GigaOM recently had a write-up about a weird little school in the Netherlands that contains only iPads and students. They haven’t just used iPads as a paper-replacing virtual book, but rather as a virtual school-in-a-box:
“There will be no paper notebooks or books or laptops or chalkboards or whiteboards … the iPads are basically replacing both teachers and the physical classroom.”
The school claims this will be the way of the future. By not relying on such outmoded ideas as “interaction with people” and “teacher-directed learning,” the students can go on vacation or be off sick, and then come back and resume where they led off. They can also be better prepared for on-line university courses and other new learning models.
To me, this smacks of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Yes, iPads can do some darned nifty stuff. There is a place for them in education, and it’s foolish to say otherwise. But for goodness sake, they are not the only tool out there, people!
Children learn in so many different ways and they benefit from exposure to more than one medium, more than one mode, more than one experience. Sometimes, you need a teacher. It doesn’t mean the iPad isn’t being all that it can be to say that! Sometimes you need to go on a field trip and see the world in person. Sometimes, you need to touch a toy or manipulate a game. It doesn’t mean that Steve Jobs failed in his Grand Majestic Vision if, for some specific task, there is a better tool than technology!
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After spending almost a week in the hell of year-end library book re-shelving, I do see advantages to moving more of the books onto a digital system. And I have seen some amazing apps that really do help children learn—especially children who, for one reason or another, might need to go at their own pace on certain subjects.
But I have also seen students come alive under the direction of a teacher gifted in a subject for which they are passionate:
• The “Drum Fit” leader who taught a rousing music-based gym classic which involved, among other things, drumming with drum sticks on a giant fitness ball
• The pioneer home where a team of staff in full period dress baked Christmas gingerbread with 20 five-year-olds
• And in my own class, the circus unit that ends the junior kindergarten year, culminating in the staging of an actual circus experience that’s run by their grade two reading buddies.
You really think it’s smart to use an iPad to replace all that?
Let’s not get so carried away by the newness and shininess of the technology that we forget what we’re dealing with here—it’s a tool, no doubt about it. But it’s not the only tool. And we shouldn’t deprive our kids of other types of life experiences just because we have it.