I have been and continue to be a huge proponent of iOS in education, mainly because of its effectiveness in getting the tool out of the way as a hindrance to student learning. You can read more about those perspectives here. However, in every talk I give, I try to mention several apps for each task I have students perform. This can, at times, seem counterintuitive to those I am speaking to who want a ‘single solution’ in their classrooms.
Why do I do this?
The answer is simply that I believe students should have the opportunity to pick a tool to do a job. I want students to have options and think about why they are choosing the tool they do. If I give students one option, they may learn how to use that app, but have not learned why that app is there and why it was chosen for use. As opposed to other areas of learning in their lives, the ‘reason’ behind technology is often hidden from the view of the student. Students understand, or can be easily taught, why they would use a dictionary to define a word instead of a newspaper, though using the newspaper might be an interesting exercise. However, there are a multitude of reasons for using or not using an app, and my reasons for choosing an app may not be comprehensive or valid for all students.
What do options in apps bring to the table?
I worry about our students’ ability to discern what is best for them if they are always handed the tool and then simply ‘go through the motions.’ If we are looking to inspire learners, we need to give them some dead ends and have them rethink their route. I understand that this is not always practical or expedient, but students can find more than one way for students to achieve learning and reach outcomes. To be honest, I am working hard at blending technology and other learning methods in my classroom so students don’t even simply go to technology to answer a problem. It is tough, and I am learning as I go, but I am learning that there is an advantage to being 1:3 instead of 1:1 in a classroom. Students learn that technology is but one tool in the cupboard, and not the one they should always turn to. Good lessons in grade 4! Likewise, even in a 1:1 environment, having a plethora of apps to achieve a task leads children to evaluate what is working, and isn’t, for them.
Obviously, some apps have particular purpose, and I am not saying that there is no value in having apps to highlight a concept or review learning. What I am advocating is for teachers to spend more effort on creating great projects that could use any number of apps, than on creating a process in a specific app that students must follow lock-step. Let’s use our digital tools to broaden the possibilities for our students, instead of narrowing them!