The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

Summary: iPads in schools? Great idea, but it can't just be more of the same ol' same ol' with a veneer of tech.

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TOPICS: iPad, Mobility
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A colleague recently sent me a link to a recent USA Today feature on an iPad initiative in the Zeeland Public Schools in Zeeland, Michigan. A quick read of the story would have the average administrator or parent thinking that, not only are iPads the best things since sliced bread for students, but also wondering just how they can replicate the district's expensive and ambitious program to equip virtually all students with iPads.

The program has already achieved some admirable goals. Paper usage has decreased with some "some teachers going paperless" and many the use of ebooks instead of dead tree books was highlighted in a particular class. The treehugger in me is is very excited. We also heard about students working on organizational skills, enabled by electronically issued assignments ("It's all on our iPads," one student commented) and other instructors are giving assessments via the devices. Sounds good, right? And I believe that it is.

I also believe that USA Today hasn't given us a complete picture. Let's take a step back first. One of my favorite bloggers, Karl Fisch, wrote about his 6th-grade daughter's recent assignment to "write 10 facts about Bermuda." He, being Karl Fisch, turned an otherwise unremarkable assignment (and one that sounds too much like the assignments that tired teachers give after a long week - I know, I've given them, too) into something really memorable for his daughter. A little tweeting, a little blogging, and suddenly his daughter is Skyping with someone from Bermuda (that's called a primary resource, kids). She got her 10 facts, but in the process, actually managed to learn something that broadened her world view a bit.

So what does this have to do with iPads? The problem with too many iPad deployments (like the one highlighted in Zeeland) is that schools end up doing the same thing they were before the new technology rolled out, except now they're using "21st Century Technologies" to do them. Imagine how easy and trivial Fisch's example of the 10 facts about Bermuda would be if everyone had an iPad. 3 minutes of Googling, max, and 5 minute to type them into Notes or Google Docs and everyone's done, filled with a few facts about Bermuda. Then everyone moves on, feeling very 21st Century.

Until students start using the tech to reach out around this very flat earth, though, or genuinely collaborate with each other (and I don't just mean they both contribute to the same document or wiki but really explore what it means to manage projects and work together), they aren't gaining anything from their iPads that they couldn't have achieved in a computer lab or, frankly, with paper and pencil.

iPads (and their Android brethren) are starting to come into their own with enterprise tools and management utilities that make life easier for IT staff. Electronic texts are emerging. Cloud-based applications and state-of-the-art tools for organization and communication are already here. We've basically arrived in terms of tech. Where we haven't arrived is in terms of pedagogy.

The examples cited in the USA Today article (using iPads for flash card Apps or highlighting passages in a text with touch) hardly point to the pedagogical shift that tools like the iPad can enable. Sure, anytime access to information is an extraordinary tool for students and teachers and that in itself can help justify the cost of iPad deployments. But it's hardly transformative until an active, natural, regular part of instruction is helping students effectively navigate all of that information. It isn't enough if the advanced communication tools in most tablets are just used to post or email assignments. It isn't enough for students to awkwardly type their essays on a virtual keyboard when those essays are the same, tired, regurgitations of facts grabbed off the web.

When students can access tutoring resources whenever they need them or are driven to explore and create in new ways, when students build their own cloud-synced portfolios of high quality work, when students find new things they want to learn and are imbued with the curiosity and empowered with the tools and time (and guidance) to go after knowledge, when students spend their lunches with their iPads under a tree reading a good book that they were allowed to download instead of watching teenagers crashing skateboards on YouTube, then you have some transformation.

There is an entire cultural shift that needs to accompany 1:1 deployments (whether or not they involve iPads). While the emergence of such deployments is very encouraging, decision-makers and stakeholders need to understand that the scenario outlined in the USA Today article only scratches the surface of what it takes to make 1:1 successful, meaningful, and a positive use of taxpayer dollars. This isn't to say that the folks in Zeeland aren't doing everything right. We'd never know from the article. What we have to avoid is the impression that handing a lot of kids iPads suddenly prepares them for the 21st Century without a whole lot of work on the backend in everything from network infrastructure to teacher coaching and professional development.

Topics: iPad, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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13 comments
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  • RE: The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

    All of the teachers in my building are on iPads and I think they are an amazing teacher resource/tool.

    I recently had the opportunity to spend the day with a Chromebook and while it goes against the innate Apple fandom within me I believe the Chromebook is the better student option.

    As a teacher I would never want to give my iPad back, but I now firmly believe (especially as a Google Apps for Ed school) the Chromebook is the better student option.
    MrCasal
    • RE: The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

      @MrCasal

      As a teacher working in an iPad environment, I value your opinions. However, what makes the chromebook a better student tech aid? Is it just because of the physical keyboard, traditional notebook design? Just curious.
      kenosha77a
      • RE: The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

        @kenosha7777 I think the physical keyboard is just touching the surface of the Chromebook's benefits...

        ... as I said I'm a huge Mac guy so it took my by surprise when I got so in to the Chromebook. What I like about them for students is the ease in which they are managed. Students log in using their Google Apps account, so you dont need to manage any file servers onsite. You can control all access permissions on the Google Apps admin level.

