What the iPad represents in a New Generation of Learners

It makes me smile to read blog posts discussing how the iPad is not the panacea of education that everyone seems to think it is. It was never intended to be. After millions of iPads have been deployed around the world are they fundamentally changing education? Yes and no. I can point to great studies and examples of iPad use that are increasing student involvement, test scores, and teachers’ efficacy in education, and I can also point to articles showing the deficiencies of the operating system and how an iPad is not a ‘complete’ classroom solution. I see both sides, I get both.

A couple weeks ago I had a discussion on Twitter about technology integration, and many of the same points I have heard from teachers came up again. What is the point of integrating technology if I am getting good results? I am not an entertainer, I am a teacher. Students need to meet my standards, I am not lowering standards by using new toys. I am paraphrasing a bit, but the message comes through loud and clear: We do not need to change our methods of educating, students need to adapt to us.

I have heard the following phrase over and over this year, ‘Technology is only technology if it existed before you were born.’ I love this idea, because it highlights so many of the battles we are having right now around progress and change in education. How many of us still teach by candlelight? I seems an odd question, but there was a time when ‘false light’ was unnatural to people. I can imagine the first schoolhouses that were set up with this new technology, that there would have been excitement around it, but change also. Structural changes to a teacher’s routine, the school day, times at which you could read and learn.

I bring this up because in my lifetime I have never had to think about turning on a light, plugging in a TV, even computer use was becoming common by the time I had reached high school. Most of the research I did for my various degrees was done on computer. I didn’t think twice about it; I took books out when I needed them, and blended that with digital resources.

I did have a professor who limited the amount of online works we could cite for our papers, in an effort to get us to use the physical library resources the University had collected over time. I did the assignment, but it was one of my poorer papers, not because I was not good at library research (I spent literally days in the library building,) but because I didn’t have access to the best that was out there. The process of forcing ‘his method’ of research onto his students resulted in far lesser quality of work.

It is much the same for students and iPads, smart phones and computers. Students use these devices and are as comfortable with them as we are with a light switch. They want to use them, adapt them, and make them work for their education. Not every student, and not for every situation, but overall I think we are doing our students a service by allowing them to turn on their light instead of making them light our candle. I do believe we have to be responsive to ‘technology’ that changes, not because it is novel and new, and not to throw out the old ways and learning, but essentially because it is not ‘different’ to them, it is just what they know. They can blend their methods of learning with ours, and the results will be great. If we ignore that, we run the risk of missing the connections that make the learning we have to offer relevant to their lives, passions and future.

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