The first iPads were only available in Germany for a few months, when the Cologne high school teacher André J. Spang took a big risk that would change his everyday school life. The teacher of music and religion convinced the Förderverein der “Kaiserin Augusta Schule” to purchase a class set of Apple tablets. Thus one of the first iPad classes in Germany was created in a very short time. A good five years later, Spang draws a positive balance: learning with mobile devices and the network did not make the school superfluous, but different: “The pupils do it – they had to join in earlier”.
The optimism of the digital activists at schools like Spang, however, is by no means shared by all teachers, parents and those responsible in the school authorities and ministries. “Ideological reservations – one could also say a certain cultural pessimism – are already hampering the introduction of digital devices and services in schools. The opponents of digital media are not aware of the benefits,” says the grammar school teacher.
Math can be fun
It seems to be going better somewhere else. Jörg Dräger, Chairman of the Bertelsmann Foundation, visited a school in the U.S. that teaches mathematics a lot with digital media, among other things, for a study on digitizing teaching. “There, the children manage to learn this actually drunken mathematics material of one and a half years in a year, without being tortured, without sitting over their homework at night, but with fun,” says education expert Dräger in an NDR interview. “At the moment, the Internet is able to democratize education, make learning more motivating and also a bit more joyful, and these are things that are also well needed in German schools.
In the German teachers’ rooms and at parents’ evenings, however, consultants like Hofmann and Spang repeatedly hear counterarguments. The guru of the technology refusers is the psychiatry professor Manfred Spitzer, who is on the bestseller lists with books like “Digital Dementia” and “Cyber Illness”: “All this talk: ‘We don’t need any knowledge anymore today, we can google everything’ is stupid stuff”, says Spitzer and adds: “There are a lot of studies that show how harmful this is. Computers are learning prevention machines that have no place in schools.”
Ideology and practice
When introducing tablet classes, experts such as Spang, Hofmann and other committed teachers encounter not only fundamental reservations, but also concrete problems. “It’s not just about ideology: you also need infrastructure. There’s no point in buying tablets and then having no WLAN,” says Spang. You also need a sustainable media concept for the school.
It makes little sense to procure equipment and then have no didactic concept. But something like this happens – and is doomed to failure if you don’t take the next step quickly – and then the disappointment is great. But that’s the exception today; we know that buying technology alone can’t ensure that learning is encouraged.
When the first tablet classes were set up in Germany, there was virtually no alternative to the iPad. And the teachers who work with the iPad in the classroom say in unison that it was no mistake to use the Apple tablet. “The use has proven itself to this day. We’ve just added more,” reports Spang, a teacher from Cologne. “Even today, we deliberately did not want a mixed system landscape. The iPads are easy to maintain, they don’t break, they all still run”. With the first iPad generation without a camera, you can’t do much more than surfing and creating text or presentations compared to current devices. “But a stationary computer in a computer room would certainly not have survived five years.
The iOS on the iPads has the advantage that it runs very stable and cannot be manipulated.” This is a very important point in everyday school life. “If you have a system that simply works and where you can’t adjust much, then the device is always and immediately ready for use. And if it doesn’t work, just start it up and it will work again. You don’t need technical training there.”
Apple Education does not only include a multi-user mode, but also other improvements: The new App Classroom is aimed at teachers. They can see on their own iPad what every student sees on their iPad. So they can keep track of students’ progress on assignments and tests. If the classroom is equipped with an Apple TV, the content of the students’ iPads can be mirrored on a TV, monitor or beamer. The teacher determines which work students watch together.
With the new iPad software, teachers can also remotely control student iPads. It is possible to open a specific app or textbook page on each student’s iPad at the same time.
If students need to concentrate on a task or test, the teacher can also limit the student iPads to a single app. Teachers can also reset student iPad passwords from their own iPad device if a student forgets their password.