Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ontario's $150 Million iPad Investment

Technology fused with education? Or a hub of distraction? Source
Investing $150 million for iPads in Ontario's classroom

Technology is slowly but surely becoming an integral part of our classrooms in Canada. I remember a time, not long ago (well, 12 or 13 years) when my classmates felt like students of the future. Scrambling to find the nearest Apple personal computer with the super futuristic aqua coloured frame so that we could browse on Netscape, while quietly chatting up the nearest downloads on Napster. ICQ reigned supreme and photoshop was uber cool to use, let alone have it installed on our desktops at home. Then came the famous "brick" Nokia cell phone. Ever reliable, you could play dodgeball with it and still be able to use it to call your Mom to pick you up after school.
Super futuristic Mac Source
All those advances in tech made our classrooms very much interesting. Graphics class was incredibly fun, but so was the ability to head to the library at lunch and check our lineups for the fantasy soccer league that afternoon. Students could express themselves better and even enjoy some of the fun aspects of web browsing. Yet, we continued to rely on pen and paper in the classroom, reading extensively from books and texts, our memorization skills tested to their conventional fullest. Call me old-fashioned. Still, there were some who thought: Could we do more with these gadgets?
Indestructible: The good old days of reliability mixed with weight Source
With the announcement of Ontario's Education Minister investing $150 million in funding for technology earlier this September, one can't help but think how iPads will directly contribute to increased grades in school. More importantly, as someone who has first hand experience using iPads extensively within a classroom, I find myself wondering if they will be more of a distraction in schools.

Having taught in England and in the Middle East, I have seen two different approaches when it comes to teaching. In London, the focus was very much on texts, handouts, and plenty of writing within workbooks. This is the very system I grew up in. Nevertheless, positive stimulation of a pupil's mind comes into play here, as does differentiated instruction. Yes, Powerpoint presentations by educators and different methods of teaching can improve the process of learning, however, technology offers a different level of learning altogether.

Having taught in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. as well - where iPads are fully integrated within the system of teaching in many schools within the capital - I saw the effects that too much technological freedom and innovation brought on a practical level each and every day in school. On the one hand, iPads gave students an incredible tool to create fantastic Powerpoint presentations and allowed them to use so many different apps to increase and improve their knowledge and skills in various subjects. However, it also hindered simple things, such as classroom management, as well as forcing teachers to constantly check that students were on task and not just playing or using one of a plethora of games and apps that the device provides.

Nevertheless, I also found that certain International schools within the city, particularly IB (International Baccalaureate) schools had the right idea and implemented iPads very wisely - using them in focused lessons and sparingly. This enhanced their lessons greatly.

We need to find a balance where using iPads or any other form of technology can help students "think differently" when tackling a math problem or geography question, while also making school fun for students again - keeping in mind that higher scores are also a priority. I truly hope that this infusion of money into a fascinating piece of technology will be successful and long lasting in Ontario.

In the end, in these early stages of this new global implementation of technology - such as iPads and cell phones - within schools, there are many instances of success as well as failure. It depends on so many factors. I hope to delve into these possibilities even further as time goes by and we see how teaching methodologies evolve.

The debate continues.

Vital Links: article on the $150 million investment

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