George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

This blog is part of a series sponsored by Autodesk.
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Deuie's picture

This is great insight and perspective. I only wish more teachers could actually make use of it. Teaching in a science classroom with 34 students, 1 computer, a projector and a screen is considered "high tech" in many school districts, never mind IPads or even laptops.

Gordon Dahlby's picture
Gordon Dahlby
Educational Technology Leadership Consultant

Lots of questions:
Can you share the data collecting and analysis tools? Do you have a control group and longitudinal study design that you can share? What metrics of success are in your district technology and learning plan that you could share and how are they being measured? If you did oral interviews, can you share the questions and response metrics? How did you poll the past graduates and for how many years? Do you have any descriptive stats? Any anomalies or differences found by demographics or gender or anticipated career path?

Thanks for sharing, Andrew.

J. Michael Bodi's picture
J. Michael Bodi
university professor

Gordon is right to ask these questions. Your 'research' needs to be explained as you've made some sweeping comments while 'collecting data' in one HS.

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and Co-founder, Boston, MA

This is a blog post, not academic research. I am sharing my experiences with students and not claiming or passing it off as conclusive data. It's simply my experience with my students at Burlington HS and students who have gone off to college. It is a small sample size. When I wrote this post, I did not set out to research this subject extensively, but again, simply share my experiences working within a 1:1 iPad environment. Plus, I feel that people, more than numbers and data, can articulate and highlight these experiences more clearly. Having said that, I should have been more careful with making sweeping generalizations.

Our district, and our community believe in creating authentic, purposeful learning environments for our students. We want all students to leave prepared for an ever-changing world that include virtual and digital environments. By bringing in technology, we are helping construct that bridge.

Gordon Dahlby's picture
Gordon Dahlby
Educational Technology Leadership Consultant

The work at Burlington is well known via twitter and multiple blogs and presentations. Work and progress that is to be recognized.

Our concern is when opinion and observations (valid) lend to implications of definitive statements and headlines. The statement "I did not pull this evidence out of thin air," caused some pause to this reader. "ACSD SmartBrief" pickup on the blog opinion piece stating "5 myths about eduction technology debunked." Your observations and opinions are fine, but hardly adequate repetition to such over-statement. You didn't create that title.

People are enjoying "watching" the school's journey and evolution. Your school has come a long way in just over a year of experience. All look forward to continued growth and hearing your descriptions of the innovations and learning successes in Burlington HS.

Tom Dean's picture
Tom Dean
Music Educator, Audio Engineering & IB Theory of Knowledge Teacher

I know I will have to write more and I do intend to address each of these debunked myths, but they are all only true if we are only willing to skate to where the puck is now.... but that is not how we should be thinking or should be encouraging or letting our students think - we need to skate to where the puck will be and we need to be leading the charge. Status quo is not good enough!

Patrick Mulvehill's picture
Patrick Mulvehill
Director of Technology at Calvary Day School

You say that the digital generation doesn't need technology, but you compare it to oxygen? I believe that schools that do not begin core integration of technology into the classroom actually are doing a disservice to the students in their care. You indicate that colleges aren't using the technology and that may be true. However, I don't believe that we are using the technology to prepare our students to do better in college, I believe that we are training our students to make the colleges better! These are the next generation of professors and teachers that are sitting in our classrooms today. If we want to see the college campus become more than what they are and if we want to see our K-12 classrooms engaging our students where they live, then we have to begin teaching them to be what we are not. Technology IS like oxygen, and we need to be sure we are giving this generation an ample supply. Otherwise we risk graduating digital zombies, not digital citizens.

DJGray's picture
HSIE Teacher from Australia

Hi Gordon, J Michael Bodi & Tom...I can see where you are coming from but from all the way over here in Australia I think you have missed the point as to what Andrew is actually trying to make.
As a classroom teacher myself you need to make comment on this discussion within the context of real students with real stories and real experiences in real classrooms. Andrew is not saying that control groups and longitudinal studies etc. are not good things to do...all he is simply doing is commenting on what actually goes on in a classroom...a real classroom. We sadly keep putting our students in a box of rankings, numbers, university entrance ranks and we forget they are human beings who experience it all differently.
We indirectly tell our students they are stupid if they cannot jump through this tiny little hole that defines intelligence in a very limited way. Andrew is not overstating anything...he is writing about what is actually going in 15 years time.
The best thing professionals like you can do for teachers like us is support us as we create and build an amazing and new way of educating students. It is such an exciting time to be a teacher. Whilst ever we keep taking pot shots at each other we will never go anywhere and in the end our students will continue to suffer. Greetings from Oz.

Chris Betcher's picture
Chris Betcher
ICT Integrator, PLC Sydney

Andrew, THANK YOU for writing this. It aligns very closely with my 20+ years of classroom experience about the mythology behind technology in the classroom. Like you, I am extremely positive about the potential that technology offers our students, but again like you, I have observed over and over, many of the things you describe here.
It makes me really annoyed when I hear people like Marc Prensky or Ian Jukes talk about how much our students NEED technology, and how much they live ins a high tech bubble that we adults just cannot understand. It's such poppycock. Many students are just as afraid of change and technology as many adults are. Most students operate will within their little bubble of social media tools, and a handful of school-inflicted productivity tools. The "digital native" myth has a great deal to answer for!
I agree with all of your points, although I don't have much experience with number 4 so probably can't really comment. It seems to me that those in the comments who have criticised your observation not only missed the point of what you were getting at, but they clearly don't spend a lot of time in classrooms with students.

Joanna Posey's picture
Joanna Posey
Secondary-Special Education Teacher

I've been following this intense discussion. However, as an teacher-researcher, I'm also very aware of results. Yet, in my classroom, I need to show vision in using technology, knowing that technology will change the way we live. The more modeling, guided practice, and independent practice we give our students in learning these skills, the more they will be prepared for daily living and employment opportunities.

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