Saturday, December 14, 2013

iPads Level the Playing Field for All

I have been very passionate about the use of iPads in education ever since I got one in my hands
several years ago.  Since then I have been teaching various courses to assist educators in using them with their students and to understand the pedagogical implications.  iPads offer a new way of teaching, learning and assessing that is meaningful, authentic, collaborative, and creative.  They allow students to communicate with each other and the world both locally and globally and despite what some educators think, they are useful with all students no matter their age or ability.

The iPad is an amazing tool for special education.  Between apps and settings, it is an assistive technology marvel.  Just the other day, one of the teachers in my course commented on the unexpected outcomes of using an iPad in her classroom.  She has young children with special needs. She created a learning opportunity to address the skill deficits of each child during the week using an iPad.  Not only did the children improve their skills dramatically, but their social skills improved as well.  The iPad had also become a tool for learning social interaction skills, turn taking, learning conversation and speaking skills.  I have personally seen a child who was unable to speak at age level benefit from receiving an iPad.  The little girl was two years old and unable to say what she wanted.  She could not retrieve words or would say words that made no sense even though she knew what she wanted to say.  This often caused frustration, anxiety and temper tantrums.  She had speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc., and while she improved, it was slow.  Her parents purchased an iPad and we loaded it with everything educational for a two year old and concentrated on apps for teaching speech and anything that talked to her, and read to her.  She was engaged with it immediately and within two months she had gained 50 correct, understandable words and the frequency of temper tantrums had decreased!!  This iPad has continued to be one of her learning tools over the past three years. Now that she is five, you would never know she ever had a speech deficit.  She is highly verbal, understandable, can easily get across what she wants to say!  There are so many stories like these that are truly heartwarming and inspiring.  The articles that I have read about the successes of autistic children and adults who use iPads were enough to bring happy tears to my eyes.

Have they been a disruptive technology?  Absolutely!  They are shaking things up, forcing us educators to think in new ways to engage students in their learning.  This is a good thing even while I still feel that it is important for children to learn basics without technology too (writing with a pencil, learning to do math first without a calculator, coloring with crayons, creating a hand made graph, etc.), I do feel that this mobile technology is important on many levels.  We have to remember that even a pencil was once a new technology and probably feared by some at that time.  Let's not be afraid of embracing a technology that can assist us in differentiating learning, providing students with avenues of collaboration, experimentation and creativity and providing assistive technologies for those in need of them.  The world is different now.  Educators have powerful tools like never before.  Embrace it and facilitate learning for your students using technology to find creative and innovative solutions to problems because they are the future and it matters.  

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