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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Very Best Thing About iPads (and other devices)

I love everything about my iPad. It possesses a powerful processor and eye-popping screen, has more innovative apps than I will ever be able to use, and it fits easily into my carry-on luggage in its gorgeous purple leather case. What’s not to love?

Because I love my iPad, it is easy for me to understand the enthusiasm of teachers who are keen to get their hands on a class set of iPads, ipods, laptops, or netbooks. I get it when people talk about how engaged they think their students will be, and how many new and authentic activities they can create when students have fingertip access to apps and to the Internet. Nevertheless I must confess to having felt downright curmudgeonly in the last few months as I listened to people extolling the virtues of one app or another. I worried about the certainty I was hearing that any given app or device had the power to ensure both engagement and achievement.  It seemed to me that the focus on learning had been lost, that the ‘gee whiz’ factor had taken over. It was all I could do not to sigh aloud, wag my finger, and talk about the good old days when we knew what really mattered in education and pursued our desired goals with grit and determination. (I’m not sure those days ever existed but in the novels I read, curmudgeons always make extensive reference to halcyon days of long ago.)

A teacher in Victoria, British Columbia saved me from a certain future of scowling and finger wagging. Explaining the benefits of her class’s iPad project, Jane said, “The learning just exploded. I learned from the kids and the kids learned from each other.”

Repositioning teachers from the stance of expert to that of co-learner is the very best thing about iPads and other devices. Our students experience sustained intellectual engagement and achievement not because of an app or a device, however wonderful it might be. Rather student engagement and achievement is, at least in part, the result of adults engaging intellectually with essential concepts and skills, acknowledging that we don’t have all of the answers, and inviting students to join us in building new knowledge. Technology isn’t the only way we can become co-learners in the classroom but because it is an area of genuine new learning for many of us, it is a good way.

This guest post is by Karen Hume, author of Tuned Out: Engaging the 21st Century Learner, Start Where They Are: Differentiating for Success with the Young Adolescent, and many other books. Check out Karen’s blogs at 

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