Ask a Researcher: What's Next for Early Ed and iPad Research?
Today’s Ask a Researcher Question comes from a doctoral student in Massachusetts
I am currently a doctoral student in Leadership in Schooling. I am a technology specialist in an urban public school system in Massachusetts, and I am considering doing my dissertation on iPad usage as well. I read your postings about Auburn and am wondering what types of information would add to the literature about how student achievement in early childhood can be affected by iPad/technology usage.
Well, the good news is that it’s an amazing time to be an education technology researcher! We know virtually nothing about the impact that tablets could or should have in the elementary classroom. Almost anything you do could add to the literature on early ed and iPads–heck, you could invent the literature on early ed and iPads.
There are all kinds of great research questions to ask. Here are three general categories:
1) Can I design an “X” that works?
If you have a idea for a particular pedagogical strategy with iPads, then you might consider doing some kind of design research. Design research is a suite of methods where researchers develop an intervention (which is a fancy word for a lesson, or unit, or app, or platform) and then iteratively tinker with the design of the intervention to gradually improve the efficacy of the effort. So if you have something that you think people should be doing, then start developing it, and find some teacher-partners to help you co-design and test your strategy.
For instance, my colleague Andrew Manches at the Institute of Education at the University of London has built a very cool iPad app, Digicubes, that replicate some of the most commonly used “blocks” that are math manipulatives. Having built the app, he both tests how it works in comparison to the physical world blocks and uses those tests to see how he can make them even better.
If you have an idea for a particular kind of learning strategy with the iPad, that would make for an exciting study.
2) What are people doing with iPads?
I have been stunned by the demand for iPads, a consumer device with a weak educational infrastructure and minimal–and totally unproven–educational software. But schools are buying them in droves and finding all kinds of cool and pointless things to do with them. Get out into the field and figure out who is doing what.
You might start by trying to survey absolutely everyone you can find who uses iPads in elementary school and getting them to provide some short, open ended descriptions of the kinds of things they are doing. You might be able to get Apple to help you by sharing the names of districts that have made big purchases, though there may be privacy issues. So you might have to go to conferences, network online, and make some phone calls to figure out who is using iPads and what they are doing with them.
Ideally in such a survey, you could also collect contact information for people who would let you into their classrooms and show you what they have going on.
Even some basic descriptive research that provides a taxonomy of teacher approaches to using iPads in early ed would be a very valuable contribution at this point.
3) What experiences are iPad-using teachers having in their classrooms?
We also need much more rich, textured, anthropological data about exactly what is happening in these iPad using classrooms. Actually, a great study could involve having Mike Muir and his colleagues help you get connected to Auburn, and let you do a year or two worth of field work in those Kindergarten classrooms. What are teachers doing? How are students responding? What do parents think? In this one town that has made a big investment in iPads, how are all the different stakeholders making meaning of their experience? If learning seems to be happening, how exactly is it happening?
Ideally, Mike and his team would let you have access, and then they’d leave you alone, and you could visit on different days and so forth. It would be great to have a couple of independent teams working Auburn, so they could share findings and compare after months or years.
So it’s a moment of nearly infinite opportunity for those getting into technology research, and I think the early education space is an incredibly promising one, that I hope more university-researchers and teacher-researchers pursue!