For students, the end of the last class on Friday usually holds a certain degree of anticipation for the weekend. But last Friday, there was an added buzz of excitement as well. The students of the Graphic Communications Technology program (GTEC) were almost finished a long week of hard work, with only the last few minutes of their bookbinding class to go. Their instructor, Rob Kondratowski, gave his closing remarks to the students and assigned homework and readings for the following week. Then he turned the class over to BCIT Instructional Development Consultant Lisa O’Neill, who had walked into the lab with two shopping bags full of brand new iPad minis.
It was an historic moment not only for the program, but for BCIT as well, as each second year student in the GTEC program has been offered the use of a new Apple iPad Mini tablet. The tablets are on loan to them until the end of the winter term, as part of a research study conducted by Lisa in pursuit of her doctorate degree. Modern advances in technology progress at a rapid pace, as does the study of how that technology affects learning. It may not be beneficial to simply give iPads to a class of students and expect that they will make a difference. It may be flashy, but does it advance the student’s learning? Lisa intends to discover some answers. While the students get the benefit of using one of Apple’s latest tablets, Lisa will be watching to see how and when they get used for studies. Particularly, as the GTEC program is a combination of both classroom theory and hands-on lab work, the ways in which the iPads get used could be telling for an Institute of Technology, where cognitive skills are expected to mesh with the operation of high tech equipment. In essence, the students will be using technology, to aid in the study of technology.
The tablets were handed out on a Friday so that the students could take them home and explore the device over the weekend. Now they are bringing them to class, and starting to decide on apps to try downloading, or ways to make use of them as a study tool. There is always the possibility that the devices will become a distraction, with games, YouTube and the internet so close at hand, but most students today are already familiar with similar distractions from their phones and personal computers. Modern postsecondary students come to school with their own expectations of what they need to do to succeed, and while it is tempting to worry about the detrimental effects of ‘always-on connectivity’, the reality is that the days of those concerns are long past. The fact is that “technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking” (Siemens, 2004, para. 4). The real goal is to encourage a student to make sense of learning situations by constructing new knowledge, and assigning meaning based on their past experiences. Socially connected, always-on, constructivist learning? That’s something to strive for.
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved November 12, 2012, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm