Today I attended the Apple Learning Tour led by Jim Moulton and Tara Maker, and the most surprising statement of the day was probably this…

“One challenge of moving to iPads is shifting people to realize that it is not a small laptop. It’s a completely different tool. Forget what you know and approach iPads with an open mind in order to realize its potential.” Jim Moulton

I think that really sums up much of the struggle around the adoption of tablet technologies.  Many times the discussion about iPads in the middle and high school levels (not just within RSU1) is framed by what we do with laptop computers, and how can a tablet perform those same functions.  What we need to do is focus on what tablets can do well, and how to use them.

They are amazing tools in their own right, with user-interfaces that are simple and direct, and that are changing how humans interact with technology through the tactile, linear, nature of their design.  It’s not just a matter of being hip.  I think that, in many ways, they have the potential to leap the chasm between technology and practice.

The Apple Learning Tour focused on engaging students, and exploring tools for the classroom.  Jim and Tara provided an overview presentation and discussion, and then the rest of the time was spent using the iPad and various apps, before moving on to a fairly in-depth introduction to iTunes U and iBook Author.  Here are some highlights…

One of the early topics was about textbooks, and if people are still using them.  It was quickly apparent that physical textbooks were still in use at the high school level, but that they were quickly being left behind in middle grades, and in high schools where they had access to technology.  Middle schools seemed more likely to search out videos and online content, which was compiled together to form materials for content.  High schools more likely to be creating their own textbooks using various e-authoring tools or online course management tools.  This is where both iBook Author and iTunes U came into play.

iTunes U is an online content delivery system.  It allows a teacher to take materials that they have already prepared for their classes, and package them in a way that is easy for students to access, and that can be highly engaging.  iTunes U is not a classroom management tool like BlackBoard.  Kids don’t submit their work through iTunes U.  Instead, students enroll in the class their teachers have created, and the iTunes U system provides a space for teachers to post their notes, lectures, assignments, topics of discussion, homework, etc., all in an attractive and easy to use interface.  One of the advantages noted by several attendees is that students using iTunes U can download their content while at school and then continue to use it while away from an Internet connection.  A big plus!

iBooks Author is a very engaging way to create eTexts, a teacher’s very own textbook for use with their classes- it’s very, very engaging, and provides study tools too.  iBooks Author allows you to take text that you have written and copy/paste it into a book format, complete with an introduction, table of contents, chapters, and supporting materials.  Within the text you can easily add images, charts, graphs, videos, and animations.  It really was easy!

So what does the student get out of the iBook/eText experience?  A lot.  They get a digital book that looks and feels like a high quality professionally designed product, and it’s interactive.  If there is an image on the page, click it and make it larger.  An animation or video, click it to watch the media run.  You can even insert a short formative assessment into the pages, perhaps for chapter review?  Students can click anywhere on the page to create a sticky note, and then a note icon appears in the margin so that they can go back and read them within the text- or- they can go to the Notes section and see all their notes together, but linked to the paragraph to which the note was attached.  Students can even create notes while watching a video, and the notes will take the students back to that part of the video where the note was taken as they review.  Speaking of review, the notes can be turned into flash cards with a click!

The session today also provided an opportunity to use apps such as Pages, Numbers, iMovie, Notability, and several others, which was great.  I was completely surprised by the ease of use in Pages.  If anything, it’s even easier than a word processor when it comes to things like inserting images.  The spreadsheets in Numbers were generally easy to use and had some nifty features, and it was very easy to generate charts.  The equation editor for the iPad was easy, and you could take LaTeX code to create nice looking complex equations.

In some ways, I think that the beauty of the iPad is that it strips away the complexity of the desktop versions of software.  Take iMovie as an example.  Many people think about using iMovie, open the application and are overwhelmed by what they see.  They have no idea where to begin so they shut it down without trying.  iMovie for the iPad is so easy, the interface so well done, complete with contextual help, that I think people will be more willing to try, which may well result in more integration taking place with the iPad, not less.

iPads…forget what you, “know.”