It’s fall of 2002. On a gloomy autumn morning, a bright-eyed freshman heads off to his very first university class. So filled with wonderment, he practically floats.
Sitting down in the front row, he is awed by his classmates who sit behind, mostly juniors and seniors since this is an upper-division class. He pulls out his laptop the only one.”I’m on the cutting edge,” he thinks (be kind, this is 2002 before everybody had a laptop) glad to have a leg up over his scholastic competition.
As the lecture begins, he notices that his clacking keys are drawing a few glances. Hoping to not make to much of a fool of himself, he quietly puts his laptop away and pulls out a notepad. Paper is the only edge to do
any cutting today.
And so it went with the rest of my college career. I found my laptop useful outside of class, but it never really worked inside the classroom. If I had something to show a classmate, it was too clunky to turn around to show and the viewing angle was too finicky to accommodate any sort of viewing angle besides ‘direct.’ This meant that anything that I wanted to share required a look over the shoulder which was awkward at best and creepy at its socially-inept worse.
Although the laptop has undergone some profound changes since 2002 I still find my laptop experience less-than optimal for class. I’ve lugged my (far more capable) laptop to my graduate classes on several occasions but never felt lost without it. It’s excellent for note-taking and organizing. But working in a group? Stimulating discussion? Fostering camaraderie among my peers and instructors? I really want the device I bring to the class to act as communicative liaison between me, media/the Internet and my classmates. The laptop still falls short in that regard. I had some hopes that my phone might be able to fill this role but it’s too small to really share. It’s great as a personal device, but breaks down in a group setting.
I had given up on my ‘media liaison’ for the time being, that is until last week when a student and I had a great conversation centered around an iPad.
As part of my graduate work I have two consecutive quarters of teaching and observation. One of the classes is an advanced-level speaking and listening ESL class composed of adult emigrants from all over the world. Because I am a native English speaker, the students are all very eager to speak with me. Their energy and excitement for language is infectious and a highlight of my week. One student approached me during a group activity last week with her iPad. The assignment was identifying the key scenes named in the “let freedom ring” refrain from Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Ryan,” she said, “This is Colorado, yes?” She showed me her iPad, pointing to the state on the map. I confirmed that she was right. She then switched to Wikipedia, and showed me a picture of a preacher, “And this is Christian?” she asked? Again, I said she was right. She switched back to the map and verified that she had correctly identified the Rocky Mountains – three for three! From there, I showed her where I originated in the US. She was able to show me that her husband was from Kentucky and that she had been to Ohio before! From there, we spent some time identifying mutual places we’d visited in the US – sometimes places mentioned in King’s speech.
Through this whole interaction, I didn’t realize of the iPad was present. We passed it back and forth, did some navigating and used it as a way to facilitate a discussion. It was the perfect go-between for me and my student. A liaison, even!
There has been a lot of talk recently about the iPad and how the device might fit into the classroom. This is fine, but the talk mostly revolves around the types of applications, tools and media that will be funneled through the gadget – and all that talk is missing what makes this machine so perfect for students in a dynamic, communicative setting. The iPad isn’t great because of the variety of media it brings to students, rather, it’s great because it brings the world to your fingertips and allows you to forget it’s even there.
I’m not in the habit of regurgitating Apple buzzwords but that’s pretty damn magical.