How a Light, Little Device Transformed the Writing Workshop

By Dr. Jane Collins

My iPad has become a part of my daily experience.  It is so light that I bring it with me just about everywhere.  I read books on it (although I admit that I prefer to read books on my Kindle; and I will admit that I prefer to read books on my Kindle than to read a book made of paper); I read the newspaper on my iPad; I do crossword puzzles on my iPad; I send emails to my students on it; I check their online work on it; I play Scrabble with people I’ve never met on it; I use it as a meditation timer; and my niece loves to draw pictures on it.  The iPad is truly a full-service device, a lifestyle device.   It serves up media, communication, education, fun, and pleasure in a physically manageable package that does not get in the way of human interaction.  This comfort level, this feeling of connection to the device, is important for understanding how the iPad works in the classroom.  It is pretty hard to find a student who will declare, “I love my textbook.”  However, quite a few of my students have told me “I love my iPad” and I know just how they feel.  This semester, Dyson College supported a pilot project with my ENG 308 Fiction Writing Workshop.  Each student has an iPad for the semester to use for the class and also in any other way that they like.

When I first held my iPad, I thought, “This will change how computers work in the classroom.”  I’ve been using laptops in my creative writing classes for several years now.  Most of my students have one, so I have asked them to bring them to class and we use them to workshop student writing, with everyone looking at the same document and then giving feedback on it.  When all students have not had a laptop, I’ve used the classroom computer and projector to project the student writing onto the screen at the front of the room.  Each of these methods of looking at student writing seemed to create distance between the students in the classroom.  Laptops in the classroom created a kind of physical division, with the upraised screen creating a kind of wall that protects but also isolates the student behind it.  Projecting student work on the board creates a different kind of division between students.  The writing became more impersonal, almost like looking at a bug under a microscope, magnified many times, with all students staring at the giant words floating across the screen.  We were no longer looking at each other or the writer; our focus was the screen.

Enter the iPad.  It lies on your desk not much bigger than a piece of paper; you hold it in your hand like a mid-sized notebook (not the computer kind!); you can make eye contact; you have no wall in front of you; you can read, write, talk, surf and interact with people with it in your hands.  When we workshop using iPads, we write directly into an app that then emails our comments to the student we are workshopping.  The technology creates a more human and more humane experience in the writing workshop.  We use the iPads every class and at the end of each class, as I slide my little iPad into my backpack, I think, “Yep. This is the way a writing workshop is supposed to work.”

My students in ENG 308 Fiction Writing have agreed to share their ideas and feelings about their iPad experience in this pilot project sponsored by Dyson College.

**Posts written by Dr. Collins’ students will appear in the coming weeks.

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