Changing Education? Not Likely

The breathless headline promises to explain How the iPad is Changing Education.

Just the latest in a growing collection of hundreds (maybe thousands) of similar declarations made in publications large and small over the two years since the iPad was released, trying to make a cast for how revolutionary the device (and tablets in general) is/will be to “education”. 

Certainly Apple has sold a bunch of them (something like 67 million world wide), include many that are part of well-publicized projects in some K12 schools and colleges. There are even a few studies suggesting students benefit instructionally from the interactivity the device provides.

But changing education? Not likely.

Just in my lifetime we’ve had a long parade of technologies for which claims of “changing education” were made and still very little about what we call school is different from when I sat in a classroom as a student. The institution of what we call school is extremely resistant to meaningful modification, including from the pressure of new tech.

What’s different with the iPad is the way that some of us, still a relatively small minority, are increasingly using it in new ways for our personal learning.

However, that’s more about a networked device becoming more portable and easier to use than anything else. Not much different from the way that lighter, more capable laptops made personal learning easier than it was when the computer was too big to move from a desk.

The iPad, and other interconnected mobile devices yet to come, does have the potential to make major changes to the way kids communicate, collaborate, and learn. Potential that could be used by schools and teachers that are willing modify their traditional approaches by sharing control over the learning process with students.

But iPads changing education just by existing? Not likely.

Getting Past The Fear

On my short rant last Friday about my frustration with the lack of forward momentum in our first year BYOD program, Allan1 left a long comment telling me just how wrong I am.

Sorry, I can’t accept any of it.

It’s always hazardous to summarize someone else but in essence Allan’s primary argument seems to be that we shouldn’t allow students to bring their own devices because no school has enough resources to control what students will do with them.

VJaying with videos of students acting inappropriately in the school halls or community set to music and posted on Youtube, vulgar emails sent to administrators or teachers, multiplayer video games being played on school servers, videotaping student fights for posting on Youtube, students inappropriately accessing teacher online classroom portals, online bullying, sexting, etc.

Of course, none of that is happening now in schools where electronic devices are banned, right?

We are forever blah, blahing about the need to differentiate instruction for students2, while at the same time we insist on treating every kid exactly the same way outside of class. How many kids are we talking about in that paragraph?

I can’t speak for all high schools, but in our district, the numbers of students who willfully misuse the technology in the way Allen describes is very small. I’d bet that most teachers and administrators could identify those most likely to screw up like that by the second week of school. So, why do we treat the other 98% as if they will behave the same way?

Which brings up the matter of where students learn the ethics of working online. Again limiting things to our system, schools certainly don’t teach it. They learn from each other. Maybe if we did more than read them a long list of rules (our’s runs some 60 pages) and helped them understand the issues early in life, we would have even fewer who violate those rules. Better yet, involve the kids in crafting the rules in the first place.

At the very end, Allan actually brings up two issues that are far more important in this discussion than any fear of student misconduct.

What happened to all of the research that demonstrated 2 students working on a computer enabled collaboration which resulted in more retention than direct instruction?

Good question and one that goes directly to the process of genuinely integrating technology into instruction. It’s going to require a lot of work helping teachers understand how to use the devices students are bringing. When is it best to allow individual use and when will kids benefit from working together?

So, are we really interested in making a computer available to every student?

If school systems are so eager for 1 to 1 ratio, break out the checkbook and issue every student a laptop or pad.

Completely agree. We should issue a computing device to every student when they enter middle school (maybe earlier) and then budget to replace it every three years. Plus the infrastructure necessary to support it all.

Ain’t gonna happen, at least not in a system as big as ours with close to 180,000 students. And not with the commitment to traditional textbook driven instruction we have. An issue for another rant.

Anyway, I’ve certainly heard all the fears behind allowing students to use these powerful communications tools in schools. However, the potential of BYOD programs far outweigh all of those mostly unfounded fears.


1 Since the IP address of the comment comes from within our district’s network and the name is not in our email directory, I suspect the name is a pseudonym. No matter.

Despite the mounting evidence that the whole theory of learning styles is not credible. A topic for another rant.

When Will You Be Ready?

In the past few weeks, I’ve been talking with and listening to many of our tech trainers and others in the middle and high schools around here about BYOD, the program that allows students to bring their own devices to use for instruction.

And one of the phrases most frequently used by those in the high schools to justify their slow adoption rate is that “we’re just not ready”. Not ready for whatever evil they think will come from students being able to communicate without direct supervision.

Very frustrating! I suspect many of the adults involved, especially administrators, will never be ready. They just don’t seem to be prepared to release even a little bit of control to the kids.

On the positive side, I’m very proud that many of our middle schools (and a few elementary) are taking some risks and have been rapidly implementing the idea during this school year.  Very soon I suspect, those kids moving up into the high schools will force a change in the attitudes.

At least I hope so. I don’t see many signs of the shift coming from the adults.