levers technology creates -- student empowerment.”

According to Schwartz, one of the best ways to honor youth’s comprehension of these digital tools is to encourage them to surpass what we know, and are capable of doing, with technology. And, when you think about it, isn’t that the goal of every great parent and teacher – to provide the next generation of learners with the space and resources needed to become even more knowledgeable and equipped for their futures than we were? I’d say so.

Schwartz also provided a few specific recommendations when handing out the devices to students. Some of his tips include creating a classroom culture that supports peer-to-peer teaching, and treating digital citizenship education as an extension of the morals, ethics, and values curriculum your school may already have in place.

While his suggestion for less regulation may come as a surprise, Schwartz was firm in his belief that some parameters are still necessary, and that educators play an integral role in facilitating effective use of the devices.

“I do not recommend abdication of adult responsibility,” said Schwartz, “but I do recommend changing the way the adult in the classroom interacts with the students by changing the way students interact with the technology.”