Teachers seek to transmit academic content with the use of Ipads and applications in order to carry out tasks that cannot be done in the context of a traditional classroom. Ipads are devices which serve as little interactive computers and that are meant to have applications. These applications are often freely downloaded from the internet or they have to be bought via Itunes. Applications recommended to download are the ones for annotation, recording-creating videos, recording-creating audio, internet and the sharing of content via Google Drive or Drop box.
Matthew Schneps, a physicist at Harvard University, argues that abstract concepts in science such as space in time are better understood by students through the use of Ipads. ‘‘Schneps pointed to a realistic demonstration of the solar system on the tablet as one such example of something that can be difficult to explain in a classroom. Tapping the unique powers of these devices unleashed neurocognitive learning capabilities in the brain that aren’t often used during traditional instruction’’ (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131210-ipad-learning-education-space-science/). In this sense, students benefit from more realistic content conveyed by Ipads as opposed to a traditional explanation on the board. Because it is more concrete, students better acknowledge the material and improve their grades during examinations. For a teacher, providing more interesting and accurate material for better academic results from his students represent a great accomplishment in the evolution of his classroom. In addition, students are given the opportunity to independently explore the content that they need to acquire with the application. For this reason, Ipads encourage less reliability on the teacher and more individual learning when interacting with the tool. However, the application used by Schneps was the Solar Walk simulation from Vito Technology, which costs 2.99 on Itunes per installation. Thus, budget can become a serious barrier to the use of excellent applications in the classroom.
Budget is not the only obstacle to using Ipads in the classroom. For instance, distraction seems to be an important issue. Out of 6057 Quebec students surveyed in Grade 6, through 10, ‘‘the report notes that a “surprising” number of students – more than one in three – admitted to playing games in class, sometimes with their teachers’ permission after an assignment or task was completed’’. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/tech-news/a-third-of-students-using-distracting-classroom-ipads-for-play-not-work-study/article15877829/). First of all, this betrays the incapacity of the teacher to have a plan B when the activity A is finished, as well as a lack of discipline and class control. Is it only the teacher’s fault? No. Children use most of the time Ipads for entertainment outside of the classroom. Another factor which increases students’ distraction is the lack of experience and knowledge of teachers. In general, students know a lot more about Ipads than teachers do, because they use it almost every day. For this reason, teachers must be well prepared and must know perfectly how to manipulate Ipads in order to gain the respect of their students. Teachers also have to consider the possibility that some students will do their task very quickly with poor quality in order to finish before the others and to play games or go on Facebook. Distraction has always been a big issue in education with cellphones and other electronic devices, even when they were forbidden. It is logical to infer that giving them permission and access to use Ipads will increase their temptation for distraction.
Another interesting feature of Ipads is the possibility to record videos for academic purposes. More precisely, ‘‘Video creation and editing is simple on the iPad. This can be a great group activity to encourage collaboration. Unfortunately Flash is not supported on the iPad, so watching videos (except on YouTube) is not always possible’’ (http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources/iPadsintheClassroom.aspx). Video projects can therefore be easily carried out in the classroom with the application iMovie. It encourages collaborative learning as well as team work to reach a common goal given by the teacher. Since Safari does not support Flash, teachers should download the application Puffin, because it communicates with its own server and can read flash. This way, videos created by students can be shared in front of the whole class. Teachers can also take advantage of the video function to ask students to record themselves speaking in English at home individually or explaining something in particular in English. This provides a great opportunity for students to feel less shy with regards to their pronunciation in English, since they are alone with the Ipad. In addition, they practice their pronunciation as much as they want, because they can start again their recording to improve and have a better result in the end. A sense of personal accomplishment arises as they personally control their performance by being their own monitor and by achieving a final product that corresponds to their best of capacities without the traditional stress of oral presentations.
In a language classroom, real communication in the target language is always something to encourage because students learn from realistic settings. For instance, the application Skype can be downloaded on the Ipads. ‘‘Skype gives students and teachers the ability to connect with the outside world without leaving the classroom, allowing them to meet face-to-face with the subjects of their learning or with students from other cultures.’’ (http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/education/2013/Skype.html). Skype becomes a new innovative way to replace the traditional activity of writing to a pen-pal. It has a lot more benefits, since oral skills are developed through the interaction with a native speaker instead of only practicing writing skills. Videoconference can be done in groups or individually, depending on the objectives of the teacher. This function is great because it enables students to connect with people from everywhere around the world who share a different culture and to learn from their cultural background. Thus, open-mindedness, general knowledge and language skills are emphasized with the Skype application on the Ipads.
As discussed in class with the teacher Mark Miller, Ipads Air of 32 gigs cost 620 $ each, excluding the price for the installation of applications. However, Ipads cannot operate on their own. They need a central computer with a card that manages the Ipads and that can install all the applications on the Ipads at the same time. This computer costs another 100 $, so is buying Ipads a realistic idea? ‘‘Assume the school is small with only 300 children enrolled. Assume also that the school wants to buy the cheapest iPad without AppleCare. At a little more than $450 per iPad, that’s a cost of almost $144,000. I imagine the average state-funded school enjoys less than half that in its annual I.T. budget.’’ (http://gigaom.com/2010/03/24/why-apples-ipad-cant-succeed-in-schools-yet/). In this sense, public schools are disadvantaged because of their lack of sufficient budget to buy enough Ipads for everyone. Inequalities will arise as private schools will impress and attract young parents with their iPads, while public schools will struggle to have access to several ones in a classroom. With a cost that high, all the teachers in a school must convince the school principle that Ipads will be helpful in every classroom. However, if the school principle refuses the idea because of lack of sufficient budget or because of personal reasons, teachers will have to cope with that decision and return to their traditional teaching methods.
All in all, good applications that are directly related to a specific school subject usually cost something and teachers get easily discouraged. For instance, maybe teachers put too much emphasis on the use of applications to replace traditional lectures as if they were magically programmed to replace the teacher’s instruction. One must never forget that Ipads cannot replace teaching or content, they are only a tool to enhance students’ learning.