Guest blog by Amber Walraven: Ipads in schools….about ideas, expectations and the harsh reality

I asked assistant professor Amber Walraven if I could share this blog post with you, she gracefully granted :).

Of course you have all heard about the promises and expectations of Ipads in education. Schools everywhere are starting pilots with Ipads, call themselves Ipadschool and have the idea things will change drastically. Publishers even talk about unique experiments with a totally Ipad-based method. It is maybe not new to you that I stand critically towards these experiments. Not because I don’t like innovation, but because I have seen it happening so often that these experiments are done based on wrong expectations, and all too often fail to work on what really matters.  They often translate the current method and materials to the Ipad, adding some features like music and video, but they do not work on teacher roles and instructional strategy. But still, with no actual change besides the medium, schools expect higher grades, motivated students and the development of all kinds of skills…..Unrealistic expectations if you ask me….time for me to take a look in Ipadschools myself :-)

We are currently conducting a literature review on Ipads in education (results coming up before summer I hope) and a master final project. In this post I want to talk about the preliminary results of this final project. Imke Boonen (@imkeboonen) is the student conducting this research.

The school handed out Ipads to first year students (12 year olds) this year. Their goal is to be a school with an electronic learning environment, no books and all Ipads and apps in about 5 years. Every textbook is available in pdf. Students can take the Ipad home. Teachers received a tech-course (working with the Ipad) and a didactical course. Teachers and school were not very satisfied with the didactical course. School doesn’t make using the Ipad obligatory, but hopes the innovative teachers will inspire the teachers who are a bit sceptic. Furthermore, they would like teachers to use the Ipads to not only teach content but also skills like collaboration. School is curious how teacher’s current practices differ from the ideal way to achieve this. So, our assignment: what is the most effective way to use Ipads in education, and what is the current practice of our teachers? And: how can we best bridge the gap between the two?

A literature review concluded that to make the most out of Ipads (and to give room for all the affordances like more differentiation, more visual education, anyplace anytime, and so on), teachers should adopt a social constructivist approach. This implies a different teacher role (from instructor to coach/facilitator) and different assignments for students (more inquiry or problem-based). Armed with an observationscheme focussing on the role of the teacher, 12 teachers were observed.  And: surprise surprise….. Many teachers did not use the Ipad, and did not provide students with assignments that required them to use the Ipad in a different way then just reading the pdf of the textbook. Teachers took on the role of the instructor the most.  Even the teachers labelled by school as Ipad-experts, did not use the Ipad during the observation. Coincidence? Bad timing of observations? Perhaps… so we interviewed the teachers as well…. Results: some teachers don’t like working with the Ipad, and want to continue the way they had been working before the Ipad.

Some teachers just don’t think about switching to constructivism let alone work on collaborative skills, some teachers say children prefer reading the book in stead of on the Ipad, and leave the Ipad at  home, and some teachers say they don’t have time to really learn and work with ‘teaching with the Ipad’.
So, pretty wide gap between current and envisioned practice!

The good news is:  if we hadn’t checked this, school would probably go on like this and would conclude after a year that the Ipads didn’t deliver their promise. And that is what often happens, because people focus on the technology, and expect technology to have magical powers. If I add an Ipad, I won’t have to change a thing, and all my problems will be solved. This is just not true! It’s about what you do with the technology, and what you want to achieve, and ADJUSTING ROLES OF STUDENTS AND TEACHERS ACCORDINGLY!

Only then can we find out if ICT has an effect on learning, motivation,  etc. We can’t just add technology and then conclude it does or does not work. However, new roles and materials require time, effort, commitment, etc.
So, our research gives us the change to advice the school on what could or should be changed in wich way and help them on this challenge, in order for them to start working on realizing their vision. A vision that got them to introduce Ipads in the first place :-)

P.s: And to proof my point….. What happens when teachers take time to think about what could be done with the Ipad, to reach a certain goal? They design a very cool tool where students construct knowledge with images. Teacher provides them with a storyline, students search for images and record a voiceover and edit a movie. I hope @Ipadjuf will do more of these lessons and inspire her colleagues!

2 thoughts on “Guest blog by Amber Walraven: Ipads in schools….about ideas, expectations and the harsh reality

  1. […] Er is een hele hype (en discussie) rond tablets in het onderwijs, en ik ben zelf een kritische voorstander. Ik zie verschillende voordelen, zoals oa gesitueerd leren. Tegelijk blijf ik kritisch, bijvoorbeeld als schepen van onderwijs Voorhamme momenteel pleit voor papierloze scholen, wil ik wel eerst nog meer onderzoek naar al dan niet beter of slechter kunnen onthouden. En we moeten zeker leren van ervaringen zoals Amber Walraven beschrijft op onze Engelstalige zusterb…. […]

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