Some of the middle school students tumble out of their seats and rush to the portable cart as soon as the teacher announces “Today we will be starting to use the iPads.” Others hang back warily. The inclusion of new electronics that are small, lightweight, and easily handled is not so easy. A new set of classroom management techniques must be worked out. Required supplies now include headphones or earbuds.
The students’ exposure to technology differs widely. Those with iPads at home are soon surfing YouTube. Others are more familiar with computers and curse at the small keyboards, while a few have yet to figure out how to get the keyboard to appear. As I provide support for struggling students I realize that very few actions are really “intuitive” to humans (except for things like crying and smiling). No matter how intuitive a new product is touted to be, we all expect electronics to work in ways that we have learned before.
The next difficulty to overcome – iPads usage requires more complex actions than are needed to open a book to a page number. The teacher who stood in front of the class and told the students which website to go to, was soon forced to write the lengthy web address along with specific key entries on the board. Some still failed to type it in correctly. The idea to save paper through use of electronics was quickly scrapped by another teacher, who handed everyone a paper with both web addresses and QR codes. Students quickly learned to use the camera to capture QR codes… and their neighboring students’ faces. Still, one boy who had sat quietly taking notes (or so I thought) during the whole lecture on how to use the iPads could not scan the code. When I went to assist him I saw that the ‘notes’ where actually doodles. However, I could not get the camera to capture the code either. I was stumped until I saw the faint pencil tracing of a doodle encirling the QR code.
In the true spirit of electronic age teachers insisted that work be turned in using the iPads. One had gone to the trouble of creating ‘tags’ with sign-ins for Outlook that were sealed with transparent tape onto each student’s planner. (Some still managed to lose theirs.) However, using e-mail is not second nature to these students. Many that are tech savvy use social networking (i.e., Facebook) to communicate despite being under 13. Others just rely on texting. Setting up Outlook accounts required individual attention for over half of the students. One girl managed to find her way into the personal information section (which was not necessary to set up the account as the parents has already signed a permissions slip) and completed it. However, she was then denied the right to use Outlook without a parent signing on and giving permission because of her age. She waved her hand wildly to show me the message.
“Did you put in a birth date?” I asked
“There was a blank for it.”
“Okay,” I sighed; undoing the entries was more difficult than simply altering them. “Let’s back up and change the birth date.”
She stared at me confused, but too many students were pleading for help to spare the time for an explanation. “Touch the arrow to go back. Now, change the year to 1994.” She had a doubtful look but followed my instructions. There was even a prompt asking if the birth date needed to be corrected on the personal information page. After re-entering the year she was allowed to continue on to e-mail.
“Congratulations,” I said “You’re now eighteen.”
The boy in front of her turned around and grinned at me, as if he and I shared a secret. “You’ve done this before?” I asked.
“Of, course. How do you think I got a Facebook page?” he replied.
Photo by Tom Morris (CC 3.0)