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IPads in the Classroom – Yay or Nay?
The world of education is constantly evolving, and most agree that the onset of new, interactive technology opens up exciting, new doors in learning what we never could have imagined before. But how much is too much? What is the best way to incorporate modern devices, such as laptops and iPads, into traditional educational methods? To what extent should younger learners be exposed to technology in the classroom, and how is the very notion of the “classroom” evolving?
IPads more than ever are becoming a favorite go-to teaching aid in classrooms, with many schools starting to provide students with their own iPads. The advantages are clear: the devices’ interactive nature and direct means of accessing teaching resources and learning games online can be a way of sugarcoating learning, hopefully getting students to retain information more if they learn it in an enjoyable fashion. The drawbacks are equally evident: iPads are costly and, some say, superfluous. They impede on classroom interaction, and can be viewed as a crutch in both the teaching and learning processes. They can be used as just another medium for wasting time (take the incident in the Los Angeles school district, where iPads were dispersed to students with all non-academic websites blocked, and within days every single student had hacked their way through the firewall).
In fact, tablets have been shown to significantly improve classroom learning and knowledge retention, especially when it comes to explaining scientific or mathematical concepts that are too complex or abstract to show with traditional textbooks or chalkboards. Using iPads to communicate ideas about the to-scale size of the solar system, molecules, and timelines has been shown to activate neurocognitive synapses in a unique way from book-learning. Thanks to thousands of imaginative (many of them free) apps available to use, projects, games, and presentations in art, music, languages, social studies, and more are easier than ever. And with many students, the scrolling, swiping, and tapping finger motions used to access information on an iPad can make learning a more interactive and stimulating experience.
Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) combined with the use of tablets and laptops can expand the classroom in a more encompassing way, allowing the classroom and students’ outside lives to mesh. Far from replacing the human approach to learning, VLEs allow students and teachers to contact each other directly with questions and feedback, as well as access a wider educational community. With subjects that are based around communication, such as learning foreign languages, VLEs can give options for exchanges and conversation with students in far-off locations. Providing a plethora of forums, academic links, and webpages to view tests, classroom content, and other useful resources, VLEs give students a greater individual control over their learning. It also makes remote learning easier, allowing students who may be traveling or working to attend class with their peers.
More standard VLEs, such as Blackboard which has been used in most colleges and secondary schools for the past decade, offer opportunities to attend classes online, while others provide online student activity centers where users can cooperate on different projects and games. More cutting edge VLEs such as Moodle, Frog, and Kaleidos offer more opportunities for customization, in an attempt to rival the big social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The more creative a teacher is, the more enjoyable they can make their virtual classroom, with options to customize their homepage and embed links to newspapers, videos, and podcasts. And while doling out iPads and conducting classes online can be intimidating to educators, it is increasingly important for educators to keep up with the times and present learning in a way that’s accessible to the tech-savvy younger generation.
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With the rise in technology, flipped learning, hand held devices, wide scale wifi access, 24/7 learning. Should we ditch the traditional lectures?
The Guardian’s Donal Clark thinks we should;
I would say that very intelligent academics and researchers leave their brains behind when defending what has become a lazy and damaging pedagogy – the face-to-face lecture.
Imagine if a movie were shown only once. Or your local newspaper was read out just once a day in the local square. Or novelists read their books out once to an invited audience. That’s face-to-face lectures for you: it’s that stupid.
What’s even worse is that, at many conferences I attend, someone reads out an entire lecture verbatim from their notes. Is there anything more pointless? It’s a throwback to a non-literate age. I can read. In fact, I can read faster than they can speak. The whole thing is an insult to the audience.
Here are 10 reasons why face-to-face lectures just don’t work:
1. Babylonian hour
We only have hours because of the Babylonian base-60 number system, which first appeared around 3100 BC. But it has nothing to do with the psychology of learning.
3. Attention fall-off
Our ability to retain information falls off badly after 10-20 minutes. In one study, the simple insertion of three “two-minute pauses” led to a difference of two letter grades in a short- and long-term recall test.
Lectures rely on students taking notes, yet note-taking is seldom taught, which massively reduces the effectiveness of the lecture.
Even slight disabilities in listening, language or motor skills can make lectures ineffective, as it is difficult to focus, discriminate and note-take quickly enough.
6. One bite at the cherry
If something is not understood on first exposure, there is no opportunity to pause, reflect or seek clarification. This approach contradicts all that we know about the psychology of learning.
7. Cognitive overload
Lecturers load up talks with too much detail, with the result that students cannot process all the information properly.
8. Tyranny of location
Students have to go to a specific place to hear a lecture. This wastes huge amounts of time, especially if they live far away from campus.
9. Tyranny of time
Students have to turn up at a specific time to hear a lecture.
10. Poor presentation
Many lecturers have neither the personality nor skills to hold the audience’s attention.
Most of these faults can be addressed by one simple adjustment: recording the lecture and delivering it online – a well-established model in distance learning courses.
An effective alternative
The recorded lecture has some straightforward practical advantages. Students can rewind if their attention has lapsed, or if they don’t understand what they’ve heard, or if English is not their first language. They can pause to take better notes or if they need to look something up.
Students can also choose to watch the lecture when they’re in an attentive state, rather than when they’re feeling tired or distracted. They can watch again for revision or improved retention, or fast-forward through anything they’re already familiar with. They don’t need to waste time travelling to or from the lecture hall.
There are also deeper pedagogical benefits. Paradoxically, a student watching a lecture online may be able to forge a closer connection with the lecturer than one watching the lecture live.
