When I was in middle/high school, our classrooms were just starting to adjust to the idea of giving students access to individual screens for educational use. We had a computer lab, and a few computers sprinkled in a classrooms here and there. And when we had a chance to actually use the computers at school, most of the students (myself included) saw it as more of a toy than anything else. Oh yeah and I guess I should be researching the uses of Barium for my chemistry project. But it's mostly a toy. With Flash games and Neopets, and I can print out a cool looking picture of a tiger for my locker when the teachers aren't looking that will be sweet!
I never took the technology too seriously in school, and often times the use of a computer was just far enough over the teacher's heads that you could get away with messing around. And now, joke's on me. Because while I may not be teaching kids in a classroom, I'm hoping that apps I make will. And sure, I have a pretty good handle on the technology behind touchscreens and tablets, but the problem is making the games engaging enough hat kids aren't going to run off and play Angry Birds the second the teacher turns their back.
With every student on a personal screen, it's impossible to make sure they're on the same page. I mean, it's hard enough with keeping students on the same page in a literal book, and even then you know someone (me) is just going to be drawing picture of dragons in the margins. So if that's the challenge of an iPad assisted classroom, then what's the solution? Do we put it on the teacher to monitor everyone's screens continuously while trying to teach a lesson? Do we block all functions of the device except for the specific apps? Do we just make a game so engaging that the students have no desire to look elsewhere for fun?
Well it's a nice thought, and maybe some combination of these tactics is necessary, but I think the long-term solution is more specific. I think we need to be looking athow we are engaging students. We need to be looking at these educational games from the perspective of a classroom environment. Instead of seeing an iPad as a book, and everyone needs to turn to page 128 and read the same paragraph, what if we looked at the iPad as the classroom?
A lot of parents and teachers are somewhat repelled by the idea of a digital classroom. I've heard t before-- "This isn't socially engaging!" "iPads just remove our kids from the real world!" "Whatever happened to playing with building blocks and board games?". It's a stigma that educational gaming has yet to overcome in the technology field. But I think a bit of re-framing would help. Why does a touchscreen app need to distance children from the real world? Why can't we see interactive digital media as a way to connect with the real world? Just because an iPad helps lead a discussion about a lesson doesn't make it anti-social. In fact, you could argue the opposite. Interactive design can bring students and teachers together, foster conversation, and help tailor a lesson to a student's individual needs. It can motivate students to work in a team, inspire them to think critically, and challenge them in ways a textbook can't even dream of.
Often times a tablet/personal screen is seen as a very introverted environment. A kid just stares at the screen, maybe groups some numbers together or defines a few vocabulary words, and gets some invisible points to add to some meaningless score. Well, if you look at tablet interaction as just a relationship between a boy and his screen, of course it's going to be reclusive. But a tablet game doesn't need to be like that. A good tablet game is about a boy or girl and their world. The tablet is a tool that brings the two closer together, it doesn't separate them. iPads (or other touchscreens, I'm using iPad because it is far and away the most common touchscreen tablet used in classrooms) in the classroom are becoming commonplace. So common in fact, that often every student has their own for a lesson, sort of like the laptop cart they used to tow around our middle school, except much cooler.
So I think we should be looking at classroom apps more like we do board games. We can use them to engage students with each other, engage them with teachers.
I think I've talked enough for now. But more on this later.