Overall, they focus on the nuts and bolts of rolling out an iPad program. Their reasons for incorporating the iPad are as varied as the programs themselves: They are eager to stay competitive in the educational market, they are striving to stay relevant as a school or a district, or simply that students and teachers like the product itself. They often point to level of engagement students experience with iPads.
However, the question that administrators and educators rarely address is the most important and fundamental of all: “Why iPads?” How, exactly, does an iPad align with an institution’s vision of authentic and essential learning? How can iPads help prepare students to be effective global citizens?
I would argue that by embracing tools like the iPad, devices that allow students to explore and create, as well as developing a pedagogy and curriculum that encourages ingenuity, we can reinforce a process of learning that crafts innovative, problem-solving, and entrepreneurial minds. If we examine the question “why iPads?” in the context of America’s quest to continue as a leader of innovation, then the question, and the tool, becomes more poignant.
When MIT Economist Frank Levy and Harvard Education Professor Richard Murnane set about analyzing changing workplace skill requirements in the U.S. labor force, and a connection to skill development in school, they determined that success in today’s workplace is not about what you know, but rather your ability to solve complex and unanticipated problems.
Levy and Murnane identified two highest-order competencies most in demand by employers: “expert thinking,” or “the ability to solve new problems that cannot be solved by applying rules” (if the problem could be solved by rules, a computer could do it), and “complex communication,” or the ability “to convey a particular interpretation of information to others.” Murnane and Levy argue that students must develop these skills to stay competitive in the 21st-century labor market. They point out that increasingly powerful technologies have rendered many “routine manual” and “routine cognitive” skills the domain of computers. (Think how robots have replaced humans on assembly lines, and how software can prepare your taxes.)
As such, students will enter the most cognitively demanding labor force in U.S history, and schools need to nurture skills and competencies that give humans an advantage over computers. And what we humans do quite well—and have done for millennia—is adapt to new environments by developing creative and innovative approaches to new problems.
In his pivotal work Creating Innovators, Harvard Professor Tony Wagner points out that the Chinese and other global economic competitors are attempting to challenge U.S preeminence in economic innovation, partly by reforming their education system to nurture more creative and entrepreneurial minds. Wagner argues that increased standardization in schools and universities is hindering creativity amongst American youth; it stymies risk-taking by penalizing failure, and thus keeps students from looking at the world in new and unique ways:
“Rarely do entrepreneurs or innovators talk about how their schooling or their places of work—or even their parents—developed their talents or encouraged their aspirations. Three of the most innovative entrepreneurs of the last half century—Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid instant camera; Bill Gates; and Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook—had to drop out of Harvard to pursue their ideas.”