iPads in the classroom

#4: What does research really say about iPads in the classroom?

Two educators put the research to the test. When (and how) are iPads in the classroom most effective?

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 15th of this year, was our #4 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #3, so be sure to check back!]

Popular mobile devices may come and go, but the iPad has remained a hit in the K-12 classroom. But even though they’re in schools, our work with teachers has led us to understand that while many of them would like to use iPads meaningfully in their classrooms, they can’t because of time, access, and training.

So for the past year and a half, we’ve both been working with teachers and university students integrating iPad technology into the classroom in a controlled way. While doing this, we came across several outcomes that made us question and dig deeper into what the research actually says about using them in the classroom. Do students and younger teachers use them more effectively? Do they work better for some student populations? It’s probably not giving much away to say that the most important learning outcome we found was that experience is the greatest teacher.

First, a note about who we are. Jeanne is a teacher (elementary and part-time professor) and Tanya is a university professor (former special education teacher) who loved using technology as a teaching tool. Jeanne wrote several grants to bring technology into her school and her classroom but she kept noticing that she was flying solo—very few of her school’s teachers were using iPads in the classroom beyond the usual Friday afternoon fun time and as a reward for being “good.” We wanted to know more about this resistance and hesitation when it came to the use of iPads in the classrooms.

Much of the work done on iPads in the classroom is anecdotal and practitioner based, with limited research on student use of iPads. Surveys of student use of iPads report overwhelmingly that students enjoy learning and stay more focused when using iPads (Mango, 2015). The research on teacher integration and the results are much more limited. More commonly, studies report that teachers are often resistant to truly integrating iPads into their classrooms because of the constraints of time and training (Clark and Luckin, 2012).

For our own work, we had our university assign 15 pre-service teacher interns to Jeanne’s elementary school, and we gave those students training in how to use iPads in the classroom and how to troubleshoot problems. Great idea, right? It was, but it was also full of hurdles and, let’s not call them mistakes, let’s call them, ahem, “learning experiences.” We synthesized the research and connected it to not only our findings but our own teaching experience. What follows are our top 5 take aways.

Research says that digital natives can do it! (Prensky, 2006)

We thought “younger” teachers and our interns would naturally know how to use iPads. But just because they know how to use Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter to meet up with friends or keep current on the latest hipster fashion doesn’t mean they know how to design and implement lessons that effectively integrate mobile technology. Working with mentor teachers, we found that they had an assumption that young student teachers would naturally know the latest and greatest. The truth is that some do but many don’t, so training is essential! We gave our interns time to “play” on the iPads—with and without kids. We also gave them lesson ideas and activities for the classroom.  They became models for the classroom teachers and were able to go into a room and help a teacher not only implement their lessons but also help with planning ideas.  Our interns got very good at saying, “Hey, there’s an app for that!”

(Next page: More iPads in the classroom research facts)

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