Educational Fad: iPads

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Have your students come to rely on iPads?

“Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know” was a phrase used by Lady Caroline Lamb to describe Lord Byron. She might also have been talking about iPads had they been around in 1812. Our love affair with technology is notoriously fickle and the “mad, bad, iPad fad” is just one of many.

But what is it about iPads that we love to hate?

Loads of schools use iPads and across many subjects and they definitely have their place when used effectively. As Head of Research at Ofsted Daniel Muijs says,

“If you invest in a laptop, and then all you do is type, rather than write notes, then it is not very useful. It could be useful – but if you’re going to invest in it then you need to invest in pedagogical process that allows teachers to use that technology effectively.”

But when tech isn’t used effectively then it can soon go pear-shaped and be an expensive disaster. This is when gadgets can be mad, bad and dangerous to own.

The Birth Of The Fad

Early sales of iPads were definitely fad-fuelled and blinded by tech-mania some jumped in without thinking as one “ill-conceived and half-baked” project spectacularly showed. In 2013, the Los Angeles School District forked out a whopping  $1.3 billion dollars on iPads so that every student, teacher and administrator had one. Then just two years down the road the school district were trying to give the iPads back. Problems for this epic failure included technical problems with an educational programme and an incomplete curriculum.

Michael Horn, co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clay Christensen Institute and co-author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, says that Los Angeles is a classic case of ed tech frenzy where we get all excited but don’t fully assess why we need the technology in the first place,

“Districts are starting with the technology and not asking themselves: ‘What problem are we trying to solve, and what’s the instructional model we need to solve it?’ and then finding technology in service of that.”

But was this more a failure of vision than a failure of technology? As Bradley Chambers (2014) says, “So when it comes to learning about best practices for deploying these devices in schools, it’s a simple matter of those in charge doing their homework.”

Dive further and you will find that lots of schools have experienced problems with the use of iPads as educational tools and many children see them as just toys. Critics say that the iPad fad is “dumbing down” school children too and getting in the way of communication skills. Some teachers complain that their normally chatty children go mute and adopt a “bent-neck, plugged-in posture of tap, tap, swipe.

Abused And Underused

iPad hypergrowth might be a thing of the past but they are still popular, still used, still abused and still underused. One thing is certain though, as Donlon (2016) notes,

“Change for the sake of change is mindless. And no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to swipe our way to wisdom using iPads” and “The only reasonable solution to raising the quality of education is in-depth thinking based on a substantive concept of education” (Elder and Paul, 2007)

Schools are often victims of the glitzy sales pitch where “the greatest innovation since the wheel” becomes a must-have but when reality kicks-in the ‘it factor’ soon fades. As we all know,  technology does not in itself improve learning – it’s the teaching that goes “with” the technology. As Morrison et al (2017) note,

“Just as buying a professional-looking mixer will not make you a better cook, technology alone will not make pupil learning better. If the teacher, though, introduces new methods of teaching requiring different uses of a computer rather than to simply present information, then we are likely to see an improvement in learning.”

Using iPads in the classroom is expensive and I have seen it work well, but I’ve also seen it lead students down the ‘garden-path’ and have seen teachers get frustrated with the technology and students turn to ‘Google’ for the answers all-too-often.

What other Fads have you wasted your time on? Read 20 Years of Educational Fads to find out.

One thought on “Educational Fad: iPads

  1. Nowadays learning becomes easier with iPad as schools are providing iPads to their student to explore knowledge in many ways. Students find it very interesting when they have an iPad in the hand and access anything they want. With iPad, Teachers are also comfortable to share those study materials with students very easily.

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