Ipad – Classroom Friend or Foe?

Ipads in the ClassroomA leading psychologist has warned parents that excessive use of smartphones and iPads could be damaging their children’s long-term health. Dr Aric Sigman claimed such habits can be passed on to youngsters, with the growing addiction to TV and computer games putting kids at risk of suffering damage to their brain and body. ‘Whether children or adults are formally ‘addicted’ to screen technology or not, many of them overuse technology and have developed an unhealthy dependency on it,’ he stated.

The latest statistics show 12 to 15-year-olds spend an average of 6.1 hours a day sat in front of screens outside of school hours. Dr Sigman suggested allowing such excessive use of technology is tantamount to neglect and could set children up for a lifetime of ill health due to their lack of exercise and mental development.

Despite the amount of research warning against the excessive use of technology and lamenting the loss of the reading book in students’ lives; students can now access the full curriculum of post-primary books for the 2012/13 academic year as e-books. The Educational Company of Ireland (Edco) has completed a five-year project to make every core subject available in the format. Martina Harford, chief executive of Edco, said: ‘Uniquely, we have developed a system which can be used by the children on a range of hardware.’ This allows pupils to continue their ‘interactive learning’ outside of the classroom on iPads. Edco has been rolling out its e-books to selected schools for the past 18 months and around 4,000 students across Ireland already use its platform of more than 100 e-books and 8,000 resources.

Is this the latest fad? Probably not, given that thousands of Irish school pupils have ditched paper textbooks this year in favour of computers and e-books.  Laptops, iPads and netbooks are finally reaching a critical mass in schools.

Those in favour of this digital reformation are persistent in their arguments for such classroom technology, and are very articulate when it comes to denigrating what they call ‘dead-tree text books’. On top of their list of advantages are: Pupils will have lighter school bags, and it is hoped that a generation born in the age of the internet will find it easier to concentrate when working on computers. This vast pool of knowledge and information will be stored using cloud computing (course material and notes are kept online).

Some schools who are using netbooks/iPads say that since the introduction: students are more engaged with their work and one VEC has gone on to say that it has resulted in an improvement in attendance. How is there a correlation between an improvement in attendance and a sleek handheld screen? Martina Harford, chief executive of publishers Edco, explained that the e-book versions of textbooks come with a lot of extra features. Features that probably go along way in keeping a students attention, we take it. ‘If we get to a passage about volcanoes, we don’t just have text and pictures. We can show volcanoes erupting. Students can add in notes near the text, highlight certain passages, create bookmarks and listen to podcasts.’

Yes, bringing mobile devices into classrooms may raise the interest levels of disengaged pupils, but it is ‘no panacea’, according to John Lawlor, an education researcher based in Trinity College. Of course if one was to directly pitch chalk & talk classroom learning against a trendy iPad; there is no competition in the mind of a student.

If new technology is going to be introduced on a large scale and books are to be thrown into the recycling bin; the way the classroom works will also have to be reviewed. Students usually become desensitised and disengaged after the first ten to fifteen minutes into class time – so whether reading an e-book or a text-book is irrelevant if the learning environment remains static with one person doing the talking and the students doing the listening. Experts in new ways of learning say that the introduction of technology should allow for self-directed learning. So, the role of the teacher should be one of leader facilitator rather than dictator of learning.

There are many advantages to iPads and similar technology in the classrooms if we were to ignore the experts who warn against excessive use of technology. With iPads, students have access to any number of educational apps which are expanding the learning experience both inside and outside the classroom. From interactive lessons to study aids to productivity tools, there’s something for everyone. With iPad, the classroom is always at your fingertips. Right now at the App Store, there are thousands of apps available to download. Students can track their homework, take notes and study for exams. Teachers can give lessons, monitor progress and stay organised. And that’s just the beginning, they tell us in ‘Apple Land’.

Fiona O’Carroll, senior vice-president of HMH, says: ‘There are many Irish schools that are still like dinosaurs when it comes to technology in the classroom. They might just have 12 computers shut away in a lab somewhere and a couple of printers that don’t work.’ However, isn’t’ it about finding that all-important balance in the learning environment; a balance between technology and the traditional book, copy and pen. Fiona O’Carroll compares using technology as a world in colour compared to a black and white world that books give students. One might be concerned; is she like many others underestimating a students imagination to convert the black and white text page into colourful and vibrant images and emotions? With an iPad etc. doing this, will the child’s imagination become redundant and one day, stop working. There is actual evidence to prove this. With the introduction of calculators into maths classes; it reduced the ability of students to do the simplest of sums in their head. Try it for yourself! Ask a teenager to do a quick sum and see how quickly they reach for their mobile and hit the calculator on their mobile.

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