Is An iPad A Technological Tool That Enhances Learning Or Just A Distraction For Students?

FEATURE: 10.02.20 – Technology is changing the way teachers are instructing their students in the 21st century, however, while some schools are fully embracing technological tools like the iPad in the classroom, others who have previously adopted the use of Apple’s tablet computer are doing a complete 180° and getting rid of the device altogether.

At one school in the United States, students are getting up close with nature this Fall thanks to the iPad. Their teacher is no stranger to the use of technology in the classroom because? For the past six years, this educator has been teaching with Apple’s tablet computer in their classes to enhance learning.

Stayton Slaughter, an eighth grade student at Coppell Middle School East in Dallas, Texas uses an iPad to track the growth of crops being grown in the school’s community garden as part of the gardening elective he is enrolled in for the 2020-21 school year. (Photo: Apple, Inc.)

Meet Jodie Deinhammer, a science teacher at Coppell Middle School East in Dallas, Texas who also holds the prestige of being an Apple Distinguished Educator and was featured on Apple’s website as a back to school feature story for the month of September.

Traditional learning looks very different in this science teacher’s classes due in part to the iPad. Deinhammer — whose teaching career spans 25 years — has long embraced the use of technology in the classroom and believes technological tools like iPads can help motivate each student to develop independently. The device has also fostered creativity, encouraged students to grow, and allowed for a flexible environment to learn in.

Ever since the Coppell Independent School District went one-to-one with iPads in 2014, this science teacher has taught using a hands-on approach to learning by integrating the device into the classes that she teaches. According to Deinhammer, there’s a lot more of an individual component to education through technology and this has been evident with the use of the iPad.

“With iPad, each student can design their own learning path and use resources that cater to their individual needs,” says Deinhammer.

This year, Deinhammer is teaching Coppell Middle School East’s first gardening elective where students are going to be studying all about the school’s next harvest and exploring everything from how to plant the crops to the ideal moisture levels needed for the soil in order to grow them successfully. They will be examining the crops’ current conditions with the use of their school-issued Apple tablet computers to track plant growth and to collect data. Along with a third party iOS app called Seek and the iPad’s camera, they will also be classifying and identifying weeds from plants as well as bugs from harmful pests and then recording their findings in a digital field guide right on the device.

The challenge for each student according to Deinhammer — who was the adult co-leader of the sustainability club that initially planted the school’s community garden last year — will be to think of the gardening environment as a place for learning and to apply their problem solving skills to figure out how to expand and improve upon the outdoor space.

“iPad allows kids to see a world literally through a new lens… they can capture a world around them that they may not have noticed in the past. I want kids to notice and appreciate the small details that they may otherwise overlook,” says Deinhammer.

One of the students enrolled in the gardening elective is Coppell Middle School East eighth grader Stayton Slaughter. During a recent visit to check up on how the crops for this year’s harvest were coming along, he demonstrated on his school-issued Apple tablet computer how he takes measurements using Apple’s Measure app and then records the information directly into the digital field guide right on the iPad. As a fan of Deinhammer’s teaching style, this student co-leader of the sustainability club believes that learning both digitally and physically has given him the tools and resources necessary to do things like create original content — as exemplified by an infographic he draws on the iPad’s screen for an upcoming assignment due — as well as to make his own decisions and observations in his classes.

“It’s a more enriching learning experience,” says Slaughter.

As enriching as it may be, however, at another school (this one down under), after five years of students learning digitally with e-books on iPads? The school’s administrators have phased out the use of Apple’s tablet computer in the classroom and, instead, have gone back to regular textbooks.

Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that as classrooms across Australia were embracing digital textbooks, Reddam House Private School — an educational institution located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs — was declaring the e-book era over on its campus and returning to the use of old fashioned hard copy versions because educators were finding that it improved comprehension and reduced distractions such as messages or alerts popping up on the screen during class. In addition to being distracting, teachers said that the iPads were hindering the students’ ability to learn in the classroom. Furthermore? It was found that the devices were not contributing to their technology skills.

The Australian newspaper also reported that the consistent feedback from the students has been, surprisingly, that they preferred pages in print to digital which prompted the school’s administrators to announce to parents that regular textbooks would once again be used.

And while iPads with e-books had been issued to students in the primary and junior high levels since 2014, according to principal Dave Pitcairn, the school hadn’t completely gone away from the hard copy versions of those books. The traditional format was kept for grades 11 & 12 and when a student got to the 11th grade — and had a comparison between digital and regular textbooks — they preferred the latter.

“The ease of navigation through the textbook was easier with the hard copy. I believe they learn better the more faculties they use, the more senses they use in research and reading and taking notes,” said Pitcairn.

A 2017 study done by the University of Maryland which was cited by the Sydney Morning Herald found that there was little difference in the two formats. However, the printed version made students better able to answer specific questions in regard to a textbook they read. The study’s authors suggested that print be preferred over digital when an assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension.

But what does science and research say about iPads being used in the classroom as a technological tool to enhance learning?

Attempting to answer that very question is Jenn Ryan, a contributor to the health and wellness blog “The Hearty Soul” who last year cited a 2013 study done by multiple universities in Canada which studied schools in Quebec where more than 6,000 students use the Apple tablet computer for learning on a daily basis. The research — performed three years after the 2010 debut of the original iPad — highlighted the pros and cons of using iPads in the classroom. Researchers noted that access to information and student motivation (like Coppell Middle School East’s Deinhammer in the United States mentioned) were among the advantages while writing skills and distraction (such as what teachers at Australia’s Reddam House Private School found) were among the disadvantages.

The study, which asked what students do with their iPads every day and what benefits this technology has for education, found the following:

  • to respond to these questions and to shed more light on this new education trend, we decided to carry out one of the largest studies to-date on the use of iPads in education in collaboration with 18 elementary and high schools in the province of Quebec, Canada
  • by the same token, we wanted to help teachers, students, principals, parents, educators, and other education stakeholders use the iPads for learning in more reflective and educational ways
  • the results show that the benefits outweigh the challenges
  • it would appear that incorporating the iPad into education constitutes a necessary risk for schools, and that this technological tool has breathtaking cognitive potential
  • at the same time, introducing it into the classroom does not necessarily make for a smooth transition
  • on the contrary, this new technology can pose challenges that teachers may find hard to cope with if they are caught unaware
  • the key to successful integration of the iPad in education is therefore to provide teachers with proper training

Other years-long studies, which were also cited by Ryan, say that using iPads in the classroom increases engagement of students but another study calls for more data, saying that the educational benefits of such device usage for learning haven’t been formally evaluated yet.

According to “The Hearty Soul” contributor, while a lot of research exists about learning digitally when it comes to a device like the iPad, it’s far from conclusive. There also needs to be more data to show that students are actually benefiting from these devices.

“Clearly, the data for using iPads has been somewhat mixed and needs to be more concrete before we can say with certainty that the use of these devices in classrooms is actually helping children,” said Ryan.

See our price trackers for up-to-date Apple prices. Share this post: