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Healthy Risk?
Exploring Like the Touch Screen Generation
In a conversation last week, Head of School Mike Henriques mentioned he was excited to read this article recently published in the Atlantic. While I am not too far removed from the generation of digital natives, my students clearly have an advantage over me in their willingness to try, and quickly master, new technologies.

The Touch Screen Generation is even one step in front of the current population of students enrolled at Proctor. My 2 year old and 4 year old have become more adept at using an iPad than any of their grandparents will ever be despite only being allowed to use it for a half an hour a week. In fact, just earlier today, my four year old tried to pinch zoom my laptop screen when he thought the picture was too small.

The aforementioned article notes the Touch Screen Generation will certainly have a leg up on those of us who must train ourselves to use this type of technologies rather than be native to it, but will also be burdened by distractibility issues that accompany overuse of this new technology. As we prepare to integrate iPads into the Proctor student experience next fall, we are becoming more and more excited about just how much these teaching tools can augment the student learning experience, while acknowledging that distractibility is a side effect we must keep in check.

Three classes are piloting iPad use this spring as American Literature and Environmental Social Science students have all been given an iPad by the school and their instructors, Tom Morgan and Adam Jones, have redesigned their usual spring curriculum to experiment with new applications and learning opportunities the iPads present.

After the first two weeks of class with an iPad, students are overwhelmingly positive about the experience. Adam Jones noted, "Yesterday we were using Haiku Deck, and everyone was saying, 'How do I use this...this is so weird.' I purposely didn't give a tutorial on it. I wanted them to discover that they could discover and in the end they said, 'That was so easy, so intuitive to use. I want to use it again.' That is my sense of how apps will be 'taught' and used.  They are designed to be figured out in five minutes and we need to give the students the freedom to explore with these applications."

This notion of exploration is very familiar for Proctor faculty as the concept has long been foundational to how Proctor seeks to educate its students in a student-centered classroom, however, Tom Morgan acknowledges that we must continue to tweak curriculum to best utilize iPads as a teaching tool, "We need to make the course much more investigative and inquiry-based and real world-oriented. With literature, the question we might ask ourselves and our students is, 'What problems does literature solve?'"

"This is an abstract and difficult question to answer. In literature class, most often, you don't have a tangible problem to solve, like, 'Here's an oil spill—how do we clean it up?' Nonetheless, the answer(s) to this question should drive the course much more than our fast-becoming-arbitrary notions of Great Literature or the Western Canon. One answer that comes to mind is that Literature infuses a tech-dominated, fast-moving, environmentally destructive culture with empathic, critical-minded, expressive, and attentive individuals; it helps us slow down, step into each other's shoes, and form a more varied and nuanced world view than would otherwise be possible."

Morgan adds, "Armed and wired, as they are today, students won't allow teachers to simply share information with them—the check-out rate is staggering. I don't think the answer to students' distracted tendencies, however, is to become better entertainers or to spoon feed them with smaller, more palatable, bite-sized chucks of information; our job is to create demanding assignments that ask students to work individually and/or in small groups to complete projects, solve problems, ask questions, and express themselves while making use of the information that would have in-some-earlier-time been the subject of an in-class lecture. iPads further the transition away from the lecture-based (teacher-centered) classroom toward a more connected, thinner-walled classroom."

As the twenty-five students in these three classes are experiencing this spring, iPads are not only a cool new learning tool, but one that will further encourage teachers to transform their classrooms into even more dynamic centers for exploration of course content that was once 'taught'. The true impact of the iPad in the classroom at Proctor will not be the applications that replace current tasks, but rather the expectation of teachers to become instructionally innovative!
iPad pilots in American Literature and Environmental Social Science classrooms have allowed students and teachers to understand the true impact of the technology on learning.
iPad apps will replace and simplify many functions for students (not the least of which is replacing textbooks).
However, the true impact of the iPad in the classroom at Proctor will be the ability of teachers to become even more instructionally innovative.
This freedom for teachers to rethink HOW they teach may initially feel scary, but will in short time transform classrooms into launching pads for mutual exploration of content previously delivered to students by teachers.