Why iPads are magic and why that may (not) matter

The following is a guest post from colleague Dr. Guy Trainin, a professor of Literacy at the University of Nebraska. Dr. Trainin is a very avid YouTube author with very helpful iPad videos.

A few weeks ago I created two of my favorite episodes on me podcast iPads in the Classroom. One was about viruses and cells and the second was about the future of the book. (The videos are embedded below). These episodes show off the magic that iPads can create. This is not just a book splashed on a page, or games that drill a basic math skill. Instead, these are apps that show how much more can you get when you use a mobile devices to get a different kind of information.

Take viruses and cells, in the apps we show we navigate through the cells, see their different organelles and their relative location. We can explore the cell and have the experience of visiting a three dimensional interactive model. No textbook and no lecture can bring that kind of understanding to light.

In the episode about the future of the book we show the magic of excellent interactive books. The use of these books is actually supported by research that shows that they improve student comprehension of stories. The trick is to create relevant interaction and stay away from gadgetry bells and whistles that actually detract from the main idea in the story.

My point here that iPads offer immense educational potential that already has some research support. Yet teachers, schools, and districts struggle to integrate devices in large numbers. That is, large organizations seem to have a hard time realizing the potential in the devices and I suggest three main reasons for it:

  1. To use the devices teachers and systems have to give up some control over the details of the curriculum. For example, if you already have a unit on cells and viruses that as is takes more time than you have there is no time to integrate guided exploration through an app.
  2. Flexibility in purchasing – teachers almost never have the ability to experiment with and download apps based on their curriculum without layers of approval that remove the immediacy from planning. In the early stages of integration it kills innovation since teachers are just learning and cannot really plan a full year in advance.
  3. Right now most (if not all) high-stakes assessments are multiple-choice assessments. These are assessments that foster a rigid regimen of chapter reading followed by Q and A. iPads are useful only if some of our assessments change to include more creativity, critical thinking and open ended assignments.

The magic of iPads and devices like them is incredible but in order to harness such potential in our educational systems, we must also attempt to do things differently – in a 21st century way.

About the author:

Dr. Guy Trainin is an associate professor of Literacy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). He focuses his research in the areas of literacy development and literacy integration with technology and the arts. Dr. Trainin has served as the external evaluator for Nebraska Reading First Grant for six years, as well as for two Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination grants focusing on Arts and Literacy in Elementary classrooms. He teaches in pre-service education as well as graduate courses in field research methods, technology integration and in literacy research. In 2012 he won the prestigious Swanson Teaching Award. In recent years Dr. Trainin has been studying 21st century learning in schools in Nebraska and China with a specific focus on mobile devices and creativity. He has published research articles and books as well as extensive digital authorship of over 200 videos (YouTube Techeedge01) and 200 blog posts (guytrainin.blogspot.com). He is co-founder and a past director of the KDS Reading Center and the Elementary Education Program Coordinator at the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education.

Follow Guy on Twitter and G+


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