Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Importance of Professional Development and iPads

Having a 1:1 iPad program alleviates the need to worry about being unable to use technology in class on a daily basis. If you decide at the last minute that you'd like to do a particular activity, you instruct students to take out their iPads and begin. If not, the iPads sit at the ready and are available as needed with no pre-planning required.

Teachers that have relied on shared laptops or relocated to computer labs during classes that require  computers   may occasionally (or not so occasionally)  find that there are scheduling conflicts that result in  having to change plans for a particular day. Events like that can dissuade teachers from using technology often because if availability of devices is not consistent, it can be frustrating.

Some faculty may be under the impression that an iPad is just a smaller version of a computer and are used in the same exact way. In fact, if you issue devices with a keyboard case, when opened up and sitting on a desk, it looks like a netbook. But iPads are not laptops. At all. There is a learning curve involved and the more time teachers have to acclimate to this new device before using them with students, the better.

Many applications that teachers have used in class have a counterpart for the iPad; however, IOS device versions tend to have much less functionality and teachers need to be aware of that while planning their activities. An English class will undergo a much less radical change when shifting from typing in Word on a laptop to typing in Google Docs or other word processor on an iPad. Math, on the other hand, will have a more difficult transition if they are used to using Geometer Sketchpad on a laptop and then move to the IOS version because the app does not have all of the functionality of the laptop version.

Professional Development should accompany any new technology. Failure to do so puts the program at a disadvantage from the start because teachers are left to flounder on their own and just figure it out. This may be fine for tech savvy teachers or those that don't mind finding their way, but others need a bare bones but structured introduction to their new device. If left to their own, teachers may hear bits and pieces of what others are doing and try to mimic that in their classes rather than starting with a clean slate and learning what they can do in class that is tailored to their own teaching style and subject.

Another critical element of professional development is to help teachers shift their mindset from "Let me find a way to mimic on the iPad exactly what I am doing now" to "How can I use iPads to enhance and explore different ways to do what I am doing now?" An example might be a language class in which students read text in class and receive feedback from the teacher and other students. To enhance the class using the iPad, the teacher might assign students to create a video reporting on a news even in the language they are studying. This type of engaging activity not only enhances language skills but enables students to actually see themselves giving a presentation and further develop their public speaking skills.

In order for teachers to see how their classes can benefit from the use of iPads, professional development is a must. Bringing in outside trainers can have advantages, and while this method is more costly, if in-house technology folks run the sessions it can result in less learning because of teacher familiarity with instructors. An outside trainer brings no familiarity with the audience and likely has a very methodical approach to presenting in structured steps that can feel more like a "real" training session than one held by the people in-house.

For teachers to effectively use technology in their classrooms, they need to be comfortable with the tools they plan to use. Handing an iPad to a teacher and say "Just play around with it, download some stuff, it'll be fine" is not a good way to inspire teacher confidence. For devices like iPads to be used in the most effective ways possible, professional development must be built into the cost of the program from day one.