Three years ago, I finally graduated out of high school, a high school filled with incredibly heavy backpacks, belatedly printed reports cards and inexplicably long lunch breaks spent talking about every imaginable pointless subject with my classmates. This year, as a student teacher, I became one of those few people who decide to return to high school after those five rollercoaster years. What I found was quite different from what I had left; report cards are sent to parents via internet, and backpacks, along with lunchtime conversations, have been replaced by iPads. Good? Bad? Somewhere between those two, though exactly where depends on who you are talking to.
High school students generally aren’t the most academically motivated species one can find on this planet. Thus, seeing students eager to WORK on their iPads struck me as something very positive. Taking notes, drawing, reading, making a research, all of these activities seem to gain entertainment value when done on an iPad; the infamous “do we have to write this down?” has been replaced by the much less infuriating “can we take these notes on our iPad?” . As Ryan Faas wrote on CultofMac.com (ok, this may sound biased, but he still has a point), “the iPad engages students in ways that no piece of school or classroom technology has ever done before.”
Aside from their motivating aspect, which is in itself a gigantic push towards the “Good” end of the scale, iPads are a very good tool for teachers who know how to use them; tons of educative apps are now available, and possibilities are endless. David Andrews, in an article published by The Guardian, gives a few examples of what can be achieved with iPads: creating comic strips with Strip Designer, preparing interactive lessons with Explain Everything, editing books with Creative Book Builder, the list goes on and on. And on again.
The size of iPads is also an important factor. As student Emily Winder very nicely pointed out, “I don’t have to lug around all my textbooks, I can take notes on it, I can do all my classes with one, size of a notebook”. There go the backbreaking backpacks, the overcrowded lockers and the ever-beloved “I left my book at home” excuse. However, this format also has its problems: while it is possible to have many printed books open at the same time, the iPad does not allow users to browse the internet, to read a textbook and to write a text simultaneously, which makes some types of projects more complicated.
From an academic perspective, the iPad is overall a great big plus. It motivates students and gives teachers some very useful tools. However, schools are not limited to academic objectives; somehow, somewhere within those walls, teachers are supposed to be taking children and modelling them into responsible, conscious and open-minded adults (or something along those lines, anyway). This year, upon returning to high school, I saw students that were much calmer than those I had known when I was a student: no running, no shouting, no fighting. Just kids seated alongside one another, focused on their iPads all day long. And somehow, I wondered whether we really were doing them a favour. Whether running and shouting aren’t part of what a teenager has to go through.
One of schools’ biggest challenges is to keep up with society, to avoid being dropped behind between a dusty textbook and an antique blackboard. Another of those challenges is however to react to society’s misjudgments, to spot what goes wrong in the world and to teach students how to correct it. And the big question now has to be whether all this technology is not killing what Aristotle described as being a “social animal”. Technology is useful, and it must be used. But we must be careful how we used it.
As Albert Einstein once said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world”… well, you know how this ends.