How the iPad Craze Can Increase the Socio-Economic Digital Divide

Child At the computer
“At the Computer” courtesy of Lars Plougmann @ Flikr.
Commonsense Media have released a new report regarding the media use and habits of children between the ages of 0 and 8 years of age. I encourage you to read it – it’s full of great findings about what media kids are viewing, as well as when, where, and why they view it (for example – lower-income families are more likely to have TVs in children’s bedroooms and to leave them on all of the time.)

But one stat that caught my eye is that while half (54%) of higher-income children have iPads at home, only 28% of lower-income children do. More and more schools are turning to Apple, (as they did in the 80’s with the mass purchasing of Apple IIs), for the iPad as the device of choice for the classroom.
And hey – that’s great. But here’s the rub.

When those kids get home, only 28% of lower-income students will have the chance to continue their learning on their personal iPads. The remaining 12% who have a different kind of tablet – one that won’t play iPad apps will not. Meanwhile, 49% of higher income students will be able to go home and have the same apps on their personal iPads as they used in school, theoretically extending the school day.

I’m not saying that schools should not use iPads. And I’m not saying that it is necessary to buy every student one (although that would be great – if they are allowed to take them home). What I am saying is that the device is one thing – the learning activities is quite another. And, when possible, consider using web-based learning activities with students in your classroom that are not tied to only one operating system. That way, the 61% of lower-income students with any Internet-enabled mobile device in the home can take advantage of it – just like the 91% of higher-income students can. And if you dochose to use iPads and educational apps from the Apple store, try to search out those that are available on operating systems other than Apple’s.

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When lock down browsers are not enough: Increasing Academic Integrity Online

In a previous post, I pointed out that, due to the increase of mobile internet-connected devices and multiple computers in student homes, lockdown browsers are a security blanket at best when it comes to academic integrity in online learning. And I promised to share my thoughts on what you could and probably should do beyond the lock down browser.  So here’s my list:

Use Deep Question Banks
Kids share the questions that were on the online and offline tests they’ve taken, and their answers to those tests.  And they don’t just share this information with their friends and classmates.  They share them online and make them publicly available on sites like and others. If you are using the same tests and questions over several years, you are putting the integrity of your test severely at risk. Develop deep question banks, as well as banks of distractors for multiple-choice questions.

Use Open-ended Questions
Well-crafted open-ended questions not only assess students’ higher-level thinking skills, but are harder for students to cheat on, especially when paired with…

Use Plagiarism Checkers
Plagiarism checkers take the electronic text-based assignment your students submit and compare them to indexes of web pages and against the every other submission ever sent to the service. The result is typically a score indicating how much of the submission is likely plagiarized and a report showing the sources in which a match was found. Just knowing that their submissions are being checked for originality can be enough to prevent plagiarism by students.

Make it Okay to Fail
Students cheat because there is some value to the assessment they are taking that, if they do not attain, is felt to be damaging to them in some way. But what if failing the assessment wasn’t just okay, but expected? This is how video games work. They expect you to fail and try over and over until you get it right. You might try giving grades for effort rather than results on formative assessments.

Stop Using Tests
I’m not saying you don’t assess students. I’m saying you stop testing them. Move to a project-based assessment system in which students have to create original works and to show you their evolution along the way. That last part is important: if you just accept a final polished PowerPoint as the project, there’s a higher chance that it was “borrowed” from someone else. Oh, and plagiarism checkers only work with text-based files.

Use Proctoring Services
When you must use tests, consider using online proctoring services. They run the gamut of cost, technology and methods. Some simply watch the student’s desktop and face on webcam, others record both and watch the recordings several times, reporting issues after the test has ended.

Use Identity Verification
Several online services confirm student identities before and during tests in both manual (showing their school ID on webcam) and automatically (analyzing keystrokes patterns while typing pre-set phrases)

Have any other ideas? Post them in the comments, or continue the conversation with me on Twitter and Google+ @robletcher.

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