The Future of Tablets in Education: Potential Vs. Reality of Consuming Media

From a four-part series exploring four dimensions of using iPads in educational settings, examining how teachers can take students on a journey from (1) consumption of media, to (2) curation, (3) creation, and (4) connection. Below is an excerpt from “consumption”:

In the apocryphal photo of the iPad, the tablet rests in the lap of Steve Jobs, sitting on the stage at the iPad release demonstration, reclined in a leather chair. This was a device made for reading and watching, for sitting back, for passively consuming media. One of the signature challenges of the surge of interest in iPads is helping educators imagine the device as more than a library of books or a rolodex of apps, but as a flexible, mobile device for creating multimedia performances of understanding. Educators using iPads should start by thinking about how the device can foster critical reading of text, images, audio, and film, but consumption should be the point of departure on a journey towards more active student engagement.

To oversimplify, there are two kinds of reading that students are asked to do in school settings: focused and connected. In the focused reading mode, we hope young people will engage deeply with a text. As Mark Ott, the chair of the English Department at Deerfield Academy recently told me, “Students used to sit at a desk with nothing but a copy of Thoreau’s Walden and experience sustained engagement with Thoreau’s ideas. We want to preserve that experience in a world where devices are constantly competing for their attention.” Whether the copy of Walden is the $4.99 paperback or the free digital copy from the iBooks library, educators still believe in the importance of focused reading.