I resisted the purchase for a few days but finally realized I needed to get my hands on one myself. I needed to evaluate it as another tool for education, another tool that possibly promotes Universal Design for Learning (provide multiple methods of engagement, presentation and expression). I needed to evaluate it FOR MYSELF. With the students in mind.
My initial observations lead me to believe this is TRANSFORMATIVE. Especially for struggling learners (kids on IEPs and 504s for example). Why?
1. The Coolness Factor - Never discredit this. Everywhere I go, whenever I bring out the iPad, everyone's demeanor changes to enthusiastic excitement. They salivate. Their fingers twitch. Give an iPad to a student with special needs and their peers will change their views. Historically, students on IEPs have not been viewed as the Cool Kids. This can be a game changer. The touch technology and available apps offer UDL strategies which can meet the academic needs of our kids. (more in a subsequent post).
2. New ways to input text - This is a huge consideration. Typically, we ask students to use paper/pencil for learning or to demonstrate what they know. Think worksheets. Think the Five Paragraph Essay. For some kids, the mechanics of handwriting is too challenging a task for success. Additionally, the ability to keyboard in the traditional manner is impossible. The iPad offers two new alternatives. Dragon Dictation, a free app for speech recognition, record into the microphone and your text appears ready to be emailed or texted. ShapeWriter, a FUN way to input text using touch technology. I see ShapeWriter offering a better method for kids with dysgraphia, kids who have the ability to use only one hand, kids who need spelling support, kids who need to be highly engaged to input text.
3. Access to Content - Ira Socol criticizes the iPad as a step backward, Web 1.5. because it's not about content creation. I agree with that criticism and hope that subsequent versions will focus on those possibilities. (C'mon, Apple, no camera, no video capabilities?)
But school is also about accessing content. Again, Ira accurately points to the fact that text-to-speech capabilities are not built in. However, for the students who do not need TTS, the iPad offers options - access to interactive content and no need to carry around heavy textbooks and backpacks that cause back problems in kids.
4. Notebook replacement - Traditional school is about paper based notebooks both for recording notes and for recording assignments. For too many kids, this IS the disability. There just isn't enough space in those Assignment Notebooks. And too many kids can't read their own handwriting for later review of their notes. Instead, we assign adult para-educators to scribe when handwriting is a challenge for a student on an IEP. Promotes DEPENDENCE. Think outside the box and see how the iPad levels the playing field. Use organization apps to keep track of assignments in a legible manner. Use the color code features to organize notes. (Look for more
in a future post about specific apps for overcoming learning obstacles.).
5. Inability to multitask - I've read many complaints about the iPad's lack of multitasking capabilities. Let's turn this around and view this as a positive for some of our students. Limiting tasks to one at a time can be especially beneficial for some students.
6. Logistical Considerations - 1:1 laptop initiatives are proliferating. Districts are turning to the use of standard laptops or netbooks. Both require time to turn on the devices and access the application, and require charging during the day if there is ongoing use. The battery life of the iPad is said to be about 10 -12 hours. I got mine Wednesday night and have yet to charge it! And the instant on feature is huge for immediate use. We can't overlook the fact that turning on a laptop or netbook and getting to the Internet or specific software program can take at least five minutes or more. Valuable teaching/learning time lost.
The iPad is a lightweight, compact, very COOL device with limitations which have been articulated by many others. One thing I need NOW before I can recommend it to younger students is a compact, protective case. But think about the possibilities for struggling learners, for trying to REACH EVERY LEARNER and this can be transformative.
Stay tuned for subsequent posts which will identify apps to reach learners with specific learning obstacles.
Let the attacks begin....