An iPad for the Teacher? (Not Only.)

GUEST COLUMN | by Jay King

Recently, the small school district of Auburn, Maine approved an expenditure of $200,000 for 285 iPads, equipping both teachers and students in six schools beginning this fall. While the program by itself isn’t news, this is: the iPad 2 will be used by incoming kindergarteners.

Auburn educators are quick to point out that the Apple tablets are not classroom toys or novelties – they will be used as part of a two-year, pilot program to boost literacy rates that now hover around 62 percent. The goal is to improve reading skills and increase literacy rates to 90 percent by the start of the 2013 school year. If the district can reach its goal, the program will certainly be considered a resounding success, and Auburn school administrators are betting that the iPad2 will make the difference.

Even so, some debate has ensued. Are five-year-olds simply too young for this type of technology? Has access to technology become too pervasive? Is technology in the classroom truly good for students or is it merely a distraction?

I’d argue that these are the wrong questions.

Technology has already moved into the classroom in ways both large and small. It has already changed the classroom – from K through 12 – and continues to change how kids learn and teachers think. In fact, the shift is so profound that it’s causing educators to challenge all of their preconceived ideas about teaching.

So, instead of questioning the relevance or validity of technology in the classroom, the reformulated question really should be: “How can we best use technology in the classroom to engage and empower students?”

The answer is more complex. Yes, we need the latest leading-edge technology, but the more important issue is what that technology can achieve. If educators use the medium to engage students, tap into creativity, encourage critical thinking and foster collaboration, the technology will be wildly effective.

And I firmly believe that we must indeed be more effective in our teaching, because the current generation of students is not wired (no pun) to learn in the same old ways.

Take reading, for example. As noted educator Dr. Lawrence Baines, chair, Instructional Leadership & Academic Curriculum at the University of Oklahoma, writes, “Despite the unprecedented accessibility and low cost of books, students are reading literature less and turning to electronic media more. On average, students consume more than ten hours of electronic media per day while they read books for only a few minutes. A student experiences multi-tasking as a daily fact-of-life, as attention flits from doing homework to texting friends, watching television, listening to music and checking updates on social media sites.”

Contrary to what many say about teens, Baines notes that, “most students do not hate reading, but reading barely registers on the list of priorities. Unsurprisingly, a recent survey of reading found one in three adolescents claimed they would read more if they could read a book on a digital device.”

So we hand each student an iPad and everything will magically fall into place?

Unfortunately not. We know students will gravitate toward the very latest and coolest technology. That said, it’s all about how teachers leverage and monitor these devices that will determine their success.

The key is to deliver personalized instruction to students in a way that will promote much deeper levels of engagement, so students spend more quality time reading, writing and problem-solving. In other words, harness the power of technology and use it to realize academic goals.

Audrey Watters, respected journalist, ed tech educator and the creator of Hack Education, concurs: “It isn’t simply about implementing a new technology; it’s about rethinking the classroom.”

As the chief of product development for StudySync (, a web-delivered educational program, I can tell you that developing innovative products that will grab a kid’s attention is the easy part. The bigger challenge is making sure these innovative products actually help teachers be more effective in their classrooms.

This is so important for current and future generations of students that we must get it right.

Here’s how Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Open Education Solutions and the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, describes technology in education: “It’s one of the three or four biggest things happening in the world today.”

Strong words from an industry leader, and I wholeheartedly concur. The next few years will indeed be critical for technology in the classroom. That’s why those of us who work in educational technology so closely follow what’s happening in the classroom – in places like Auburn, Maine.

My interest in the Auburn pilot is personal as well as professional. Initially, I was intrigued because educational technology is my business. But I’m just as interested because I’m also the father of a kindergartener.

At our house, the thought of using iPads in the classroom appeals to me but not necessarily to my wife. She would much rather see our young daughter swiping a paint brush than perfecting the four-finger swipe on an iPad screen.

For my part, I’m convinced that our child’s use of a tablet – and she uses iPad while I supervise – is highly appropriate. Less than two years after it hit the market, the iPad today is brimming with creative learning apps for young children that make the experience both entertaining and challenging.

Thanks to the iPad, I see my daughter learning faster and enjoying the experience. She’s engaged and wants to return to learn more. And isn’t that exactly what we want to achieve in classrooms everywhere?

So, when I hear about 285 kindergarteners working with iPads, I imagine unlimited possibilities. I envision classrooms brimming with enthusiasm and students discovering more, thinking more deeply and loving the process. To the students, teachers and administrators of Auburn, Maine: I applaud you, and I’ll be watching your kindergarten class of 2011.

And, of course, your high school graduating class of 2024.


Jay King is Co-founder and COO of BookheadEd, heading the product development team.  BookheadEd launched its flagship product, StudySync, in January 2011. A powerful web-based learning tool, StudySync is used in hundreds of classrooms throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. Previously, King founded EdVantage Software with Robert Romano and led the development of several award-winning products.  After the acquisition of EdVantage by Riverdeep, King went on to lead Riverdeep’s web development team, which won the prestigious Codie Award. In 2003, King founded the Patient Safety Group, providing web-based patient safety and quality tools to hospitals.


Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: