Jumping on the iPad Bandwagon?
Earlier this year, a large prominent high school in Orange County announced that next Fall every student would be using iPads. In the past few weeks, three other schools in my area have announced that they are going one to one with iPads next year as well. This has no doubt created a buzz around my school from both students and parents asking if or when WE will be going to iPads. Should we? I don’t know.
A lot of people, including me, love the iPad. It is a powerful device with great potential for learning. With the recent release of the iPad2, there has definitely been a lot of media hype around the device and the power it has to transform a school. Part of me has to wonder though if all of the schools making this switch are doing so with a sound education and implementation plan in mind, or if it is a move based on pressure to remain competitive in the market and increase enrollment. I would like to ask these schools, “Why now?” and “How will your iPads be used to empower students?”
In 2008 our middle school went 1:1. For us, the time was right. We had been using mobile laptop carts for the better part of four years. Our teachers and students were familiar with the software, and the demand for more time with the laptops to work on class activities and projects surpassed the availability of the carts.
We selected a machine that all middle school students could use, one that our teachers felt comfortable with, and one that we could manage and support. One rationale for going 1:1 at that time was that if we didn’t, students would likely start bringing their own devices with them to school anyway. By implementing our program at that time, we could control what they used and make sure both hardware and software was the same for all students. “One image to rule them all.”
Three years later, all of our middle school students and teachers use tablet PC’s. They all have the same software and use the same tools for assignments and projects, and we have admin rights. We have control. We have also had to hire extra staff to deal with support, warranty & accidental damage issues, and to do anything on the student machines that require administrative access. There have been some issues, but it’s worked pretty well for us so far.
If we were to try to implement this same program today, I’m not sure we could pull it off. Too many kids already have some sort of device, netbook, tablet, or laptop. We would be in the awkward position of having to tell parents, “Hey, you know that computer you just bought your kid? Well, they won’t be able to use it at school. Instead, you MUST buy the one WE require you to use.” Sounds kind of ridiculous, if not a little arrogant, saying that if you’re child is going to be able to learn at our school that they MUST have this device.
The Forecast for the Future Looks “Cloudy”
Currently most of the work our students do is saved on their computer. From Office docs, to PhotoStory and MovieMaker projects, to OneNote notebooks, everything is saved in their “My Documents” folders. Kids are responsible for backing up their own documents, photos, and music. How many do you think actually do that? What happens when their computer gets dropped, or they spill a Pepsi on their machine? They get a loaner computer to use while theirs is repaired, but if they didn’t back up their stuff, in many cases that assignment or project is lost and needs to be redone.
Online tools like Google Docs, Voicethread, EDU Glogster, Aviary, Moodle, and many others do not save student work in their My Documents folder, but rather on the Internet. By saving to the Internet, or rather “the cloud”, work can be accessed anywhere and the computer becomes less a device to store your stuff and more a device used to access and work on your stuff. If your device gets dropped in the pool, your stuff is safe. Just get another device, sign in, and your back in business.
We’re already using several different web tools with our students. As we move more and more to cloud based apps and storage, the need for a specific device becomes less important – along with the need to manage that device and make sure each device has the same OS or software. What’s important is that the device you have, whatever that device may be, enables you to access and work on “your stuff”.
Going Platform Neutral
SO…here’s my somewhat radical thought. What if, in 2 or 3 years, my school reached a point where pretty much everything we did was cloud-based? Then it wouldn’t matter if a student brought a PC, Mac, tablet, slate, Android, or iPad as long as the device they had would allow them to access their class content, and complete their class activities and projects. Instead of telling parents, “You MUST buy THIS device.” We would tell them, “Your child must have ANY device that allows them to do the tasks required of them at school.”
For some students that might mean they use a small tablet. For others it could mean a full blown 17” laptop. Students could choose the device that best fits their learning style. Sure, iPads are cool, but I’d bet if you asked every kid there would be more than a few who would prefer to use something different. Purchasing and servicing student devices would become the responsibility of the students and the parents. The school would just need to have a few loaner devices available for students who have “issues”. Just like you have extra textbooks in the back of your room now.
Making this switch would also mean a bit of a mindset change for teachers as well. Some of the projects they do now would need to be adjusted to allow variable devices and web 2.0 tools. For example, rather than assign a project that requires kids to “Make a Power Point presentation about _______.” They would assign a project that requires kids to, “ Make a presentation about _______.” The student would be responsible to choose the best tool that allows them to demonstrate that they know the content. (ISTE NETS-S 6b). Students would be responsible to select and learn the tool, teachers would be responsible to teach and assess the content. While teachers would need some basic familiarity with a few web-based tools so they could make recommendations to students who need help deciding, the onus would be on the student to use the resources available to them to learn to use and troubleshoot the tools. (ISTE NETS-S 6c)
Is the iPad Just Déjà vu All Over Again?
As I said before, I think the iPad is an incredibly powerful tool for learning, but as I look at those middle schools and high schools jumping in and going one to one with iPads, it looks like the same thing we do right now, just with a different device. Everyone, regardless of preference or learning style, is still required to use the same device with the same apps. What happens when the next hot new device comes along?
If I’m right, and the cloud computing trend continues, then doesn’t the device become less important? Wouldn’t we be better off getting our schools, teachers, and students prepared to work with any device? Our students would learn how to use, troubleshoot, and be productive with a device and tools that fit their own personal learning style. Our administration and IT would get out of the computer sales and support business and focus efforts and budget on providing a solid, high-bandwidth wireless network at school. And our teachers would focus on designing projects and activities that have the same academic requirements but allow students a choice of tools. When we ask them to write, we don’t tell them what kind of pen, pencil or paper to use, do we?