My Biggest Takeaway from LAUSD’s iPad Problems – Put Students In A Leadership Role

Chris and Thabani were a critical part of our 1:1 Planning Team

There has certainly been a lot written in regards to the problems in Los Angeles Unified School District with their iPad deployment.  My intention in writing this brief post is not to point fingers at another district for their problems, but while reading a recent post written by Katrina Schwartz on MindShift I couldn’t help thinking about one non-negotiable in setting up 1:1 initiatives for success. The post, How Students Uncovered Lingering Hurt From LAUSD iPad Rollout, highlighted the feelings of students from all of the negative stories about their district regarding the iPad initiative.

 “In the L.A. Times they did an article about us and about how the iPads were hacked,” said Mariela Bravo. “The comments hurt. I have pride in my school and it was really bad. We were the example of why they shouldn’t give [the iPads] to us. They have to trust us more, we could surprise them and they could see that we are good kids.”

When we started our 1:1 planning in Burlington more than five years ago, the first thing we did was involve our students on the planning team.  The input of our students helped put so many things in perspective for the planning team and saved us time and money. We saved time because instead of speculating about what students may or may not do with new mobile devices they would be receiving, we had students tell us firsthand what to expect. They saved us money because when we were talking about which case we should by for each of the more than 1,000 iPads that we would be purchasing, one of the students told us not to by cases. He told us that the students would take them off and buy their own cases and that we would be wasting our money.

This student input has continued to play a critical role in our support of staff and students with our BHS Help Desk.  As our iPad initiative has expanded to other schools in our district, our student help desk model has as well.   While I could go on and on about what I have learned from students over the past four years of our 1:1 journey, I will save that for a future posts. My main point here is to let school leaders know that the first step in a successful 1:1 initiative is to make students a formal part of the plan.

It’s Time to End the Device Debate

As a school leader in a 1:1 iPad district, I am always interested in the perspectives of those in other 1:1 educational settings. Whether they use iPads, Chromebooks or any other web-enabled device, there is something that can be learned by paying attention to the conversations in these environments. Two of the more thoughtful pieces on the topic which were recently written come from Tim Holt and Joshua Kim.

The Device Debate: Creating vs. Consuming

Tim, a Director of Instructional Technology from El Paso, Texas, gives a strong account of how iPad can be used as a tool for creation. He clearly details some of the concrete ways that the often-defended tablet can be used to produce videos, music, drawings, and works of art that move well beyond consumption. Kim, on the other hand, offers a unique perspective as an educator who has recently transitioned from supporting an iPad environment to using a Chromebook as his primary device. In his post, 3 Reasons Why Chromebook Beats iPad in 1:1 Programs, Kim gives the following three reasons for the superiority of the Chromebook:
  1. Chromebooks are for creating, and iPads are for consuming
  2. The App vs the Web
  3. The Google Ecosystem for Collaboration
The most viable of these three reasons from Kim is the final one, the collaborative tools that are inherent in the Google ecosystem can be accessed seamlessly on a Chromebook. While iOS device access to Google tools continues to become less and less of an issue, schools that want to focus primarily on Google tools should look no further than Chromebooks. However, I would like to challenge Kim’s first two points. As he notes in his discussion around his first point, the consumption versus creation debate with iPads and Chromebooks has been made countless times by those on both sides of this discussion.

Apps vs. Web

While I agree partially with his point that everyone he knows uses a laptop as a complementary device, I think that there is a line that we can draw here in regards to the age of the learner. From my experience, our younger students are less and less concerned about a laptop and much more comfortable with a tablet as their primary device. In fact “The App vs the Web” conversation is not as simple as purported. The point here implies that iPad is rendered useless without an extensive arsenal of apps. This implication falls short in a world where companies are doing everything they can to offer a web-based mobile experience. If the point here is that we need to encourage end-users to not become “app-dependent,” then I agree wholeheartedly, but the notion that iPad is not a multi-faceted device in the absence of apps is false.
This also goes for the idea that iPad is not valuable without internet access. Of course, it needs to be noted that the Google Chrome environment is also one that offers an endless list of extensions and apps. Personally, I have no strong emotion tied to one device or another. In fact, as a learner, I get a great deal of satisfaction by figuring out how I can get my daily tasks done on any device that is placed before me. In fact, my main takeaway from most of these debates regarding one device or another is that those of us in schools need to steer clear of strapping on the blinders that can come along with one platform or another. We need to ensure environments that are adaptable and allow learners to accomplish their tasks with whatever devices are available. For all intensive purposes, devices are now basically disposables after two to three years. It is time to dispose of the debate on devices as well.
Looking to learn more about iPads and Chromebooks? EdTechTeacher offers app recommendations for all devices. They will also be hosting a number of FREE, LIVE webinars for Back-to-School in the coming weeks.