        In addition, any student can log in to any Chromebook. You don't need to go 1:1. Get enough Chromebooks to account for use (if 1:1 you'll have batches sitting unused during gym, lunch, etc) and save money for other tech needs.

        What's great too is the use of Chrome. Even if you have a lab at school, students should use the Chrome browser (with the Apps ID) so when they log in to the Chromebook all their settings are instantly there.

        The manageability and portability is what i pressed me. I love my iPad but seeing how easy it was to setup, configure, create, share, manage, etc with the Chromebook it made me think twice about rolling out hundreds of iPads.

        We have built a site for your iPad program if you want to check out what we're doing http://ps10ipads.wikispaces.com - I have yet to order Chromebooks, but as soon as funding allows I plan on getting at least 30 to do a pilot with.
        MrCasal
      • Be careful about Google Apps...

        @MrCasal Be careful about Google Apps and your Chromebooks, and make sure to set Chrome to automatically clear the cache. Google changed the default checkbox on Google Docs to automatically remember the user. So even if you quit the browser, it still keeps you logged in with a persistent cookie. There is no way to disable that default selection (even from the admin Cpanel), so you need to set the browsers to clear their cache on quit. We had a problem with students logging into other user's accounts and deleting files or creating obscenely named calendars.<br><br>I've had to disable Safari on all our public workstations because there is no way to force it into Private mode or to automatically reset the browser on quit. Students are relegated to Chrome or Firefox.
        olePigeon
  • RE: The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

    In my experience, people constantly look to technology to solve the same problems people have had in schools forever ... getting kids interested. Kids get bored fast so iPad's will be the flavour of the month but once the newness wears off you'll find kids doing more YouTube and less learning with the device. Granted, this will be the same amount of learning they did before, you just spent a decent chunk of money to help them goof off in a different way.

    You CAN use technology to get kids doing more learning but generally it takes more than just tossing the device into their hands and getting them to do work on it. Technology is a tool, not a solution.
    Ididar
    • Re: people constantly look to technology to solve the same problems people

      @Ididar If it weren't for technology, we wouldn't need schools.
      ldo17
  • Trees are a renewable resource, especially those used

    for paper products. Getting all excited about using fewer trees for paper ranks right up there with calling for a cutback on bread to save the wheat. No wonder public school educated kids are unthinking little robots
    baggins_z
  • RE: The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

    I think it's preposterous that you extoll the virtues of the Kindle Fire in a linked article, and denigrate the iPad in this one, when it appears you are doing so because you have an educational product in Amazon's EC2 system. That's quite a conflict of interest.

    The iPad has thousands of educational apps, a larger screen that makes it better for sharing with others and making content. The Fire doesn't. In my book, the iPad is a better choice.
    hayesk
  • More than 600 schools and colleges would disagree with you

    Check out the list of deployments I've been collecting... http://ipadpilots.k12cloudlearning.com/
    ericylai@...
  • RE: The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

    I would love to tell you that I have had amazing success in the classroom with an i-pad but we have not implemented them yet in our school. I am excited for that day to come, but as a Math teacher at the high school level I'm always disappointed in the technology available for mathematics. It seems that all of our technology apps are made for elementary students in the subjects of English, Social studies, and Biology. Find me an app that will improved a high school math students understanding on a regular basis and I will say "Hey, I need those i-pads for my classroom" We do need an app for that!
    arrowgift
    • What content & skills?

      @arrowgift
      What exact skills and concepts would your dream app cover? My company Motion Math makes fun math games on the iPad. We're currently creating a suite around number sense (which many high schoolers still need practice in), but I'm curious what your students would most benefit from.
      motionmath
  • RE: The jury is still out on school iPad deployments

    Sure, anytime access to information is an extraordinary tool for students and teachers and that in itself can help justify the cost of iPad deployments. But it???s hardly transformative until an active, natural, regular part of instruction is helping students effectively navigate all of that information. It isn???t enough if the advanced communication tools in most tablets are just used to post or email assignments. It isn???t enough for students to awkwardly type their essays on a virtual keyboard when those essays are the same, tired, regurgitations of facts grabbed off the web.
    http://www.cambalkon.gen.tr
    skywin
  • where to begin....

    Great article on the paradigm shift needed, but I'd add a few thoughts about how that shift must begin. The desired end result is for our digital natives to be effective and efficient global citizens, but the change must first come from the teachers, the preachers of critical thinking and productivity. To address this, your second to last paragraph might go something like this...

    "When TEACHERS can (AND DO) access tutoring resources whenever they need them or are driven to explore and create in new ways, when TEACHERS build their own cloud-synced portfolios of high quality work, when TEACHERS find new things they want to learn and are imbued with the curiosity and empowered with the tools and time (and guidance) to go after knowledge, when TEACHERS spend their lunches with their iPads under a tree reading a good book that they were allowed to download instead of watching teenagers crashing skateboards on YouTube, then you have some transformation."

    Once these gatekeepers are on board, the change in pedagogy will follow.
    mshippee