One advocate of the recorded lecture is Stanford University professor of mathematics Keith Devlin, who delivers his “introduction to mathematical thinking” module as a massive online open course (Mooc). He arguesthat a recorded lecture gives students control over the lecture, making it a “self-evidently better” method of teaching.
Devlin believes that many students lack the confidence to ask academics questions face-to-face and that, for students who are more shy, the ability to ask questions via social media helps them to perform better.
He writes: “The fact is, a student taking my Mooc can make a closer connection with me than if they were in a class of more than 25 or so students, and certainly more than in a class of 250.”
It’s not just students who benefit. Recording lectures can free up lecturers’ time to spend on research and to take part in higher quality teaching experiences, such as seminars and tutorials.
It can also improve a lecturer’s performance, as the act of being recorded encourages them to raise their game.
Student feedback can be used to improve future lectures. Research shows that students are more likely to watch a recorded lecture than attend a lecture in person.
So why retain the face-to-face lecture when its value as a pedagogical tool is so limited? There seems to be no other reason than the old justification: “We’ve always done it this way.”
Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can actually make students smarter, contrary to the criticisms leveled against them by many educators. Twitter and Facebook can boost learning if instructors use them properly and monitor their students’ use in coursework.
Some educators have been wary of social networks since their inception, concerned that students would use the networks in class, both as an update to the age-old practice of passing notes and as a tool with which to cheat on assignments and tests. The immediate reaction was to ban social network access during class. Some more creative instructors, however, saw a potential for actually enhancing their students’ learning, and they encouraged the students to participate. And it turns out that they were on to something: participating on the social networks can actually enhance education.
Why some educators love to hate social media
Beyond the potential for cheating, Twitter and Facebook have often been criticized by educators and others who are concerned with the future of literacy and critical thinking in our culture. Some think they are time-wasters for most students and are eroding students’ ability to write, spell, and think.
Twitter in particular has been criticized on literacy grounds because its strict 140-character limit per “tweet” (including spaces between words) encourages the use of Internet shorthand and “txtspk” (e.g., “UR” instead of “you are”) and sentence fragments. The fear among some educators is that between tweeting and texting, technology has given rise to a new generation that will be at a loss to write or read a coherent, properly spelled sentence.
Facebook has also been criticized as a time-waster and even, in some well-publicized cases, a bullying tool. It has also become a surefire conduit for rumors, ridiculous memes and urban legends, some of which were debunked back in the pre-Internet age, but nevertheless found new life via email and, more recently, through social media. Consequently some have complained that Facebook encourages laziness and discourages critical thinking and research skills.
While there is some validity to all of these concerns – including the concerns about cheating – none of these are adequate reasons to vilify Twitter or Facebook. Instead, the teacher can use them as tools to boost the learning process. Even some of the perceived disadvantages of Twitter and Facebook can be turned into advantages.
The tweet heard ‘round the world…
Twitter wasn’t even on most people’s radar until the 2008 incident involving student James Karl Buck’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment at a public protest in Egypt. En route to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and sent a one-word Tweet to his friends and contacts: “Arrested.” Within seconds, his fellow U.S. Twitter users and blogger friends in Egypt learned of his arrest, and the news almost immediately went viral. As the news spread, pressure from sources all over the world mounted for Egyptian officials, and Buck was ultimately released. At that point, he tweeted another one-word message, “Free,” which also went viral. And the world recognized the power of social networking.
Indeed, there is power in social networking, and there’s no denying that tweeting can be an effective means of communication and a way to update crucial information in the shortest, most direct way possible. Twitter has become a medium in and of itself, but its greater usefulness lies in the ability of the “tweeter” to link to other media. News media, for instance, now routinely use tweets to link to longer articles and videos, and that in fact is where Twitter becomes truly useful; it can link the reader to more substantial information. And this, ideally, is how Twitter can become valuable in the classroom: as a portal to information about the world.
What about the literacy argument? While some accuse Twitter of “dumbing down” the language and interfering with the ability to read, write and think, there are equally powerful – and eloquently literate – voices defending Twitter. A few years ago, best-selling Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood declared that Twitter actually boosts literacy. Atwood noted that a lot of dedicated Twitter users are also avid readers, and added, “People have to actually be able to read and write to use the Internet, so it’s a great literacy driver if kids are given the tools and the incentive to learn the skills that allow them to access it.”
Moreover, one has to have at least rudimentary reading and writing skills to tweet, and tweeting (as well as texting) are less passive experiences than talking on the phone or watching TV.
Other experts also believe that social media such as Twitter can be used to enhance reading and writing. One of these experts is Rey Junco, of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. http://www.opb.org/news/article/npr-can-twitter-boost-literacy/
Facebook, like Twitter, is a two-edged sword
Many of the arguments in favor of Twitter can also be used about Facebook: It can enhance reading and writing, and can be a portal to educational content. Of course a cursory look at random Facebook postings will reveal that freedom from the 140-character limit does not automatically make the poster witty, eloquent, or even particularly literate. That said, Facebook can be a powerful tool to convey legitimate information – whether an update on coursework or a link to a news story, opinion piece or white paper that is relevant to the work.
Even what is arguably one of Facebook’s weaknesses – its common use as a conduit for rumors and nonsense – can be transformed into a strength if teachers use examples as teaching tools to encourage critical thinking and research skills.
The greatest strength of social media is that they allow people not only to engage in the “public conversation” but also to connect with the world in a way that will actually expand their outlook and open their minds. Educators can and should take advantage of these tools, while guiding students in the responsible use of social media in the context of coursework.
“This guest post is contributed by Rebecca Gray, who writes about free background check for Backgroundchecks.org. She welcomes your comments at her email id:GrayRebecca14@gmail.com.”