In a recent post on Facebook, a well-known girls’ school in Johannesburg pronounced that, for the first time in the school’s 127 year history, the girls were writing exams on their iPads.
While this certainly speaks to a big upswing in the integration of technology in South Africa, and I would be the first to congratulate St Mary’s on experimenting so bravely, I do wonder if there is not something deeply wrong with writing exams on iPads. Specifically, if we acknowledge the potential that using personal tablets has for changing the very nature of assessments themselves (into more personalized, student-centered and diversified artifacts of learning and understanding), then we must also acknowledge that using iPads to write standardized examinations is a mistake.
Unfortunately, I have no information on what this exam was like. It may well have been a deeply individualized assessment wherein the young ladies were allowed to use a range of apps and web services (as well as being able to Google what they wished). It may well have required a range of skills such as critical thinking, creativity – and perhaps even collaboration. But something in the placement of the question papers alongside the girls in red and something about the girls themselves being arranged into neat rows implies (to me anyway) that these exams are still very traditional standardized assessments. And as such, the use of iPads in these exams appears to me to be simply an activity in typing out answers rather than writing them out in longhand. Whichever is the case, my point is a more general one anyway, and I don’t want to besmirch a school which is obviously trying to offer its students a high quality education. I merely wish to offer a serious word of caution to those who are thinking of doing similar things.
Earlier today, I published a graphic detailing what I think the four phases of iPad integration into education are. Most schools which have ‘integrated’ iPads are, I think, in the second phase (‘Plugged In’).
For me, the real purpose of the integration of iPads into education is that it gives us the excuse to radically revolutionize the way we teach and the way we assess (see ‘Charging’ and ‘Fully Charged’ in the graphic above). If we use iPads merely to augment what we are doing anyway, then these devices are not being used to their full potential. Worse, we get to call ourselves innovative without really making any deep changes, and we are thus cheating our students out of a more relevant and meaningful brand of education. Worse still, we are not shifting into a new mode of educating: what many are calling twenty-first century education, we are just calling the same old thing by a new name.