Are iPads in the classroom really a good idea?

Ask Brian: The jury is out – but it depends on how they are used and the quality of learning

The jury is out still out on the impact of learning using iPads. Photograph: iStock

The jury is out still out on the impact of learning using iPads. Photograph: iStock

 

My daughter’s school introduced mandatory iPads two years ago. Even though we were assured they were formatted in such a way as to preclude non-educational activity, it’s clearly not the case based on her conversations with friends. Is this putting her education at risk?

The acquisition of knowledge and the development of skills is a highly complex process which has remained largely unchanged since the ancient Greeks gathered a handful of young boys around a master.

During my own school days, the addition of the tape recorder in language classes was the only additional feature which would have been unfamiliar to the Greeks (along with girls in the classroom).

Today, technology abounds in classrooms and the days of talk and chalk are well over. Many schools have now gone down the route your daughters have, at considerable cost to parents of circa €900, when the cost of the online text books is factored in.

Although children also receive a hard copy of the text book to retain at home or bring to school. A few schools to my knowledge have abandoned iPads altogether and returned to textbooks in class as the mainstream method of teaching.

Do I support children’s use of iPads as the core learning tool in class? The jury is still out on this one. As with all learning, the key factor is the quality of the teaching provided to the student.

The human brain is an extremely complex organ, crisscrossed by millions of neural connections, which are stimulated in different ways during the teaching and learning process. I listen in awe to my 96-year-old mother in law recite, word perfect, poems she learned as a child in school.

A skilful teacher who knows how to maximise the potential of iPads to stimulate learning by implanting knowledge which, once acquired and practiced, leads on to the development of skills, would lead one to have confidence in their introduction into classroom, as the replacement for the text book.

The question that arises is whether the current generation of teachers have those skills?

If the teacher does not have an expertise, far in excess than that of their students, in the utilisation of IT for teaching purposes, putting iPads into the children’s hands could be a total disaster and lead to a rapid deterioration in the quality of teaching and learning.

Visual learning is fleeting and transitory. Learning that will last a lifetime requires students to engage is a variety of ways with the learning material, reading aloud, underlining words and phrases, composing sentences as a learner to put into your own words what you understand the text book to be telling you, answering questions related to the topic.