The Teacher, the Student, and the iPad

A Question

There is a discussion that seems to be becoming increasingly common among educators along the lines of “How can we make best use of e-technology [to assist with teaching and learning]?”.

The Good

It is worthwhile looking at the work of Eric Scheninger (Twitter: @NMHS_Principal, web site whose primary focus is on achieving effective communication with the learners, with a subsidiary focus of using e-technology to achieve that communication.

The Bad

More locally, I have been in face-to-face discussions with other educators who have puzzled over how to use the functionality of a particular e-device as an aid to teaching, learning and assessment. Fairly recently, I overheard a despairing “What devices will the students be using next semester?” – this with the idea that if the answer was known, it would then be possible to devise suitable delivery materials.

Even worse, there is view that “Because we are using e-mail [alone!] with the students, we are therefor using e-technology very effectively.”.

The Ugly

The reason is that this is bad is that it puts the focus of attention on the wrong component of the system. It flows from teachers who wish to nail down the e-technology before they start thinking of how to use it. It misses completely the reality that the technology at the start of the school year may bear very little resemblance to the technology at the end of the school year: new devices are coming out all the time, and many of today’s learning are buying and using them. Any approach that relies on knowing in advance what devices will be used later in the course is always sub-optimal, and may be very bad for the students.

We need instead to consider how we connect with and communicate with students. To list a few off the top of my head, these could include:

  • Their Personal Learning Networks
  • Web 2.0 technologies
  • Synchronous/asynchronous methods
  • Campus/mobile

We then need to be ready to exploit whatever technologies are at hand – typically in the students’ hands, of course – to achieve that communication. As teachers, we need to be prepared to accept (at least) and exploit (much better) whatever devices and patterns of use that our students present to us. The excuse that “It is a new device, I don’t [want to] know how to use it.” simply will not do!

Teachers these days have access to an enormous range of ways of finding answers:

  • They should have and exploit their own PLNs. (“You haven’t got one? Why not?”)
  • There are search engines available, not limited to just Google, Ask and Wolfram Alpha, but also including the “search” box included on many web sites
  • Ask the other students
  • Go to the manufacturer’s web site
  • And as a final resort, “Read The Beautiful Manual!”.

If teachers are not modelling these behaviours themselves, how can be expect our students to function effectively in the coming decades?

In Conclusion

Teachers often talk about teaching students about “learning how to learn”. I can now say “Physician, heal thyself!”. Unless we ourselves learn how to learn to use these new devices, we are failing in our duties to future generations.

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