Thursday, February 7, 2013

In preparation for a class set of iPads...

I was excited last week when I opened an email from my technology director, letting me know that I would soon be getting a class set of iPads. A huge part of what makes this news so awesome is that I have spent the last two years engaged in an iPad pilot set up through a professor at a local university. With a single iPad, I explored the potential benefits and limitations of the device, which was in both my and my students' hands daily.

Since my students were already immersed in a technology-rich environment (most days I had my students use net-books--  researching, collaborating, and composing), the direction of my inquiry took shape around both comparing the two technologies and examining how the iPad could be integrated into our existing (PC-based) digital writing workshop.

Though the greatest limiting factor was that I only had a single iPad to work with, I learned quite a bit, and it will be this learning that I will build from when my class set arrives. But now, before that day gets here, I'd like to use this post as a space to share some of the conclusions and realizations I've made over the last couple of years about the use of iPads in my 8th grade ELA classroom. These are points that I've discussed with colleagues, shared in professional development, and presented at conferences. I'm not sure why I'm only now posting them here, but I know that I need to.  This will likely be the first of many iPad related posts.

What I've taken from the single iPad pilot: 
  • One of the greatest strengths of the iPad was its physical properties...long battery life, portability, and quick boot time. It can easily be moved from student to student, and I did not have to plan around the time that would take to turn on and be ready to use, as I do with my net-books   Since there were no moving parts, I also feel like the device will undergo less wear and tear from everyday use. 
  • Since my starting place was the tasks my students carried out on their net-books  many of the apps I first searched for were those that could carry out equivalent tasks to what my students were doing on websites accessed through the net-books. Many of the web tools I had my students use were not accessible to on the iPad or could be accessed on a limited basis. So, for example, since a student couldn't use the Piclits website on the iPad, I had to download an app like Instant Poetry to carry out a similar task. I discovered that most apps I found were inferior to the equivalent free PC web tool that the rest of the students were using. 
  • What I am most interested in learning more about are apps that allow students to carry out tasks not possible on a PC.  This is an area where I feel lies the greatest potential for understanding how best to integrate the tablet into teaching. And also, as it true with the web-based tools I have learned to integrate, I am interesting in learning more about how different apps and functions can work together in particular learning situations. 
  • The iPad was great for web browsing, media consuming. As for producing, it's great for taking quick photos and videos, and editing with iLife package apps, like iMovie and iPhoto.  
  • Most of my students initially claimed that they didn't mind typing on the iPad for writing pieces of longer lengths. Almost every student who made this claim changed their minds after a couple of days of typing on an iPad during writing workshop time; touchscreen typing was slower and more labor intensive. Students who wrote on the iPad, while they were able to use Google Docs as a drafting space with the Drive app, were not able carry out digital conferences through using the chat and comments features not available on mobile devices.  These are functions of Docs that many of my students have come to appreciate.  Not having this access is what I have come to believe will be the greatest constraining factor when integrating iPads into my class, at where our digital writing workshop is concerned.  *And by the way, I shared my concern with the students today, and they assured me that they would find a way to make it work out...and I am sure they will. 
So, I guess if I were to sum up what I had discovered through the last couple of years with toying with an iPad would fit into my classroom, I have learned that:

  1.  An iPad is not a laptop
  2. Thinking about iPads from netbook/laptop paradigm hinders their learning potential. 
I'll more easily transition to this new iParadigm after I have a class set of these devices up an running, and I am looking forward to getting that process started.  I think that ideally, though, the best learning environment for students is one where they will have access to multiple types of technology. Where students are able to use iPads for some tasks and laptops for others.  I know that this is what it's like for me in my own daily use of technology   Since I began using mobile devices in my personal and professional life, I have been in a continuous process of experimenting with which device is most ideal for particular situations.  I'm still figuring this balance out, but it seems to me that finding this balance  deciding which tool to use and when, is an important skill that we ought to give students the chance to develop in school.  I hope to explore this area is well.

I can't wait to get started...