The iPad education: Should schools be encouraging kids to bring devices to the classroom?

History textbooks, pads of paper and pencils could all be relics of the past at Holy Trinity School in Richmond Hill. Over the course of the year, the school has been integrating technology into its required curriculum, and by 2012, some students will be required to bring in an iPad or Macbook Pro to class, depending on their grade.

“There’s no substitute for a paper and pencil in certain areas, but the problem is you can’t share or collaborate with another student,” says Vince Delisi, the school’s director of innovation and technology. “With technology, you can accomplish the same objectives but in a more applicable and certainly more fun way that allows individual learning.”

Holy Trinity isn’t the only school that’s experimenting with technology as a learning tool. Next September, the Peel District School Board will encourage students at 234 schools to “bring your own device” (BYOD), whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Currently, the Toronto District School Board allows electronic devices in classrooms at the teacher’s discretion. Although many private and independent schools are already making the digital transition, some are sticking to a traditional approach.

At the Toronto Waldorf School, technology isn’t used in the classroom until high school, and even then, it’s used sparingly. Though teachers aren’t anti-technology, the school says its program is designed to emphasize creative learning and imagination without the influence of modern devices.

“If we use computers in the classroom, it’s kind of like giving electric cars in a race — it defeats the purpose” says Todd Royer, a Grade 3 teacher at Waldorf. “We want children to really exercise their thinking and imagination. We try to bring the right thing to them at the right time.”

But distractions have always existed, with or without technology, says Paul Hatala, a tech-savvy teacher who holds technology workshops for student teachers at Brock University. “I can remember that when I got bored, I doodled or wrote a friend a note,” he says. “It’s not about the technology, it’s about maintaining the interest of the students. When a kid writes a bad word on a wall, we don’t take away the pencil.”

Toronto’s Greenwood College School believes technology enhances interaction when it’s used appropriately. Through micro-blogging, students at the school can post short questions and comments in a thread to share with one another. The online discussion provides the teacher with another venue to track how students are progressing, says Jonathan Tepper, the school’s director of information technology, adding that they’re considering bringing in even more technology next year.

“Technology is always going to be there on some level, but it needs to have a purpose or be used in a meaningful way,” he says. “Micro-blogging is very interactive because they can post questions in a discussion so each student can see where everyone is at.”

At Holy Trinity, projects can include anything from short videos to digital comic strips. Delisi says the assignments are effective because they allow students to collaborate with one another in a way that’s relevant to their lives. Usually the only time they aren’t connected to their device is the six hours spent in the classroom. “That’s crazy and it’s not the way their life is,” Delisi says. “Technology helps students learn in a way that works for them.”

Article exclusive to TRNTO