Remember that scene form Star Wars when they are stuck in the garbage compactor? They’ve got the walls closing in on them and to top it all off there’s some icky creature who’s hungry for some human flesh.
It reminds me of that old saying: Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes that is what it feels to be at the forefront (well, at least in the middle ranks) of a new technology.
There were three major external constraints staff consistently identified as barriers for the effective implementation of tech in the classroom:
WALL #1: TECHNICAL CONSTRAINTS
On the one hand, there’s this new technology that we have embraced because of it’s enormous potential. We know it’s going to be great: to have everything in one place- textbooks, word processing, multimedia viewing and creation and so many other possibilities.
But though a lot of that is true now, there are still a few problems.
There are still a lot of sites teachers rely on that use Flash. From simulations in science to french language exercises many teachers cite the fact that the sites they want to use do not work on the iPad and they have not been able to find an equivalent. This whole Apple feud on Flash is one of the big technical constraints with the iPad.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way around it, but it still is a major inconvenience.
The typing on the iPad is difficult for many people. In fact when asked about student writing on the iPad, many teachers stated that the quality decreased- typos, autocorrect and the lack of proofreading made some texts incomprehensible (although I would argue this latter issue is a behaviour that needs to be modified and is not exclusive to the iPad but true of any word processor).
WALL #2: THE MINISTRY
Sounds like a Dystopian novel doesn’t it? The ministry. By that I mean the curriculum and the rules for provincial exams.
The ministry exerts its constraints in different ways on the various subjects. Out of all the subjects, the Math department seems to have the most unforgiving curriculum. They have a lot to go through and are under a lot of pressure to make sure their students see everything they need to see before they move on. Here are some quotes:
“With Art there is enough liberty to explore and make mistakes. Not so with math because you have to get through the curriculum.”
“[Math teachers] still have to teach the same things you had to teach before computers.”
(This comment is referring to the fact that students still need to learn how to use a ruler, a protractor- that especially in geometry there are certain tasks they need pencil and paper for.)
“The curriculum acts as a barrier to trying new things as there is no time for trial and error. Instead of using [tech] to get them to think, I am using it to cover the basics.”
“There is no time in math to try and explore or use the students as guinea pigs… If I am teaching science [I implement tech in the classroom] very frequently. Math, not so frequently.”
Obviously this is a problem. There is no way you can try out something new if you have no leeway for it to crash and burn the first time (and crash it burn it will, at some point).
Another way the Ministry exerts its negative influence is through the dreaded provincial exams. Many staff expressed frustration at the disconnect between the tools the students have access to during class and the rules the ministry imposes for exams. Because the teachers must teach to the exam, they want to re-create as much as possible the conditions in which the exams will take place. Which means:
“The Grade ten and eleven’s exams are pen and paper so we do a lot of pen and paper.”
“Only students who are diagnosed can use a tablet for texts because the exams are on paper. I feel there is a need to revise the MELS stipulation of no devices.”
“The exam is all hand written. There is a disconnect between the government exam and what is happening in the classroom.”
So what do we do about this? My only answer, as inadequate as it is, is to write our ministry, get our voices heard and be patient. I am certain we are not the only school to express frustration at the fact that we have this amazing technology we are not allowed to use.
The third most common constraint voiced by the teachers in terms of feeling comfortable with the iPad was the contract they have been asked to sign stating they are responsible for the cost of the iPad if it breaks. This makes many teachers very nervous. Everyone agrees that if they drop their device or spill coffee all over it, they should pay. But there are too many situations where their device is at the mercy of other forces- students; inadequate surface areas in classrooms; field trips, exchange trips. Teachers stated that though they were going to explore the iPad during the summer, they have decided not to bring it with them on vacation as they do not want anything to happen to it.
I hesitated to write this last bit because I am not sure what to do about this. But in the interest of full disclosure I decided to keep it in.
I see both sides: on the one hand- they are very expensive devices and the school has to have an insurance policy to ensure that people are taking care of them. On the other hand, teachers are placed in situations everyday where they must make the decision between keeping their device safe and actually using it in a classroom with a bunch of teenagers. For those people who have embraced the iPad, this is less of an issue. But for those who are not comfortable with the technology and who feel like it has been foisted on them to begin with, this is just another reason not to use it.
The constraints voiced by the staff are all valid and real. Still, I believe they are temporary. Already in the last couple of years of the iPad’s life the improvements have been vast. Publishers are scrambling to get on board with E-textbooks, apps are becoming more and more refined and built for education. All those who want their websites to be relevant will either have to make them compatible with the apple suite of devices. As for the ministry? Well, as always, the tectonic train of bureaucracy will get there eventually.