iPads at School: Go to the Head of the Class?

It has been five months since Arts Educator 2.0 provided the educators in my collaborative inquiry group with wireless iPads and asked them to go forth and multiply our enthusiasm for iPads as a technology tool for students. It seems a perfect time to reflect and attempt to evaluate our successes and challenges so that we may perhaps help others as they tread the same path.

Dealing with the Internet access issue:

Perhaps a place to start may be with one of our challenges. Our various school districts have Internet access policies in place that are as individual and varied as the teachers in our group. Some districts offer wireless Internet to each classroom, others are not yet set up to be able to offer this to all classrooms. To honor these diverse policies, we made it our goal to be able to find applications that would work in the classroom for student use without requiring Internet access.

Teachers in the group who wished to use the internet made it their job to learn about their district’s Internet use policy. They carefully explored ways to lock down their iPads so the students could use the Internet and remain within the school’s policy, and they planned out any project that might require the Internet in advance so that they had a carefully prepared and specific request to bring to their tech departments along with the educational justification. The result? My teachers found doors opening. What a great relationship building experience!

How are teachers using the iPad?

Initially all of my teachers (music, visual arts and communications specialists) downloaded as many free and low cost arts aps as they could to explore possible uses in the classroom. After much exploration, the general consensus was that the no or low cost applications available for the arts were often too simplistic to lend themselves to truly transformative uses of technology.

In addition, having only one iPad per classroom was problematic. This meant that they had to find ways to project the application; and we ran into mirroring problems when we tried to use a VGA cord to link the iPad with the projector. (See James Ritchey’s post on VGA out and 2 Screens regarding this issue.) Using document cameras helped get around this, however screen glare was an issue.

My music educators especially found that applications that worked with a choral group or band session were few and far between. Most music applications were geared toward making the iPad an instrument and/or were too simplistic for use by upper grades.

A Sampling of Classroom Uses

Despite all of these issues the educators in my collaborative inquiry group are finding some creative ways to use the iPad:

– a communications teacher uses two iPads as student response devices by designing student surveys using the Polldaddy ap
– a music educator uses a metronome ap daily with her band classes and uses the Rainbow Music Notes ap for individual tutoring with her middle school students when they come to lessons one on one
– a visual arts educator projects images from her iPad
– a visual arts educator has designed a unit on graphic art and media literacy around small group collaborative projects using the iPad ap Phoster to help elementary students create and design posters for their imaginary businesses
– a communications teacher uses Netflix and teacher tube to project movies for her classes
– a theatre teacher uses the iPad to share video examples that demonstrate a particular style of acting or period piece when coaching students individually
– one teacher uses iPad educational aps with her entire class as a game challenge – scores are kept and there is a list keeping track of who gets a turn, this teacher also makes heavy use of the iPad as an incentive – high scores on quizzes mean more iPad time
– a high school music educator, after introducing her class to the iPad has challenged them to find music aps that are useful in their learning; the students are bringing her possibilities daily and must justify their choices and explain the way that this application can help the class learn
– all of the teachers report high student interest and engagement with the tool

What do students think?

For information on student attitudes and aptitudes with the iPad check out this great article by blogger Sam Gliksman at the iPads in Education site. Mr. Gliksman polled students enrolled in classes conducted by four teachers who were piloting iPads. The teachers were given a set of iPads to be used in their classes, so student had to share, which did create some problems. The post describes students using the iPads to collaborate and discusses the iPad’s strengths: superior internet access time and the advantages of a touch screen technology. It was clear however that the iPads did not replace netbooks or laptops as first choice for word processing and other document and multi-tasking needs. Surprisingly, students (assumed to be digital natives and therefore comfortable with all things tech) did have an unexpected learning curve that also impacted their feelings about the iPad as tool of choice.

According to a pilot in paperless coursework conducted by Notre Dame University, iPads seem to be most useful as student productivity tools, best in a one to one situation, and great at increasing class connectivity. Quoting the report summary on Notre Dame news:

“A statistically significant proportion of students felt the iPad made class more interesting, encouraged exploration of additional topics, provided functions and tools not possible with a textbook and helped them more effectively manage their time.”

Notre Dame entered into the pilot assuming that they would find great difficulties with student breakage, and further that the tool would distract students more than increase their productivity and engagement. Quite the opposite happened. The study cites the iPad as a great equilizer- putting all on the same platform, and allowing students to easily follow along as professors referenced images, websites and documents. The classes used Dropbox so that documents and images could be shared at lightning speed across platforms. This group raves about the iPad and it’s benefits for students. The experiement The full report may be downloaded in PDF version at the Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business epublshing site.

Some preliminary conclusions

Based on our collaborative inquiry group’s findings as well as some preliminary research cited here, the iPad definitely can be a useful tool in the classroom, however it cannot replace a netbook, laptop or desktop computer.

– it is most beneficial for student and/or teacher individual productivity as a tool to organize work, take notes, reflect and respond
– it functions best in a one to one situation, however can be used quite effectively with projections and in small group collaborations
– there is a learning curve for student and teacher that must be taken in to account
– although new applications arrive daily, currently arts applications suitable for use in large group instruction seem limited
– iPad pilots work best if all involved are allowed ample time to explore the possibilities and personalize the tool’s use for their own classrooms

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About Cory Wilkerson

Cory is a Free Lance Arts Education Consultant working with Arts Ed 2.0 and Project Manager for State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education.
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One Response to iPads at School: Go to the Head of the Class?

  1. Thanks for your post Cory… Good info…

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