Join Us For Our First Parent Technology Night – Elementary School 1:1 Program

The Burlington Public Schools EdTech Team will be hosting a Parent Technology Night on Tuesday, October 1 at Marshall Simonds Middle School. Please join us for information about the BPS elementary school 1:1 iPad program. The session will provide an opportunity to learn about the iPad initiative at grades 1, 4, and 5 this school year. Our team will discuss Foundational Apps, student access to devices, student responsibility, and digital workflow.
Time during every Parent Tech Night session is also dedicated to technology related questions and support.

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Top Post #9 – The iPad In Schools: Is It A Solution Or A Problem?

This was cross posted on Edudemic

As I look to unplug a bit during the first week of summer vacation, I am continuing to repost my top posts from last year. Below is #9 from April of this year.

 Slide via Greg Kulowiec 
Slide via Greg Kulowiec 

 The question above comes from Greg Kulowiec’s Keynote Presentation last Thursday – What is the answer with iPads? – at the iPad Summit in Atlanta, and it is a critical question for educators involved in iPad initiatives (or any 1:1 initiative) to reflect upon. Thinking as a school administrator who pushed for the deployment of over 1,000 devices in his school, I have to admit that I initially responded somewhat defensively as I went with iPad as a solution. However, as Greg allowed the question to linger and began his rationale for looking at iPad as a problem for schools, I began to cast aside my blinders and look at this question from a broader perspective. When Greg asked the following question, “Are we just taking iPads and slapping them into our existing structure?” I knew I had blown it with my initial answer: Of course, I knew that looking at iPad (or any device) as the solution infers a pretty simplistic look at the issues inherent with our current educational system. It also takes away the ownership of the issues from the people in the system, especially if we think simply adding a thing will improve teaching and learning. But what about looking at iPad (or another technological resources) as the problem? How can this help us? Well, the slide below is just one example of what is happening within educational institutions due to the development of technological resources that can change the way we learn. The slide references a situation that occurred at Ryerson University in Toronto when students formed a Facebook study group to help them prepare for exams.

  Slide via Greg Kulowiec 
Slide via Greg Kulowiec[/caption] 
 This is just one example of the countless issues that not only crop up when we bring new technology into static institutions, but also when those who think about how they can do things differently are stifled by those who cannot immediately escape their traditional thinking. I believe that educators need to understand that their initial discomfort is not just about the technology, it is also about the fact that the way learners access information has changed forever. Due to these changes, educational institutions will need to look long and hard at their practice in order to assure the success of the students whom they serve. Justin Reich described this scenario last week in a post on his EdTech Researcher Blog titled The iPad as a Trojan Mouse :

“…what new technologies like tablets or laptops can do is open new avenues for conversation. In schools where every child has a portable, multimedia creation device, what can we do differently? What is possible now that wasn’t possible before?”

In Burlington, we built a formal mechanism for the conversations with the formation of a 1:1 Implementation Team comprised of staff, students, parents, and community members. The ideas that emanated from this group have set the stage for our professional development plans for teachers and parents, leading to summer-long edcamp opportunities, our digital publishing collaborative, technology workshops for parents, and the BHS Help Desk student support team just to name a few. There is no doubt that the conversations surrounding the arrival of iPads into our classroomss have been about much more than just how to use a piece of technology. These discussions have opened the door to deeper insights surrounding student (and adult) learning that have begun to change the way we operate.

Here’s to hoping that more school communities open their doors to these problems as well as the meaningful conversations that follow.

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Top Post #8 – Ignore The iPads! – Looking Back At Year One of 1:1 (with iPads) Part 7

As I look to unplug a bit during the first week of summer vacation, I am continuing to repost my top posts from last year. Below is #8 from last August.

The most common question we get regarding our 1:1 initiative (with (iPads) is – What apps do you recommend?

While I understand that it seems like  a logical question, I hate it. The reason for my disdain is that the focus of educators should be on outcomes first and not on devices or apps.  Before we can answer the app question, we need to have a bit more information about what the goals are for the class and how the teacher would like to facilitate the lesson (i.e. will students work independently or collaboratively).

So when it comes to the iPad, there are over 225,000 apps in the App Store. I am not going to even get into the discussion that we should stay away from becoming app-dependent and focus on digital resources that are free and will work on an platform. (I’ll leave that for a future post).

