Saturday, May 03, 2014

Imagination wanted: mobile devices in classrooms

Most days I check out the homeland -- not as in 'security' -- by going over to the New Zealand Herald website to see if there is anything more interesting going on than the latest instance of Prime Minister John Key's shameless populism and principles-free opportunism.

Sometimes I get lucky.

This past week brought an opinion piece by Shelley Bridgeman, who specialises in commenting on 'injustices', 'bad behaviour', and 'modern day dilemmas'.

Her recent post was on the rampant introduction of iPad tablets into NZ schools. She first started worrying about this in 2011 when her daughter announced that their school would be going down this track -- surprise, surprise. Says Shelley, "It quickly became clear that this iPad craze was taking hold and it was only a matter of time before they were in every classroom in every school".

Her concern -- which is fair enough -- was with health. What do we know about the fallout from all those wireless waves in the air. How dangerous is it for children to be so much in wireless wave-charged environments? She did her homework and got the usual responses, and wished she'd had the information about wifi not being a safety issue before troubling the patient people at the laboratory labs.

As I say, fair enough. But to my mind the issue is actually very very different from the question of safety around wifi. Rather, it is to be found tacitly lurking in her reference to "this iPad craze ... taking hold". In my view, Shelley's concern would have been much better addressed to the issue of the moribund kind of imagination at play when policy types, administrators, principals, teachers, school boards, and the local ed tech junkies follow the hype pumped at them by the nearest Apple huckster. It parallels the kind of moribund imagination evident in so much current educational research. "Eeeeep, I need a research project. What can I do? Oh, I could look at iPads in classrooms .... (and replicate all the other results that show children love using them and enjoy the apps, and ......)"

For sure I 'get' the short term 'convenience' that such fad-following generates. It's something that can be done, that makes it look like we are on the job and, best of all, that might somehow be able to be correlated with improvements on standardised test scores (though no such evidence that I know of has tracked out yet -- although if it did it would be a deliciously ironic achievement for an alleged 'smart machine'.

Nah, what we see here is pretty much a reflection of the fact that if you asked people at large to give the brand name of a tablet the one most likely to be given is "iPad". That bespeaks absolutely nothing about imagination, smart use, a propensity for inquiry and looking beyond the obvious.

And so, in education, we end up with exactly what you'd expect to get. Not much for a lot of money.

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