Recently, I had a long conversation with the sales representative for a prominent software company. This company’s mission is to help students with the writing process. Let’s call the sales representative Bob. I asked Bob when his company was going to get involved in making applications (Apps) for the iPad. His response startled me. He said not only was his company not going to be making Apps, but “in [his] mind the iPad was the single worst thing to happen to the field of assistive technology in twenty years”. That’s right, Bob said, the “the iPad was the single worst thing to happen to the field of Assistive Technology”.
"He said not only was his company not going to be making Apps, but in [his] mind the iPad was the single worst thing to happen to the field of assistive technology in twenty years”
So for the record, let me state that I think Apple’s
I am unabashedly a
hugh fan of the iPad. I see
it as (forgive the cliché) a GAME CHANGER in education as well as
Its an understatement to say I was astonished by Bob’s assessment. I
told him as much, but because I know that he’s an intelligent man I
asked him to expand on his opinion . Bob stated that the applications
being built for the iPad do nothing to address literacy. Again, the
company which Bob works for writes software expressly to facilitate the
acquisition of literacy skills. He did acknowledge that some of the
applications being written are useful in helping with other skills
(drilling math, and to some degree communication).
I believe he is mistaken in saying that there are no applications made to support literacy. I can think of many great applications out there, some overtly supporting literacy skills like
iLiteracy, Super Why, Build A Word, and
the many Pearson Apps. Less didactic apps include two of my favorites,
Toontastic, and Comic Life. Apps supporting other aspects of learning
and living are many, too many to list in this post.
Bob’s biggest issue with the iPad was not this alleged lack of literacy support. What Bob dislikes about the
iDevices is what he referred to as
our blind love affair with them. He posits that educators and therapists
will use iDevices to teach in the same way some parents raise their
children with the TV set, hands-off, and giving over our
teaching/therapy power. Bob asserts that critical thinking and
instruction are vulnerable to the iDevice’s “magic factor”.
I believe that this is an interesting theory, and not to be ignored. How do we make certain the
iDevice is well integrated into our teaching/therapy,
and not give away our Clinical or Educational reasoning?
In the public school system the students that my team serve almost all have Individual Education Programs (IEP). An IEP consists of
measurable goals a teacher or therapist is working on with a student to
facilitate that student accessing his/her curriculum. Such an IEP should
be geared to bringing the student as close to the Standard Course of
Study as possible. A goal may read as follows: “Johnny will write a 3-4
sentence paragraph with appropriate letter formation, and correct
spelling and grammar”. The goal is for Johnny to write a functional
paragraph. How Johnny accomplishes it is the intervention. The
intervention may be an iPad, computer, portable word processor; expanded
keyboard, special software, and so on. The goal should not be, “Johnny
will use an iPad to write a paragraph”. Upon Johnny’s graduation, no one
will be concerned whether or not Johnny can write with an iPad. What
they will ask, is can he write functionally (with no concern to what
writing tool he uses).
The IEP serves as the road map for a student’s educational journey. Such a road map is useful whenever teaching, no matter the teaching modality. Before deciding to use
an iDevice, other questions should be
asked, such as: what is the student trying to accomplish? What will
determine success? How do we measure our progress? Than, we ask, what
tools may help us on our journey? Perhaps the answer is an iPad. Perhaps
it is another tool such as word-prediction software, or a simple word
bank. Put the student’s goals before the technology and it’s hard to go
And so, Bob raises a good conversation point. The
iDevices are new and
seductive. Everyone wants to use them, including our most reluctant
learners. A few folks may even allow their educational goals to take a
back seat to the iDevices glitz. However, if we practice as mindful
educators and therapists, I am confident that we will be able to harness
this exciting new technology to promote growth in our students.
Once upon a time, students wrote with chalk on slate boards. Over time, students were introduced to pencils, pens and paper. Ironically, there was resistance to such "technological advances" even then. Chalk was messy, and
Furthermore, despite his assertion otherwise, I expect Bob’s company will either get on board, or be left far behind.