How to have more meaningful iPad professional development

Effective professional development requires less of a focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of technology, and more on the pedagogy of using it.

“Leading Change” column, July/August 2013 edition of eSchool NewsIn last month’s column, I argued that the power of the iPad in education lies in harnessing its creative and mobile abilities through the use of versatile, “evergreen” apps and the web. Yet, by and large, school leaders aren’t doing enough to put teachers in a position to excel in iPad classrooms. Often, the substantial investments schools make in purchasing iPads are woefully out of balance with the minimal investments they make in preparing teachers to use these new tools effectively.

Many school leaders simply give teachers iPads and expect them to integrate them in innovative ways. Yet, when new tools are introduced, they’re often used to extend existing instructional practices. Remember the interactive whiteboards that appeared en masse a decade ago? Years later, many are still be used as glorified projectors. As HarvardX researcher Justin Reich points out in “The iPad as a Trojan Mouse,” introducing a shiny, enticing iPad is only an initial step. To create real change in education, we must ultimately address pedagogy and best practices.

The real challenge for educators is not learning a particular device or app. It is learning how to create relevant and meaningful learning environments.

When I begin a workshop on iPads, teachers quickly learn how to take a screen shot and record a video—among other skills. However, when I ask teachers how they could use various iPad features to improve teaching and learning, I am often met with silence. It doesn’t occur to many that a student can take a screenshot of their work at any point as a means of formative or summative assessment. They don’t think to record exemplary student actions and behaviors and show them to other students, or ask students to demonstrate critical thinking skills by recording their problem-solving process on the iPad. Without guidance, meaningful applications of the iPad are a foreign concept to many otherwise experienced and successful educators.

(Next page: What educators need instead)

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