In my last post, I shared what we learned last year during our 1:1 iPad and Google Apps for Education launches. In this post, I’d like to dispel myths about 1:1 environments. My assertions are not based on opinion, but on evidence directly observed in secondary classrooms at Burlington High School and from the students that traverse these halls daily. Our school launched 1,000-plus iPads last year, and we're starting our second year with the device in the hands of all students and teachers.
Myth 1: The Digital Generation Needs Technology
False. Many talking heads, whether on Twitter or at conferences, feel the need to validate technology integration by deeming it necessary for the next phase of students' lives. While I do believe that technology integration should be part of the educational context, this assertion should not be the reason to incorporate devices and applications into your curriculum. For many students, they will travel off to college, sit in a giant auditorium and listen to lectures. Most of their assessments will be done on Scantron forms and offer no project-based alternative. The most technology that students will encounter in college will be email, word processing (either MS Office or Google Docs), and social media outlets for socializing.
I did not pull this evidence out of thin air. Many students who return from top colleges and universities will list the three technology uses above. They will also detail the limited engagement they encounter in many of their classes. I'm not trying to debate the need for technology integration, but simply stating that it's irresponsible to claim the digital generation "needs" technology.
I like to quote Chris Lehman anytime technology integration comes up. Chris said, "Technology should be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary and invisible." Technology should not stand out; it should simply blend with dynamic teachers and the engaging curriculum they design. To validate technology integration simply because this generation gets it and needs it is a thin assertion. In fact, many students deemed "digital natives" prefer analog formats for learning and organizing. Integrate technology because you know it is purposeful and helps create engaging learning environments for students.
Myth 2: The iPad is Simply a Tool
False. I recently read a post about an iPad being compared to one of the simplest tools, a hammer. Comparing an iPad to a hammer is a naive way of thinking. The iPad, along with laptops, Chromebooks and other tablet options, all boast advanced operating systems with intuitive design. Despite their intuitive design, tasks as simple as taking notes and saving to the cloud can be a struggle for many in the "digital generation." Don't assume the student body will simply adapt to the device and the applications because they fall under the age of 20. Creating a 1:1 environment takes dedicated professional development for staff, parents and the community, as well as the students who will be using it daily.
When I presented this analogy to one of my help desk students, Hannah Lienhard, she responded by saying:
I agree that both the iPad and the hammer occupy a finite space physically. Yet this analogy fails to see the potential of this particular tool. Yes, the iPad is just a tool. But it is a tool unlike any before it. It does a job, sure, but it goes a step beyond the task at hand by incorporating next-level thought. That's what has been given to us. A tool that is made for more than one simple task.
Myth 3: It's Not a Distraction
False. And I believed this statement for a while and felt that unimaginative teaching was at fault, but this is not the case. Plus, teachers deserve more credit for consistently trying to create engaging classrooms with the resources they have available in a variety of contexts. When I asked a few students if they were distracted by the iPad, they paused to consider the question, and then answered.
While they said it wasn't any different than looking out of a window or doodling in the margins of a notebook, the device presented a need for added self-control. One student mentioned his grades started slipping, and he realized that it was the result of added stimulus in the app store. This student realized his fault and soon deleted many of the gaming apps. He also mentioned that the initial appeal of the device and games wore off. While the transition didn't take place overnight, this student soon realized the potential for learning and organizing with the iPad.
This statement shouldn't serve as leverage for not integrating iPads or any device into your school, but simply to help you realize that, for some students, technology integration will present a challenge to focus. While distractions in the classroom are nothing new, they are enhanced for some students as a result of technology devices. To say that a device such as the iPad is not distracting is silly. However, it takes time and understanding by the students to realize what they've been given. BHS Senior Tyler Desharnais noted, "Once the novelty of playing games wears off, you realize that you have a pretty dynamic catalyst for learning in your hands."
Myth 4: Creating or Purchasing Textbooks for the iPad is a Grand Innovation
In my last post, I mentioned that we set out to create our own in-house textbook alternative. I also mentioned this became a monumental hill for our staff to climb. Also, the iTunes U options were not something we wanted to add to our budget. Launching a 1:1 initiative to simply add a 19th century tool on a 21st century device is not changing or innovating teaching and learning. It's stale practice.
The solution: Net Texts. Now, I know I mentioned them in my last post and just name-dropped again, but I am not selling anything. I'm simply sharing a useful alternative to the standard textbook. Net Texts gives teachers a web-based application for uploading a variety of content that will sync with an iPad app students can use to download their course materials. Teachers can update their course app as needed, and it will sync automatically with the students' iPad. This application offers our teachers and students a clean, easy-to-use alternative to a textbook and allows for more autonomy in creating rich, engaging classroom content that can change with the times.
Myth 5: Going 1:1 with iPads Teaches One Product
False. Many times our EdTech team has been accused of being Apple fanboys and fangirls. While we love Apple design and enjoy the ease of its system, we are not teaching a brand. Our students are learning how to use a device with an advanced operating system that assists with organizing, accessing data in the cloud, connecting and sharing. These skills are more than just device-agnostic. They teach students how to organize their educational workflow in a 21st century context.
Many of the applications we suggest that students use are not limited to the iPad. If we decided to eliminate iPads tomorrow and switch to Chromebooks, our students could easily adjust to this transition. Students use Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote and Notability as their primary workflow and organizational apps.
And while we have over one thousand iPads deployed at our high school, we really like Chromebooks and the Google Apps for Education Suite. In fact, we have that Google Suite for all our students and staff, and have incorporated a few carts of Chromebooks in our libraries. Plus, our school has been selected to host the Google Apps for Education New England Summit (shameless plug) on November 3rd and 4th.
Some may strongly disagree with the myth-busting mentioned above, but the evidence posted is not my opinion. As stated before, this evidence comes from my daily interaction with students and teachers working and learning in a 1:1 iPad Environment. I am not trying to promote or sell anything, simply to eliminate some of the static and white noise that is amplified on Twitter and various conferences throughout the year. I appreciate comments and hope we can continue the conversation about technology integration and how it affects learning.