Last week I toured the middle school that my daughter will be attending next year. One thing that struck me was the school’s decision to issue every student an iPad at the start of the term, as a core teaching device.
The operating system was slightly modified to restrict certain applications and features; students can’t download games–the general obsession with Minecraft comes to mind–and after some experimentation this year, they chose to disable messaging as well, due to the (one-could-have-guessed) distractions it causes.
The staff at the school cited the weight and heft of textbooks as one factor in their decision to go with eBooks on the iPad. But the advantages I saw went far beyond the tablet as a lightweight alternative to a child lugging a crippling backpack.
While observing students in their classrooms, I saw that they were adept not only at note-taking, but in switching applications rapidly and effectively, from reading to research to note-taking. And all of those tasks now embrace interactive multimedia, which makes learning not just more immersive and stimulating, but actually fun.
I recall spending hours poring through the World Book Encyclopedia as a child. I don’t miss it; I’d rather use and support Wikipedia.
During the tour I had the opportunity to sit down with a 5th grader who had just completed an assignment on her iPad, an extended and thoughtful blog post (“essay” for you old-timers) on “Was Cooking in the 1950’s Fun?” Not only was this bright young lady impressively articulate and engaged, she was eager to share with me the process she used for her research (searching online sources), drafting (first on paper!), and project management (Evernote, which I have now downloaded upon her thoughtful recommendation).
Students and teachers admit that the ability to cross-reference and flip back and forth between pages, especially of multiple books, was often awkward. And some of the larger form-factor textbooks might be a bit squashed as compared to their print counterparts. But overall, the students were far more engaged with their eBooks, and increased engagement simply equates to more learning.
The middle school’s iPad experiment for the 2012-13 school year has been a resounding success overall. Perhaps, with any luck, my own iPad will make me smarter as well.