One U of M graduate student recently conducted a study in a secondary school examining the potential of using iPads in classrooms and found a few interesting findings. She visited a secondary school, which had purchased 300 iPads and allowed students to use them in classrooms for learning.
Empowered (but sometimes Distracted) Students
First, the student researcher found that by using iPads, students were empowered to learn on their own. Students could shift their role from passive receivers of knowledge to producers of knowledge. For example, students was encouraged to do a lot of independent inquiry and research using the iPad's web browser or applications. And by doing group project work and presentations, they could inform other classmates and teachers (i.e., project-based and cooperative learning). So the Information seemed to be regarded as permeable and not owned by the teacher. From teachers' perspective, it was necessary to employ both traditional (e.g., lecturing) and non-traditional (e.g., encouraging exploration by students) teaching methods.
While students were empowered, however, it was found that students were also easily distracted when searching through internet and using applications. Teachers should carefully design a way to prevent students from being distracted.
Barriers against effective use of technologies
It was not always easy to utilize the new technology in classrooms. Interestingly, the barriers against effective use of iPads in classrooms were not teachers but school policies and procedures. In a class project that involved designing the distribution and use of iPads in their own school, students could not access the iTunes store to view information, ratings, and pricing, which they needed to complete their project, due to the school policy. And this problem was solved by teachers' downloading the AppHits application for the students. Installing the application onto the classroom's cart of iPads took a few days but worked out great.
Furthering learning gap
A couple of unexpected findings emerged. First, one group of students explained how they had access to iPads at home so they could continue to study or explore information. But one student said that her family is too poor and she wished she had one at home. The school's iPad project does not address the issue. But the researcher hopes to get more insight to this issue from teachers during follow up interviews.
Second unexpected finding was that iPads could "further the achievement gap." The school Principal in the initial interview stated his belief that iPads are furthering the gap. In observing class discussions one teacher noted the increased learning gap between high performing students and low performing students and asked students what they thought about distributing the iPads to the lowest 75 students in each grade to help bridge the gap. Students did not like the idea. One student even said, "they'll just break them"
In sum, according to the ethnographic study, utilizing iPads can bring both benefits and pitfalls to classrooms. Since using iPads in classrooms is just at the beginning stage in schools, we should carefully observe and keep our eyes on those projects.