There are some questions that students and teachers ask that we really need to stop asking. No, that’s not quite right – we need to start asking them differently.
When I was in the classroom, my students always, in the course of receiving an assignment from me, would ask “How long does this need to be?” I understood the question, but my response was always “As long as it needs to be.” We’d then review the criteria of the assignment, and I’d ask the question back: “How long do you think this needs to be?” I’d ask. And learning would ensue.
As we are rolling along with our iPad 1:1 in the Learning Technology Plan, there’s a new question that I hear from parents and administrators that is worthy of a similar response. The question’s in the title, but here it is again:
“How many minutes should we spend on the iPad?”
Each stakeholder group tacks a contextual reference on the end of the question. For teachers, it’s “each day in class?” For administrators, it’s phrased more like “How many minutes a day should I expect the teachers to use or direct their students to use the iPads?” For parents, the question morphs into a question about health and wellbeing and general screen time. But whatever way a group is asking, the answer is very similar, I find, to the pushback I gave students who asked about assignment length.
The answer is, of course, a definitive “It depends. How long do you think they/you should spend on the iPad?” Sometimes, it’s like this: “Well, that depends on what you’re wanting to actually do.”
If your goal is to replace a physical task with a digital task, then it should be about the same as the old task. Or faster because, you know, digital. If your goal is to have students make something awesome, say a movie or a text or an info graphic or a piece of code, well, then the answer is that they should take as long as it takes to make something good.
But the answer should almost never be “thirty minutes three times a week,” or anything like that. We don’t argue for specific amounts of time for pencils or pens or little pocket notebooks. Let’s stop doing so for the machines.
Computers aren’t Bowflexes. And shouldn’t ever be.