Digital Textbooks and iPads Do Belong in Classrooms

Matt Burns of TechCrunch writes in response to today’s Apple Education event in New York City:

I do not want my children learning math proofs on iPads. I simply do not see the value in it. iPads will not help with identifying sentence clauses or writing an essay. There’s a place for interactive learning and there’s not. It’s a clear line. Give science and history teachers iPads loaded with demos, videos and soundbites. Allow children to pinch and zoom DNA strands and the inner workings of WWI trenches. But make my kids do math drills on paper with a dull pencil. Please.

via Digital Textbooks And iPads Do Not Belong In Classrooms Yet – Seeking Alpha.

I agree to an extent with Burns here; education shouldn’t be about the technology or the tool; let’s not confuse the means and ends. However, technology sure can help in ways that traditional paper books cannot. I see the value – as Burns does too – in Science and Social Studies textbooks gaining a lot from Apple’s push into digital interactive content, but what about Math that Burns questions here? Can students learn Math through a digital textbook? I haven’t downloaded the two Math textbooks currently available in the iBookstore, but I’m looking forward to ways that textbook publishers integrate interactive content while still keeping it simple. In other words, animations and 3-D models are cool, but they can distract from the learning. So I say YES to not using technology for technology’s sake, but I also say YES to using it where it makes sense to enhance learning and individualize instruction, to make a concept visual (slope-intercepts, parabolas, asymptotes?) and come alive for students in ways that encourages them to dig deeper and turn the next page or do the next problem. I say YES to videos like the ones made popular by Khan Academy that allow a student to learn at his or her own pace and then take the quiz when he or she is ready rather than when the teacher schedules it for everyone. We have known for a while now that all of us have a preferred learning style; imagine the different styles that an interactive book can cater to at once!

Learning is already being revolutionized by digital tools absent of today’s event. It’s time that textbooks and their publishers tagged along and made it easier for educators, schools, and families too by embracing the 21st century.

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