How iPads Benefit Student Learning

This was an article I wrote for our school’s online magazine.  

How iPads Are Enhancing the Learning in Jennifer Brown’s Grade 4 Class

Students benefit in a variety of ways when they are equipped with tools that enable them to go beyond the learning parameters often bracketed by their teacher or institution at large.  In the past these brackets were in place to ensure equitable access to resources: computer labs and library times were scheduled by teachers and librarians, each class was allotted a certain number of books, I pre-selected texts that aligned with classroom learning, etc. Personally, this has always felt like a contrived way of learning. After all, I am able to answer so many of my own questions at the click of a button on my iPhone – and so why make accessing information such a laborious and antiquated task for students? It’s worth considering whether or not traditional learning experiences effectively equip students with the necessary evaluative skills required in the current information and media rich environment we interact with today.

When my students were presented with their iPads in the Grade 4 One to World Pilot progamme in November, it didn’t take us long to move ourselves beyond the brackets and me as the gatekeeper of their knowledge. Students had already been well versed in student-friendly search engines such asKidrex that they could use in class and with a quick tutorial on our library database our classroom saw no borders. As one student put it, “Ms Brown, our learning goes on forever now.” What I noticed with this new influx of information though was how uncritical students were with the information they voraciously consumed. I began to see odd facts appear in assignments and misinformation presented in conversation. When asked where this information came from I was often given the “It’s true! I read it on the Internet” response. These student comments highlighted to me new challenges in the classroom. Not only did we have to learn how to manage the abundance of information, we had to learn a new way to effectively filter it.

That was then and this is now. In the past, the conversations we had about the information we accessed were always limited because I – for the most part – had already done the evaluation for them.  Perhaps I selected a book or a website because I was the one who deemed it necessary and relevant for our classroom conversation. In this instance students were passive recipients of knowledge and skill acquisition.  Now our classroom conversation must truly occur in that realm of higher order thinking where we evaluate and be critical about the information we consume. Students are asking questions such as Who is the author? Why should I believe this information? What do other people say about this? Students are learning to form their opinions by the most sound and reasoned arguments rather than the first opinion they encounter. More than ever I see students engaging in processes of peer review, analysis and evaluation of knowledge they not only access but construct for new purposes. In this new context, the learning experience is enhanced as students transform from being passive to active participants with learning experiences that are both meaningful and far more representative of the experiences they can expect when they need to locate information independently outside of school.