I just finished reading this article by Marc Prensky and, wow, it was very thought provoking. It got me reflecting on a few of my classes, particularly high school classes, and how I teach them – specifically, I was asking the question “do I teach with old things in old ways or new things in new ways or am I somewhere in the middle?” I came to the conclusion that I’m somewhere in the middle. My school hasn’t yet gone one-to-one. Instead, we have three computer labs and, being one of the IT teachers, inside lab 2 is where you’ll find me most of the time. Having a lab full of computers has enabled me to employ teaching strategies that just wouldn’t be possible in a typical classroom. One teaching strategy I often use is to record a video tutorial of a particular skill (for example, how to make the background of an image transparent) and then upload the video to the Internet where it is accessible to students twenty four seven. Apart from being available anytime anywhere, online video tutorials can be replayed as many times as needed – meaning students can learn at their own pace. I’m a really big fan of Camtasia for making video tutorials but after reading about ScreenChomp I think I’m going to give it a try next time. The problem I have though with this teaching strategy is that it feels like I’m doing an old thing in a new way – instead of giving a live demonstration of a particular skill, I’m just doing that demonstration into some software that captures it and gives it back to me as a nice video. I need to start thinking about doing new things in new ways.
Changing the subject a little bit, it came to me that iPads are probably not as good as laptops in a one-to-one middle or high school because entering long strings of data into them (i.e. iPads) is somewhat tedious. Another way of saying this is, I don’t think iPads address the learning needs of kids today as well as laptops because they don’t have keyboards. Kids today need keyboards more than ever. They’re learning (and teaching) through online networks in which they want/need to have a presence and this is done through tweeting, blogging, commenting and other forms of communication – all of which require a keyboard. Some people might say “just hook up a keyboard (to the iPad)” and my response to this is, if you’re going to carry around a keyboard with your iPad all day, why not just buy a laptop? This way students won’t need to prop up the touchscreen in order to see what they’re typing. Others might say “it (the iPad) has a virtual keyboard” and to this I say, I think we all know that typing on a virtual keyboard is (a lot) slower than typing on the real thing. I don’t think (I’m quite sure) Apple didn’t intend the iPad to be used for writing long strings of text and that they put the virtual keyboard there just so people could enter in short things like web addresses, e-mail addresses and passwords. If we (teachers, parents, administrators) want to start opening up these online networks to our students so that they can learn through them then we need to make sure that we’re providing our students with the right tools to create and expand these networks.
EDIT (Oct 4, 2011): This afternoon, I attended the third and final meeting for course one of the COETAIL certificate I’m doing. In the opening address, the speaker summed up nicely one of the reasons his school opted for laptops over iPads in their one-to-one program, and it resonated with me: “iPads are for information consumption, laptops are for information creation.”