We are the iPad nation! The iPad was invented in the US, and we are the largest buyers of iPad. Or any new electronic gadget, for that matter. It doesn’t matter if the country is going through a severe recession, the unemployment is constantly around 10%, and a new report says the poverty rate is 15%. But the other 85% population seems to be doing just fine. And buying iPads.
In the last few months, I have come across several articles that report that some colleges are buying iPads for their students, which is great. The students can now play Angry Birds in the classroom! Or spend their time on facebook or surf the Internet while the poor professor desperately (or apathetically or ignorantly happy) tries to help the students learn what she is teaching. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against using the iPad, I’m against using any electronic gadget in the classroom that distracts the students more than helps them learn. A laptop or a smartphone is as distracting, in my opinion.
There are a few schools that have bought or are planning to buy iPads for … Kindergartners! Is it a great idea? I don’t know. What I do know is that the kids first need to learn the basic skills such as reading, writing, and math. If there are iPad apps (and I know there are a few good ones) that help the kids learn, then I’m all for using those apps and iPads. The portability and touchscreen are very useful for kids. They can read books and play educational games on their iPads. But are there really good educational games that can sustain those kids’ attention for a long time? Research has proved that while playing games, the excitement and motivation doesn’t necessarily lead to learning because the kids are more interested in playing the games and less inclined to learn. This is my primary concern. The games are not set in a learning context. A math game taught using a car racing or shooting game will not lead to effective learning.
The iPad has very useful features – GPS chip, accelerometer, gyroscope, touchscreen – and unless we take advantage of these features and create appropriate educational products, I’m afraid the schools are wasting money. It might be counter-productive. But who cares? We have money, we’ll buy iPads for kids. Technology can be the best babysitter.