You Don’t Need Permission: Why iPads in the Classroom Makes So Much Sense

My mom-in-law is a smart person. She writes safety procedures for the Department of Energy. When she got her first iPhone a few years ago, she was excited to see what all it could do. She asked for the manual and looked a bit upset when I told her there wasn’t one. “How will I know how to use it?” she asked. My quick advice, “Just play with it.”

That was a few years ago. We’ve had a few conversations about how Facebook works on the phone, how to post pictures and how to connect to her home wifi. For the most part, I have let her struggle alone with the incredible technology riding in her purse.

Last week, we both upgraded phones to the 5c. Before visiting the store, I suggested we back up her phone to her computer. Silence. Just sync it to iTunes. More silence. I realized she had never backup her phone. That’s when I felt the full weight of my benign neglect.

We backed up her phone and went to the store to get the new phones. Everything went smoothly. Our phones were given to us in those small, shapely plastic boxes. They were activated by the sales rep. We were ready to go.

She looked worried. “Where’s the manual?”

That question again.

“There isn’t one,” I told her. “Just play with it. We can go online if we have specific questions.”

“Oh,” I realized, once again, it wasn’t really an adequate answer.

This isn’t an indictment of my mom-in-law. I told you she is smart. Way smarter than I am. She breaks down out incredibly complex problems for a living.

The story isn’t about intelligence. It is about expectation.

My mom-in-law belongs to a generation that has experienced technology as something that is unnecessarily complicated, expensive and requires specialized training. In the past, new technology always came with a manual. New technology in the workplace came with months of specialized training by experts with advanced knowledge of the system, the proper use and lots of stern warnings about how to avoid the deadly key combinations that will “crash the system”, resulting in lost time, lost productivity and loss of face. New technology required certification before it could be used.

I am thinking about her experiences because I am helping connect the faculty at my college with iPads. The faculty at my college are great teachers. Some are the same generation as my mom-in-law. Some are older. Some are younger.

We will be doing lots of training in the months ahead to make sure everybody is comfortable with the capabilities of their iPad and thinking creatively about how they want to use the iPad in their classrooms.

Training is essential to be sure the technology is useful and used.

But mobile technology is different, We did our first iPad 101 session for brand new iPad users a few days ago. We started with the guided tour of iPad buttons, settings, and functions but quickly realized that no one was following along. They had new devices in their hands and needed to know how to connect to the wireless, how to set up their Apple ID, how to navigate the Settings menu before anything else made sense. Our session quickly shifted into one-on-one conversations about buttons, settings and passwords. It was a lot of fun. All three presenters were busy shuffling around the room, triaging worried expressions or sighs of frustration. The busyness was punctuated by cries of celebration. I did it! It worked!

Even better, as the morning went on, first time iPad users started helping other first time iPad users figure things out. The trainees were also the trainers. The room was busy, noisy and fun. I couldn’t help feeling like I was seeing a glimpse into our future classrooms.

I was struck very suddenly by something I have known all along. The best way to teach a person something new is to let them try something new. People learn best by doing new things. All people. All ages. No exceptions.

I am excited about the potential for using new technologies, like iPads, in the classrooms at my college. I don’t care so much about the specific technology. I’m after helping our faculty have that feeling that comes from personal discovery. The fun of figuring out something new. The joy of sharing new learning with someone else.

So, here’s the thing: training is still essential, but we no longer need to wait for the training to start figuring things out. We don’t have to wait for an expert to tell us how things work. We don’t need certificates to demonstrate that we are ready.

There are no trainers. There are no experts. We don’t need to wait for permission.

Try things. Share what works. Ask about things that don’t work. This is how people learn. This is our noisy, busy, fun classroom.

Ready. Set. Go.

By the way, don’t worry about my mom-in-law. She is getting along fine with her 5c, even without a manual. She’s figured out Facetime. She is buying apps and organizing them into folders. Turns out she didn’t special instruction. She just needed permission and a safe place to ask about things she didn’t understand.

The future isn’t about technology. The future is about better ways to learn and giving ourselves permission to try new things. The future is about being okay with not knowing and asking for help when needed.

May all of our classrooms be noisy, busy and lots and lots of fun.

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