Am I late to the party on this? That’s the way it seems looking at blog posts and videos from nearly a year ago trumpeting the importance of the iPad as it arrived on the market. The pace of change is so fast in this field that you can blink and miss a major new development. Looking back on the hype, you might have assumed that within a few short months schools would be full of iPads and we’d now be looking back nostalgically at all those desktops, wondering how we used to cope.
Not so. The cost of change in schools’ ICT strategy is huge, and to change budgetary direction in this way is like steering a ship. It’s not going to happen fast.
In reality, a year is nothing in the grand scheme of things. The digital ephemera quickly evaporates and leaves behind the kit and the tools that really matter. What is important about that time for me is that instead of an instant leap onto the iPad-adoring bandwagon (which has never been a challenge for me, I am a self-confessed enthusiast of all things Apple) this is a very considered and definitive step.
I am working hard at the moment on shaping the vision of learning in the classroom in my department at school. Being a firm believer in principle-led change, I’ve been spending the past few months developing the basis on which to move forwards.
IT Rooms and Languages
I am absolutely convinced that learning in Languages should be facing forwards, looking upwards and collaborative. Too often, the school IT room experience isolates students with headphones and keyboards into a virtual space where they only engage with the screen in front of them; probably facing a wall or the back of someone else’s head. The teacher, having set the students off on their digital tasks, will mill around the room dealing with dysfunctional headphones and misbehaving mice rather than facilitating learning in any meaningful way. At the end of the lesson, the students disengage from their virtual world; often leaving the product of their learning behind them, only to be revisted on their next visit to the IT room if the file-naming pixies haven’t whisked their work off to some dark abyss on the shared area, never to be seen again.
I don’t want that. Outstanding languages lessons need more real interaction between students and teachers than this set up allows. Stretch, challenge, support and experience all matter. Multiple-choice fling the teacher is not a substitute for ‘proper’ learning. We know that great language acquisition happens in classrooms with students looking up, taking part and engaging with their teacher and their classmates. Follow that with individual and small group practice with a focus on the students being productive with language and their teacher giving meaningful feedback to help them improve. That’s what progress looks like. Of course, learning platforms have improved the join between classroom, IT room and home, but we aren’t there yet.
My students still use an exercise book as their main working space. It’s 2011.
So let’s assume my classroom isn’t going to change. Let’s assume my lessons are short and my aspirations are high. Let’s also assume my school community will support saying goodbye to the exercise books as the main evidence base for learning.
I want a device that will get my students working and playing with language. I want a device that brings a world of authentic cultural material as well as tailored learning resources into their hands. I want the flexibility to move from paper resources to digital ones seamlessly, all on one desk. I want simplicity of function and speed of operation. I don’t want to have to shape the learning to fit the limitations of the technology. How many starters have I had to ‘stretch’ as we are still waiting for everyone to be logged on in the IT room? I want a device that makes kids, parents and teachers say ‘Wow’.
It has to be an iPad.
Yes, there are other devices, other platforms and other developments that are moving in the right direction but I haven’t held anything in my hand that has come even close to the iPad and what it will deliver in my classroom.
Vive la revolution!
This post officially marks the beginning of what I hope will be a really great journey. My own iPad will be arriving within the next few days. I’ve made a formal request to the leadership at my school that what we want isn’t another suite of computers but class sets of iPads. The response so far has been positive and it might just happen. All my fingers and toes are crossed. I am working to build a programme of learning that won’t just bolt on to my schemes of work, for when we’ve finished the ‘proper’ learning. I want these devices to jump right to the heart of what we do.
I can’t wait!