South Korea's education system is one of the best in the world. It has a goal of having all of its textbooks delivered digitally to its students by 2015. Gone will be traditionally bound paper books; now their books will be available on personal computers, laptops, internet TVs and the fastest growing digital devices, tablets such as the iPad. A recent study by the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University found that use of digital technology in the classroom increased student engagement in learning and could save schools money in the long run. Apple recently reported that 600 of the 14,000 school districts in the U.S. are switching to digital textbooks using iPads.
Salman Khan, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, created a method of instruction referred to as the "flip model" while trying to find a way to help his relatives with their homework. The "flip model" allows teachers to introduce lectures online so students can access them from home. This permits teachers to use class time for group practice and projects which traditionally are completed as homework. This situation encourages more interactive and in-depth class discussions. The "flip model" was born from other proven pedagogical methods such as the rapid feedback assessment system and the online learning courses like MIT's "Highlights for High School."
iPads are also being used successfully to help teach students with special needs. An application called Proloquo2Go allows students to choose from pictures and phrases to communicate which has been found to be very effective in educating students suffering from Down Syndrome. Another application has been created that matches sign language with written language, aiding those suffering from hearing loss to more quickly adapt. Newer applications such as Math Ninja combine the excitement of gaming with learning, capturing a student's attention while teaching them math concepts.
With iPads being around less than 19 months, there are skeptics of the impact of these digital devices on the education system. Superintendent James Ponce's McAllen, Texas School District currently uses 5,000 iPads in their classrooms. Next year the district, using grants and other federal support, will provide iPads for each of its 25,300 students and 1,634 teachers. With the district making essential cuts to services due to budget restrictions, his administration has faced questions whether these funds might be better spent elsewhere.
"Change always has a lot of questions,"?Ponce said. "We want to be on the forefront of what it brings and not wait for someone else to figure it out. If you wait, you don't get behind by a year. You get behind exponentially. You can't mortgage the future at the expense of the past, especially when we know what the future means in terms of great college and career readiness."
This generation of students is known as the technology generation. They are fearless as they explore and engage in new technologies. As we search for ways to get students to continue learning outside the traditional school day hours, new technology like the iPad offers an exciting and cost efficient option. They can never replace the impact of a master educator, but they can be an aid to help that teacher bring his/her students to new plateaus of academic success.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.