In recent years, you could turn on the news or open the newspaper at least once a week and see a story about a school district or a college giving iPads to students. If it wasn’t iPads, it was a Chromebook or some other piece of technology. For the sake of this article, I just refer to iPads, but it can apply to any of these pieces of technology.
Giving iPads to students is supposed to assist learning, and it does in many ways. One is that iPads act as ereaders, replacing actual books. It’s not that actual books are bad or anything; it’s that iPads offer ebooks that include hyperlinks and quick access so students can find additional resources and information. Another benefit of iPads again has to do with access. Students can look up information and conduct research in the classroom with immediate help from an instructor; before, these things were often done outside the classroom with little assistance from an expert. In fact, access is really the main benefit of iPads. Just like all of internet-enabled technology, access is the name of the game. Worlds open up. Students can do more than just read about foreign cultures; they can actually see videos of foreign cultures in action. Pictures become live, streaming videos. Communication is instant as well, with video chatting, such as Skype, allowing whole classrooms connect with amazing, interesting people, like authors and politicians. There’s also an added benefit of teaching students how to use this technology at an early age, giving them a leg-up on a technology-based future.
But with the good comes the bad. Some people – usually upper-level administrators, politicians, and others not as close to the classroom – think that technology alone will save students. These people, unfortunately, tend to have a level of power and a simplistic outlook, which makes it hard to explain the complex realities of learning. You can’t give a student an iPad and expect that to make the student smarter.
For many students, the iPad just becomes a distraction. Despite schools’ security measures, students find a way to bypass the security and download Minecraft or they sneak a peak at YouTube cats when they’re supposed to be researching Hemingway. Apple’s website says, “We believe that technology has the power to transform the classroom” (https://www.apple.com/education/). Some people stop reading here, but the key comes later: “We’ve been proud to work alongside educators and students to reinvent what it means to teach and learn.” Again: “… alongside educators and students.”
We don’t know when the blackboard was invented. Reports say schools in India were using a writing slate as far back as the 11th Century. Europeans were using large blackboards for music composition and education in the 16th Century. In 1801, George Baron, an English mathematician at West Point, used a blackboard and chalk during a lecture for the first time in the United States. The blackboard, a marvel of technology in its day, became a staple of the classroom because it enhanced education provided by knowledgeable people. It’s been replaced by the cleaner, longer-lasting whiteboard, but the principle is the same: people and technology working together to help students learn. The iPad seems different. The connection to the teachers and others who facilitate instruction just doesn’t seem strong or defined.
Schools are still ordering iPads, Chromebooks, etc., for their students, but there are signs that it just won’t work, at least not without significant planning, training, and practice. In 2013, Los Angeles vowed to give every student an iPad. In less than a year, it was clear that the program was doomed. It was too quick to hand out iPads without making enough other changes. Eventually, the LA initiative was abandoned, and a bunch of money essentially went down the proverbial drain. The blackboard/whiteboard is probably the most important technological innovation for the classroom in history; the iPad has already proven that, no matter how cool it is, no matter how many bells and whistles, it doesn’t come close to comparing because most of the schools that use it don’t include the right people enough.