An Ohio English teacher decided to test whether iPads were a worthwhile investment for his school district.
School districts across the country are plunking down major cash for iPads—even for kindergarten classrooms—but there hasn't been much research about whether using them actually boosts student achievement. So James Harmon, a veteran English teacher from the Cleveland area, decided to conduct his own experiment (PDF). His finding? His students learned better with the aid of iPads—if used correctly.
Harmon's experiment began at the start of the last school year when the school district provided his school, Euclid High, with a set of 24 iPads. The school serves a population that's majority black and low-income, and Harmon knew that traditional approaches to teaching reading and writing weren't working. His gut instinct was that the iPads would help the school's English teachers find new, creative approaches to teaching the content, but he also wanted to justify asking for more iPads with data-based evidence.
So Harmon divided the sophomore class into two groups, one iPad-free control group, and one that had access to the tablets at school. For consistency, he also ensured that all three sophomore English teachers taught the same curriculum. According to his experiment's end-of-year data, students with access to an iPad were more likely to pass both the reading and writing sections of the state standardized test.
The sample size may have been small, but the finding was promising because of how Harmon went about integrating the iPads. "Students wrote their journal entries on the class Moodle, accessed on the iPads" Harmon wrote in his report. They also used the devices to collaborate "on the retelling of works of drama with apps," and to take tests. Students were also more eager to write on the devices and composed longer essays than when writing in a notebook.
The teachers also reported that the devices made their lessons more engaging and helped them connect with students. They competed with the kids by playing fun vocabulary-building word apps and said that the iPads made it easier to give students "more frequent and timely feedback on writing." Meanwhile, student surveys revealed that the iPads increased students' motivation to learn. Some of that, he wrote, clearly is due to the novelty of the iPads, which would mean a diminishing return on their value unless teachers take other steps to make their material engaging.
Harmon's experiment hardly measures up as a peer reviewed study, but one teacher's experience is valuable too. Let's hope more teachers take the initiative to see if new classroom technology is worth the investment.