My presentation at #JedcampNJNY on iPads: Solution or Problem?

Today I had the privilege to attend JedcampNJNY in Yavneh Academy. It exceeded my expectations (which any reader of this blog knows were high to begin with). I will be writing a later posting with my reflections on the event but first I wanted to share the presentation that I gave today that I created using an awesome iPad app, Haiku Deck, which appears at the end of this posting.

The inspiration for my presentation came from a blog posting which I read this Friday entitled The iPad in Schools: Is it a Solution or a Problem? The author argues that if one just puts an iPad or any other one-to-one technology device into the classroom but in no way tries to adapt one's teaching to the new device then the iPad will be a problem. The introduction of the iPad has to be a part of a greater conversation on the changing role of the teacher and the student in the modern educational setting.

This matches many of my own experiences in a one-to-one iPad pilot program. The teachers who have been successful integrating the new technology into their classrooms have not necessarily have been the young, computer savvy teachers. Rather, they have been the teachers who have had the confidence in themselves and their students to take a step back and recognize the fact that they are no longer the sole source of information in the classroom. These teachers have even celebrated this fact and given every opportunity for their students to discover new resources to personalize their own learning experience.

This is why I find that technology can make good teachers into great teachers. And of course technology can be effective with great teachers as well since great teachers tend to utilize every tool at their disposal to reach their students. But technology often makes mediocre teachers even worse.

I have heard stories of teachers who when faced with the prospect of their student having an iPad or other one-to-one device in their classroom have proceeded to introduce the iPad with a long list of rules on what they are not allowed to do with the device. The kids quickly got the message that either they should not use the iPad at all in class (if they were the "good" students who always wanted to please their teacher) or they should use the iPad in a way that got under their teacher's skin (if they were the "clever" students who loved to find ways to make their teacher's life miserable). The failure of iPad integration then became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Since the teacher was afraid of the iPad and the vistas it might open for more student centered learning, the teacher had a miserable time integrating the iPad into his/her classroom.

In my presentation below, after presenting the problem, I try to list apps that can help in student centered explorations using the iPads, many of which I have blogged about in the past.

Two fascinating discussions occurred during this presentation. Firstly, regarding the issue of student distraction, one of the participants pointed out that this problem has nothing to do with the iPad and everything to do with the teacher. He shared his experience in high school where he had a Gemara Rebbe who came every day with a goal for how many lines of Gemara he wanted to teach and no matter how the student reacted, the Rebbe plowed through his planned reading. The student, bored to tears, had a desk full of books which he read during class to occupy himself. If called upon, he tried to muster his memory of the Gemara which he had read in Soncino translation the night before so he could go back to his reading.

The key facet leading to student distraction is not any specific device or else we should not only ban the iPad but books, doodling, even day dreaming. Rather, it is the approach of the teacher. Is his goal to teach a lesson or to teach students? The iPad can be a great ally in reaching students if that is what the teacher wants to do. If not, it can become another way for students to attempt to create their own student directed learning in the absence of engaging with the teacher.

One other discussion we had was concerning the issue of how all of these electronic devices are affecting Chilul Shabbat (see the half Shabbos debate). While I pointed out that the primary problem is not a school issued iPad but students personal cell phones and other devices, I see this teacher's point of view. We have to be careful, especially in Judaic Studies, to remember that we are the people of the book, not of the iBook. Our students need to open books, fall in love with books, turn the pages, learn how to navigate bookshelves, if we want them to become lifelong learners. iBooks and other electronic devices can be great supplements to this but they can never replace printed text on paper.

This reminded me of another discussion that I witnessed earlier in the day in a different session. The presenter was pointing out how technology can be a cause of literacy problems today. Since many of our parents no longer get newspapers or magazines, they prefer to read these things online, honestly I fall into this category, our children rarely get to interact with printed text. When one gets a daily newspaper or weekly magazine, one's kids see printed material which they might happen to read, especially on a long Shabbos. However, online reading is more planned, less serendipitous in nature. You read what you want to read, not what you happen to be browsing. And the online reading experience is a much more personal one which is much harder to model for our children than the act of reading the printed word. For more on this, I suggest you read Dan Rosen's reflections on today which can be access, online of course, here.

I am a conservative teacher by nature and look askance at teachers who advocate for radical transformative change. I like to work in incremental steps. Therefore, I do not view the iPad as a device to transform education as we know. But at the same time, when used correctly, the iPad can be a great way for a teacher to add many more strategies to their tool kit of ways to help their students. The key is for teachers to be willing to let go of the reins a bit and allow their students to fashion their own learning experiences with the help of the iPad.