“The very first question we asked ourselves years ago when tablets came out was, ‘Does this belong in the classroom?’ That’s a really important question to ask,” Gonzales said during an edWeb webinar on integrating tablets with effective instruction.

“We quickly noticed the influence that the tablet had on teachers’ learning environments—choice is key in bringing in this device,” he added. “How do you want to interact with this device and its content?”

“This still begs the question about whether it belongs in the classroom, how we’re ready to use it, and how it might change education,” Frey said. “It is still evolving—we have no doubt that we will continue to shape how it is that we use tablets.”

Frey said a number of reports released over recent years have focused on how tablets are changing instruction, including a Pew study on the impact of digital tools and writing instruction. Half of the teachers surveyed in the study said digital technologies make writing instruction easier.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s 2014 study on families’ use of educational media revealed that parents believe digital tools have helped their children with cognitive skills, math, and reading and vocabulary. The study also revealed that parents believe there is benefit in giving devices to young children. 

“This is going to fundamentally change what education looks like, even in the earliest grades,” Frey said.

Gonzales said Health Sciences High focused on staff development to determine how teachers would use the tablets to improve teaching and learning.

“We didn’t roll carts into the classroom … we handed out iPads to each teacher first. The tablet has an incredible way of becoming something personal, and when you have something personal, you learn how to use it, you play with it, you tinker with it,” he said.

After teachers used the tablets for a semester, they met to discuss what they learned, what they could share.

“When you start to build that internal community of professional development, everybody in the community can be an expert and share information back and forth,” he said. “The key thing was to find a purpose … let’s get past the novelty of it, and that has been key in our classroom integration of the tablet. The device itself is not going to make you a better teacher–it’s how we introduce it into the classroom that’s going to make an impact.”

“We’re focused on teaching with the tablets,” Fisher said. “But then a problem emerged. There’s a potential that we are going to create battery-operated worksheets. Kids are going to do low-level remedial tasks, just in the environment with the tablet. We had to determine what we were already good at and how the tablets could be integrated into our instruction.”

Focused instruction, guided instruction, collaborative learning, and independent learning—all components of GRR–should all be present during a lesson, but they don’t have to occur in the same order or same amounts, Fisher said.

“We think it’s really important that part of this evolution of instruction has to be students working collaboratively, assuming responsibility for their own learning,” he said.

School leaders looked at instructional models and identified opportunities to build tablets and devices into instruction to support GRR. Fisher said that as tablets were integrated into classrooms, a pattern emerged—when students used the tablets, collaborative learning was cut out.

“For some reason, it just wasn’t that easy for teachers to integrate the tablets into collaborative learning,” he said. “Yes, [we think] tablets absolutely belong in the classroom, but we want to remember that some of the tasks students do with the tablets are collaborative, so that the tablets don’t just become battery-powered worksheets.”

“Our teachers were good at using digital tools,” Gonzales said. “But they weren’t really unified. Before we brought in the tablet we wanted to have a strong foundation [in the LMS].” The school’s new LMS, Haiku, provided a collaborative platform for teachers to create, upload, and share content. This helped less confident teachers implement collaborative lessons for students, because they knew they had content and fellow teachers’ experience to fall back on.

Students use their digital literacies to find, use, produce, and share information, Frey said, and teachers have a deep knowledge base about how to teach students those skills–the teachers have a great deal of knowledge about how to build these skills and ways of thinking.

Tablet use and GRR directly support those goals, Frey said, because they focus on a movement from teacher-dominated learning to students becoming more independent.

Students use their tablets for a variety of collaborative learning opportunities.

For example, students use tablets to work in small groups and provide feedback about elements of argumentative essays. In science courses, students create visual and animated representations of different processes, and embed in those representations videos in which they narrate these processes. They create a trigger image for that video using an augmented reality app, and students use tablets to hover over that visual representation and trigger the students’ explanation.

For more details on facilitating a purposeful use of tablets in the classroom, view the webinar here.