Tuesday, October 9, 2012

iPad: The Solution to and Cause of Students’ Problems

This school year, schools around the country are purchasing iPads for students to use at home or in the classroom. And why not? Tablets are pretty and shiny and cost less than a budget laptop computer. Apple is pushing for textbooks to be sold electronically, and many schools use content management systems that allow students to receive and submit homework over the internet. iPads are great at delivering educational resources.

You know what else iPads are great at? Instagram, Facebook, YouTube cat videos, and about a million highly addictive video games. The average fourteen-year-old doesn’t stand a chance.

I feel that giving tablets to every student is setting them up for failure. Students already have dwindling attention spans - most of their reading happens via text messages instead of books and most of their video viewing is thirty-second clips instead of feature films. We are asking students to use their tablet to read their textbooks, write their papers, and research for school with the temptation of distraction.

Sadly, there is no easy solution. iPads are the most popular tablet, but Apple’s closed system does not allow any app to run below the surface. Thus, it is impossible to lock students out of all but educational apps. In fact, the best solution would be an app that requires the student to complete all homework before unlocking the rest of the iPad’s functions, but that, again, would be prohibited by the App Store. (I recently read, however, that the new Amazon Kindle Firehas a function like this - genius.)

The only choice: don’t give tablets to students or teach them self-discipline. As anyone who has ever been on a diet knows, you can’t just take away the temptation. The real skill that students will learn in an iPad program is not mobile computing, it is the discipline to get your work done fast and early. Teachers and parents need to show students (over and over) that Plants vs. Zombies is much more satisfying when you don’t have two hours of homework hanging over your head. Students need to witness (daily) how surprisingly fast they can complete their homework when they focus completely for 30 minute blocks. They need to notice how much higher their grades are when they dedicate time for work and study without interruptions from social media. And given the number of adults I see playing with their phones in inappropriate places, it seems we could all learn a little self discipline with our devices

I can’t complain too much, though. We designed Clickademics’ new Essay Engine to help students write organized essay on a computer or - you guessed it - an iPad.

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