Instead, we’ll stay on the topic of not using technology for technology-sake.  We need to be careful with all of the excitement over bringing shiny new devices into our schools that we do not put gadgets before goals.

Here’s a post from BHS English/Tech Integration teacher Tim Calvin (@nothingfuture on Twitter) that nails down this point clearly (from

I ignore iPads. 

It’s true- I do.  Let’s sort this out, though. 

I like iPads a lot. They’re not the only decent device anymore, but they’re very good, and they’re not too expensive. Blah blah blah.  I love that my students have a device with them all the time. I can’t imagine teaching without it, at this point. I’d cry (and debate a change in location/profession) if they were taken away or banned. 

All that said, people keep asking me “how I use the iPads in the classroom.” And the answer- the honest truth in the answer– is that I mostly ignore them. The device isn’t the point. I’d never try to shoehorn a device (or tech of any sort) into a lesson. That’s all sorts of backwards. The tech lubricates the lesson. It allows things that weren’t possible before. It allows things to happen quickly. It smoothes the road. So when I design lessons, I just factor in the myriad things that students can now do. It’s like a bunch more colors got added to my pallet and the pictures I’m painting are that much more vivid. I simply factor into the plan that research/writing/notes/web work can all happen on the fly. That collaboration on an essay is not only possible, but is normal. That data isn’t lost. That the classroom can extend far beyond the 43 minutes I have. 

But I don’t know that I’ve ever told students to open a specific app. I know I’ve never demanded that they have an app. I know that I don’t really care about the apps that they have- just that they have apps that work for them to accomplish the tasks that I need them to do. 

I know what I’m talking about here is specific to High School. That’s what I do, and that’s likely to remain the focus here.

I think this point is relative to all levels and I think it’s something we need to reiterate.

Thanks Tim!

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Top Post #5 – Who Cares About Devices!?

This post was written back in April and was cross-posted on EdTechTeacher

So I received the tweet below from a friend in Iowa this morning:

Being one of the first schools in our region to go all in on iPads at the high school level, I am always interested in reading the perspectives of others on this topic.  I think that there are a number of questions that need to be addressed for schools thinking about increasing the number of devices in their classrooms or moving towards a 1:1 program.  The post referenced in the tweet by my friend Jimmy, a high school Principal in Iowa, is worth a read for people looking at investing in iPads (or going 1:1 with any device).

The post, Why most K-12 schools aren’t ready for the iPad Revolution, cites four reasons that most schools are not prepared to purchase iPads for all students.  The four reasons cited by the author, Mike Reiners (CEO of Nomad), are as follows:

  1. Teaching requires planning.
  2. Consider where we’re spending our education dollars.
  3. The iPad is primarily a consumption device.
  4. Our students should be mobile multilingual.
Below are my thoughts on each of the points.

Teaching requires planning

Yes, I could not agree more. Our Superintendent is fond of saying, “Teaching is hard and Technology used to be hard. But even though the technology has gotten easier, the teaching is still hard and it will always be hard.”  Despite the fact that the technology is easier, the sheer number of resources available when you add web-enabled devices to the mix can be overwhelming.  I agree with Reiners point that thought and consideration and support are needed so that teachers have opportunities to prepare for this shift. In Burlington, we spend a year and a half before we had iPads teaching staff members about a variety of digital tools that they would be able to access and integrate into their curricular areas with any mobile device. We also focused on resources that we thought would save teachers time and could potentially increase student engagement.

Consider where we’re spending our education dollars

This consideration is one that we actually utilized to help us purchase our devices in Burlington. I am pretty sure that many schools do not spend enough time looking at what they are spending their money on now. What are some of the annually purchases that we make that we just don’t think about? (i.e. paper, printers, textbooks, computers, etc.) Our purchase of the iPads saved us in the vicinity of $100,000 due to the fact that we were looking at new options for a Foreign Language Lab and that does not take into consideration that most schools also add a para-professional to the mix to help maintain such a lab. We were also able to stop our annual expenditures on maintaining other labs in the building that were used primarily for word processing and research since the purchase of the devices allowed us to have this access in every classroom. Add in the fact, that we are no longer making large-scale textbook purchases for a course and we were well on our way to the amount needed to purchase our devices.

The iPad is primarily a consumption device

I’ve heard this one over and over, but I agree with the words of Scott Meech who hit on this topic a while back during the 2011 K-12 Online Conference in his session on “Purposeful Play:”

“Many argue that the iPad is the premiere consumption device at this time but it isn’t very good at creating. Is that accurate? I tend to believe that the iPad is an amazingly creative device and the user is the only limit for the device.”

