Do iPads Really Improve Learning? Did you Miss Anything?
In this week, you might already read a lot of buzz words about this. Initial results from the nation’s first kindergarten iPad initiative show modest increases in literacy test scores, Auburn School District announced Thursday February 16. (news:here, here, here, here …) Although in this fast-paced age, we need to brief all information for efficiency, but not this one!
Last year, Auburn made national headlines and created controversy among some taxpayers when it gave kindergarten students iPads. Half of the students got iPads in September, the other half in December. The goal was to do research comparing the two groups to see what difference the iPads made. (original press release here)
To better understand how iPads can be leveraged to increase students’ early literacy skills, the district randomly assigned half (n=8) of their 16 kindergarten classes to use iPads as a learning tool for a nine week period during the first trimester of the school year. Thus a total of 266 kindergarten students participated in this pre/post quasi-experimental study across all of the district’s six public elementary schools (129 iPad students; 137 comparison students).
From all the data, the tablet group scored 2.1 points higher than the control group on the Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words subtest. This is the only(1/10) statistically significant result from the first phase of the study. For this assessment, students listened to a dictated sentence and wrote it down, which measures students’ level of phonemic awareness and ability to represent sound with letters. “One of the reasons that we may have seen a jump in that particular subtest is thatthe apps that we are using for literacy are directly connected to those skills,” said Sue Dorris, administrator at East Auburn Community School in the Auburn School District.
More complete research will follow over longer periods, including comparing this year’s kindergarten achievements to last year’s. But now, this initial piece of data could make enough misunderstanding especially many districts had already poured money on purchasing a bunch of iPads before any positive evidence available.
As Damian Bebell, one of the project’s researchers argues:”We can’t just act as though the devices “arrive on parachutes” into a classroom and suddenly and magically students perform better. It’s really about pedagogy and teaching. The iPads are “just a tool.“
(one slide from the presentation to Auburn School COmmittee, by Damian Bebell, Ph.D.)
Mike Muir, Auburn School Department’s Multiple Pathways Leader, explained: “The objective has to be learning, not just getting the technology out there, we are paying attention to app selection and focused on continuous improvement — we aren’t just handing equipment to teachers.” “And the iPad implementation in Auburn was done very carefully, with the research component built in from the start, not added as an after-thought.”
Interactivity can make for a very engaging experience, definitely at a young age. “We are seeing high levels of student motivation, engagement and learning in the iPad classrooms,” said Sue Dorris. But when the initial excitement on the cool device fades, will the enhanced motivation go back to normal?
“The apps, which teach and reinforce fundamental literacy concepts and skills, are engaging, interactive and provide children with immediate feedback. What’s more, teachers can customize apps to match the instructional needs of each child, so students are able to learn successfully at their own level and pace.” said Sue Dorris.
According to Audrey Watters’ analysis: “The district has been working for a number of years on improving its early literacy efforts. That has involved extensive training for the teachers and staff. This wasn’t just a matter of implementing a one-to-one iPad program with little planning or objectives in order to tap into the latest ed-tech hardware craze.” Mike said they are using the Lead4Change model to help insure a systemic approach is taken. The “Lead4Change” Model developed by the Maine Center helps the district focus on the goal of student learning. The model calls for feedback and evidence, leadership and professional development; curriculum, pedagogy and assessment; and technology resource management.
Mike Muir shared a lot of details about their program: What apps is Auburn using? rubric for app selection and other basic questions in his blog posts. It’s worthy to check them out.
What Apps is Auburn Using and Other Advantage 2014 Information (Advantage 2014 – new four-year program including the tablets, the district hopes to increase third-grade literacy and math test scores from 60 to 90 percent by 2015.)
This isn’t a post against iOS devices, the purpose is to remind readers all the things behind a story… What tools can do? What tools can’t do? This is a case about kindergarten kids. What about older learners? Measuring learning outcomes is always hard and needs professions and cautions. Some can be measured, but some can’t. There is no simple answer and quick path.