iPad not ready for the classroom

Students still need great teachers, not just great tech

Forty students at the University of Notre Dame were randomly pulled from class and told they had been selected as participants in a pilot project, if they were willing, on the effectiveness of iPads and e-books in education. To no one’s surprise, they all volunteered for the project.

The students reported at the end of a year that they had more fun in their classes and felt that they had learned more than they might have without the iPad and e-books at their disposal.

What’s interesting though is the students also reported that they found the highlighting tool to be clumsy, bemoaned the poor implementation of a note-taking tool and a full 20 per cent of them said, “The iPad lacks important functions/tools that are available with a traditional textbook or other device.”

Despite that, though, many said they were “willing to wait for improvements.”

I’ve already written about the costs of these devices when compared to existing education models involving notebooks, pens and laptops. Even the researchers in this study argue that the cost of participation — buying the iPad in addition to e-books — is “prohibitive for students.”

But what should be noticed is the fact that a full 20 per cent of students found that the technology wasn’t ready for educational use yet. They found that the iPad lacked the tools old technology offered so easily — highlighting and taking notes. Scribbling in the margins was impossible for them.

A 2008 study looking at how quickly video and other multi-media technology was being incorporated into mobile devices found that a lot of the early adoption was all about the novelty of the idea and not about its functionality. But as the availability of video on demand became normalized, consumers began looking for a reason to consume. They wanted it to be useful, personal and meaningful. When it failed in that regard, they tuned out.

“The videos were used to fill up empty slots when waiting for something: Queuing at the cashier while shopping or while having a break from homework. The users talked about the novelty wearing off: A few news broadcasts and cartoons were not experiences as inspiring enough as content in the long run,” the study reads.

And that is what the iPad risks becoming for educational institutions if it doesn’t begin offering real, student-centred education products. The classes students remember most, the ones they value most, are not those with the most interesting subject matter, they’re the ones with the best teachers who are most capable of making any subject matter interesting.

The iPad and other tablet devices are not substitutions for textbooks. They are new tools that good teachers can use to further interact with their students. Until educational institutions recognize this, tablets risk becoming just another novelty product.

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