Adam Webster also wrote a post on Edudemic a while back titled 5 Reasons The iPad Will Stay King Of The Classroom in which he stated:

“The iPad, its workflow and its apps, allow for real change and makes it easy. Your students will create work that not only wasn’t possible before their innovative use of the technology, but that you as their teacher had never even thought of.”

Our students should be mobile multilingual 

This definitely should be the goal for our students and I touched on this idea in a post back in January titled Is The iPad King? It Is For Us And That’s All That Matters (For Now). My concluding statement in the post was – “While I believe that we have made the best decision for our school today, things change quickly and we need to create organizational and individual flexibility to adapt to these changes when they occur.” 

Royan Lee wrote a wonderful post on this topic about a month ago on his blog titled “Why Mish-Mash Is Better Than 1:1.”  In the post he noted:

“I prefer teaching with the limitations of no class sets, because it means we’re constantly reflecting on the merits of each tool for the given purpose.”

The bottom line is that we need to make sure that the adults in the schools are modeling the flexibility and adaptability in their practice that our students are going to need to have to be successful. All of us who work in schools know that this is can be difficult since change is not something common in our traditional educational system and we have grown comfortable with many tools, workflows, and practices that are long outdated. 

In fact, the most important statement made in the post by Reiners is the one at the end which notes:

In summary, let’s think about what we’re doing. Blind, quick-trigger actions in education, especially expensive and invasive ones, have historically disastrous results.

I find this a bit ironic considering that some would say that we are exactly in this place with our mandated standardized testing and the development of the common core, two things that have certainly been expensive and invasive. While I could speculate on the results, that is probably best left for a future post.

The bottom line is that we don’t need any new devices in our schools, what we really need is new thinking in regards to our purpose for having schools. Any implementation of new gadgets and gizmos which strives to simply integrate them into our “traditional system” with teacher-focused learning environments instead of learner-centered environments is destined to have “disastrous results.”
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Top Post #4 – Is The iPad King? It Is For Us And That’s All That Matters (For Now)

(This post originally ran in January.)

BHS students on their iPads

I have seen a few posts lately on the topic of which device is the best device for a school looking to go 1:1 and put a web-enabled device in the hands of each student.  One that caught my attention yesterday was  5 Reasons The iPad Will Stay King Of The Classroom which was posted on Edudemic.

The Edudemic post, written by Adam Webster, notes that the iPad has the following advantage over a laptop:

“The iPad, its workflow and its apps, allow for real change and makes it easy. Your students will create work that not only wasn’t possible before their innovative use of the technology, but that you as their teacher had never even thought of.”

From my own experience in year two of an iPad 1:1 program here in Burlington, I agree wholeheartedly that the newness of this device and the necessity of creating new work flows leads to more innovative uses than we would see from a laptop.  However, this can only happen in schools and classrooms where students are allowed flexibility that is not common in many traditional classrooms.

My point is that neither the iPad nor any other new gadget or gizmo will allow students the type of discoveries that Adam describes in his post unless it is coupled with a mindset that is still atypical in most schools. This change I am talking about is one that does not lead students in step-by-step processes to complete the most rudimentary task, instead it is a learning environment where students have clear outcomes to achieve, but are left with many ways to achieve these outcomes.

So I guess I continue to worry about schools that gobble up iPads (or any other digital device) thinking that it alone will have a transformational effect on learning.  Greg Kuloweic made the point very well in answer to the question “Why iPad?” on the EdTechTecher Site.

“Fundamentally, I believe that an iPad can neither be good or bad. All it can ever be is an iPad. I argue instead, that when used effectively and with specific goals in mind, iPads can have a positive impact on education.” 

So after a long lead in to reiterating the fact that people change schools, not devices, I am at my second and larger concern.  This one revolves around our ability and the ability of our students to think outside of the platform that we have chosen.  Personally, I love Apple devices and have a an iPhone, iPad and MacBook to prove it. However, when it comes to the iPad, I do worry about creating a school full of iOS “app-dependent” students and staff. I worry that our choice of platform will limit the thinking of our students down the road and box them in.

Adrianna (Photo credit: patricklarkin1967)

While I believe that we have made the best decision for our school today, things change quickly and we need to create organizational and individual flexibility to adapt to these changes when they occur.  So for the immediate future I  believe we are on the right path, but there is no discounting the fact that there are forks in the road that we will need to anticipate.  No King rules forever…

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