Neil Johnston is managing director at Store Van Music. Neil is an award winning young entrepreneur and composer who specializes in a breakthrough link between the music industry and education. You can find out more about his pioneering work by following him on Facebook and Twitter.
Apple released the original iPad to consumers in April 2010, sparking the tablet computer frenzy that we see in full-swing today. Twenty-one months later, we’re facing the potential launch year of the much-rumored iPad 3, not to mention numerous competitor tablets from all of the major device manufacturers.
Alongside these changes, forward-thinking educators are taking risks by distributing tablets in schools, in the hopes that the glimpses of efficiency we have seen to-date can continue to evolve for the long-term, changing classroom education for the better.
Many schools across the world are well on their way to integrating tablet technology into their daily routines. I receive hundreds of emails every week from teachers, schools and even businesses that are integrating tablets into their working environments. Some schools are choosing to scrap textbooks all together in a pioneering pledge to remain at the forefront of technology. For the first time, schools have the opportunity to no longer be years behind with their classroom technology, but actually to be at the starting line, as the interface continues to evolve into a respectable tool for work purposes.
The blogosphere continues an ongoing discussion: how tablets can change education for the better, how technological change can be both beneficial and problematic for the challenging task of literacy or the art form of handwriting, to name a couple. A recent New York Times article said that teachers in Idaho achieved 75,000 signatures in the hopes of abolishing a new initiative to bring further technology to schools. Some people are worried that technological advancement will cause teacher layoffs and funding cuts, which is understandable.
However, putting the political debates aside, what about the benefits to the classroom environment and to the teacher? Teachers are under more and more pressure from governments to create vibrant, engaging lessons forevery learner in their care. How can this technology help?
My answer would be enormously. I believe these advancements to be monumental.
Many great minds across the world believe our current 18th century way of educating is broken. People like Sir Ken Robinson are strongly pushing for more creativity in schools. I agree fully with the principle; my pledge is to bring refreshing change to music education.
But what about the immediate term? The system is still stuck in its ways, and current government reform is still too insignificant to change the model for good. Right now in 2012, I believe tablets to be a significant creative breakthrough that will help teachers across the world do their jobs better.
Class sizes vary enormously. Some are small, around 12 to 15 students, but in the UK, some classes enroll up to 32 students. How on earth does a teacher create an engaging lesson for 32 different learners, especially when each learner carries his own individualized learning style? It’s at this very point that tablet integration gets exciting.
Tablets can be the breakthrough that allows teachers to pursue individualized learning curriculum more easily, freeing the teacher to produce a more effective learner experience for the class as a whole.
And in classrooms full of diverse learner abilities, almost every group contains students of lower abilities who are learning alongside students with higher levels of understanding. Therefore, often a few learners become disengaged with the lesson at hand. We’ve found in music education that the lower-ability learner who would normally retreat to the periphery of the class, struggling to keep in time playing a triangle, is now engaged in his lesson, playing the Smart Guitar function on GarageBand for iPad. Not only does this involve that specific learner in the classroom activity, but its also halts classroom segregation and, often, conflict.
This is not just true for music and arts-related education. When the correct apps are applied to the appropriate subject on a creative touchable interface, learners are free to work at different paces, in the same class and with the same teacher. The teacher then becomes free to work with the different ability groups, and to focus on developing the day’s curriculum.
Furthermore, think of the prospects cloud-based services could bring to tablet education. Competent teachers who are already composing excellent lessons can now share tools across the world, made accessible to all. Soon Apple will hold its next media event; rumors are circulating that the company may introduce further advancements to iTunes U, or launch a new textbook distribution model. These moves will only serve to champion great teaching using improved technology, and ultimately to evolve the education model of today.
It’s up to the development community to continue developing apps that can contain entire curriculums. When we see those apps in place, tablet-based education will finally live up to its hype as an engaging, creative way to learn math, science, literacy, art, geography and so on — what more could educators want?
Government education departments must also begin to support the move to digital. We’re already witnessing a successful transition in digital publishing, and in early adopter music labels, for example.
I’m hoping that teachers continue to welcome the forthcoming opportunities in digital education. The tablet interface and app potential is a great step forward for the brilliant educators across the world. These advancements are not intended to replace their skills, but rather, to assist their teaching roles in the most successful way possible.