Tag Archives: ipad

A story about iPad-schools in the Netherlands

Quite often you can see hurray-news being spread virally when discussing technology in education, when things go wrong or turn out less successful than planned news suddenly seem to go much less viral although you will always be able to find people who like a dig at technology-driven reform. I do think that sharing stories about reform-attempts that didn’t go so well is important. Not to say ‘haha’ or ‘duh’, but to learn from those cases. Think of it as a kind of air crash investigation, maybe we should have make such a team.

This weekend Dutch newspaper Het Parool brought a reconstruction how a new school ‘De Ontplooiing’ in Amsterdam went horribly wrong. This school has become famous as one of the very first Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands, a school vision that heavily relied on the iPad. People from all over the world came to visit this flagship school and one of the people behind this O4NT-vision still sells this story around the globe.

But… this school is in bad shape. Het Parool describes a couple of things:

  • One element has nothing to do with the school in itself: some of the children who were brought to the school were children who were having trouble already in their original schools. This is difficult for any new school to handle.
  • There was strong vision on personalized learning, but… to much freedom, combined with floating hours, made it very difficult for children to learn. In the newspaper there are testimonies how children leaving this school who go back to ‘normal’ schools are way behind in math and reading as it was not that important.
  • Over the half of the other Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands have left the original vision. Often not because they didn’t like the vision or because it didn’t work, but because it became to expensive to use the software and the vision of the organization.

When you look at the first element, this is something the school or the O4NT-vision couldn’t help, but the second and third element is something different. A air crash investigation team would mention probably how some of the school leaders involved were lacking experience. They would maybe also mention that the for profit-idea in education maybe didn’t help. “Lack of vision” wouldn’t be mentioned as there was truly a vision that was more than ‘use an iPad’. Some of the educational scientists in the team would point out that parts of this vision was doomed from the start, but this would probably remain a discussion, as it has been for over decades – long before the iPad was made. There are more school approaches with a lot of freedom, with strong defenders and as strong opponents.

The sad thing is – as Paul Kirschner pointed out on Twitter – that this has been experiment that went wrong for a lot of children. An experiment that never would have been possible if it were a real scientific experiment as it would never would have passed an ethical committee. Maybe the air crash investigation team could write up what not to do when trying new experiments like this. Not to make experimenting impossible, but just to make sure the changes for a next plain crashing (think Altschool, think Carpe Diem) would diminish.

(I’ve written quite a lot about these schools in the past, but most of it in Dutch. Check here and here. There is a translate button on the blog).

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Filed under Education, Technology

“Yes, iPad Apps Can Help Your Child Learn To Read”, but was this the correct question anyway?

I read a piece on FastCoLabs on research conducted by Susan B. Neuman on the effect of children working with the Learn With Homer-app. The controle group worked with another app that was on music and math. As the article describes:

“The randomized, six-week study took a sample of 95 disadvantaged students across seven different Head Start classrooms in Brooklyn and divided the children into small groups. Each of the 4- and 5-year-old students was given an iPad running either Learn With Homer or another unnamed math and music-oriented learning app. In 12-15 minute intervals, students were fully immersed, headphones and all, in these iPad-based learning environments. Adults only stepped in as needed to ensure the kids were staying on track, but did not aid directly in the learning process so as not to taint the results of the trial.”

And big news: the group who worked with the Learn With Homer-App did better on six of the seven phonological skills being measured. They were especially better in three key areas: print knowledge, phonological awareness, and letter sounds.

Well, surprise. So, kids who were trained by an app with an adult present who kept them focused on the app did better than other kids who weren’t trained. If there wouldn’t have been any difference, this would be terrible news. But wait, if you check the article, or rather the working paper without any references, because I couldn’t find any peer reviewed results yet, you can notice that although the differences were significant, the effect size was actually modest.

But was this experiment asking the right question? If people practice something I sure hope they will get better at it. But was using the app the best option? Or should the control group rather than playing another kind of app on another topic, better had received similar training on paper, or on DVD, or whatever?

So, although the title of the original article I started with is not wrong as such, it doesn’t tell us much about the question if using an app for learning instead of something else is a good idea.

Disclaimer: I didn’t say it’s by definition a bad idea, I just say we don’t know.


Filed under Research, Review, Technology