Brock U prof gives practical advice on using iPads in the classroom

Reinforce lessons learned. Use it as a research platform. Offer flexibility and choice. Draw upon built-in rewards.

These are some of the hands-on tips Brock University researcher Kimberly Maich offers in new research on using iPads in classrooms that include students with multiple needs such as autism spectrum disorder and learning disabilities.

“Using an iPad can be a baptism by fire for both teachers and students,” says Maich. “Unfortunately, this excitement can be overwhelming.”

Maich’s research paper, “Implementing iPads in the Inclusive Classroom Setting,” provides a step-by-step process that teachers can follow when introducing iPads into their classrooms.

To come up with this process, Maich and Fanshawe College professor Carmen Hall studied two primary school classrooms and created a focus group of five educators in an inner-city primary school in Hamilton, Ont.

Based on those observations and interviews, the research lists recommendations for educators to follow, which include:

  • setting up an on-going technical support system
  • forming an in-person or virtual network of teachers who can give each other information, ideas and problem-solving solutions
  • linking iPads to other technologies such as interactive whiteboards during classroom lessons
  • having student use apps, online programs or iPads themselves to apply the skills they learned through more traditional classroom teaching
  • encouraging students to use their iPads for research
  • carefully monitoring students so that they don’t get distracted by non-classroom apps or web browsing
  • customizing iPads to appeal to students’ individual ways of learning
  • using apps and other built-in rewards – such as applause, new levels of access, praising phrases – to encourage student learners

The paper also includes links to sites that provide information, apps and classroom resources.

“These recommendations and considerations from educators themselves provide one example of such an opportunity to avoid previously experienced pitfalls and depend on trustworthy recommendations to efficiently and effectively implement your iPads, classroom-wide, with teaching and learning success,” says Maich.

She explains that students in inclusive classrooms have many different styles of learning, some being, for example, more visual, auditory or tactile.

Educators can load a variety of apps onto iPads that teach children through these different learning styles, says Maich.

“If students learn better by hearing stories that are part of their curriculum, text-to-speech apps like Firefly can quickly and easily provide that option,” she says. “If students write better by talking out loud rather than struggling with keyboard and spelling speech-to-text apps like Dragon Dictation can help do the job.

“However, it’s important to assess and teach prerequisite skills like tapping, swiping, and pinching to avoid frustration.”

Another advantage of iPads is that they provide low or no-cost options to laptop­-based programs and software that children with learning disabilities are given to help them learn more effectively, says Maich.

While traditional software can be highly expensive, apps often offer free “light” versions, low-cost choices, and their developers can be contacted for codes to trying-before-buying, she says.

Maich explains that many children are drawn to technology, which is also true for diverse learners in inclusive classrooms with and without disabilities.

“iPads can provide immediate feedback to students, data collection on developing skills, built-in rewards (e.g., clapping, cheering), visual instructions, individualized goals, multiple attempts at developing skills, and many built-in accommodations for a range of needs,” she says.

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