x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Experts in Abu Dhabi warn over iPads in classrooms

While many universities and schools are turning to technology-assisted learning, many warn it is not the only way forward.

An iPad for every student is no guarantee of a better education, experts warn. Christopher Pike / The National
An iPad for every student is no guarantee of a better education, experts warn. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // As universities, colleges and schools turn increasingly to technology-assisted learning, they have been urged to use it with caution.

"It's not just about how you engage students but how to keep faculty engaged in the technology too," said James Piecowye, a media and communications lecturer at Zayed University.

Zayed University and the other two federal universities, UAE University and the Higher Colleges of Techology, introduced iPads for all first-year remedial students this year to help to engage them with learning. The tablet computers were given to about 15,000 students without enough English to start degree courses.

But Mr Piecowye uses the tablets as little as possible in the classroom and prefers not to allow technology to take over his role as teacher.

He uses a white board. His students photograph it at the end of class, then post the photo on social-networking sites and pick up the discussion from there.

"If I post a link on Twitter or Facebook, I get more students reading it than if I give it to them in class," Mr Piecowye said.

"Technology can make learning great if you can be innovative with the way you use it."

Mr Piecowye said apps, computer applications, were not an innovation. "We've had apps for a long time," he said, "but it's about using them well.

"Part of the problem is that we're not making the tools worthwhile for anyone - administration, faculty or students."

Mr Piecowye stressed the need to remember what was being taught.

"For what I teach, iPads can be great - like when you're teaching students to make recordings - but for media ethics, I just need a white board."

Mr Piecowye was speaking at a conference last week organised by Ellucian, a company that provides software to UAE universities for uses such as assessing student performance and student enrolment.

One of the keynote speakers was Fatema Akbar, a Bahraini final-year information systems and business administration student at the branch campus of America's Carnegie Mellon University in Doha.

For her research project, she has been assessing the uptake of technology in classrooms across the region in both schools and universities.

"Do students always embrace the technologies given to them? Of course not," she said. "Teachers are not ready for e-boards and this technology in classrooms either.

"If the teachers won't change their teaching practices, the technology won't add value."

Ms Akbar said four factors would influence the acceptance of technology - expectations of its performance, perceptions of its utility, the effort required and how strong social influence was in pressuring people to embrace it.

"Technology isn't the solution but it's how you integrate the technology that matters and drives positive results."

mswan@thenational.ae