"Put your wands away!" Professor Umbridge from the Harry Potter stories would tell the students at the beginning of each class. After a few classes when Professor Umbridge would make the announcement, "Put your wands away," the students did not have to do anything because they never even bothered to take the wands out. Interestingly enough, I witnessed a similar experience in my own wizarding school, um, I mean just school. Forgive the allusion to Harry Potter, but there are just too many wonderful parallels.
Our freshman and sophomore students all had iPads (wands) and some of the teachers would have them looking up information, collaborating on an app, or watching chemistry movies. But some teachers were just like Professor Umbridge: "Put your iPads away. If I see them they will be confiscated." Student knew not to even expect to use them in these teachers' classes. Most surprisingly, some of these teachers were the "superstars" of the campus.
Teacher Tech Blues
When I asked them why they did not use the iPads in the classes they taught, these are some of the reasons they mentioned:
- I don't have time to both prepare a good lesson and then figure out how to fit the technology into it.
- I don't want to baby sit my students and keep track of whether they are playing games or not in my class.
- I am not the iPad police and I do not want the responsibility of supervising them.
- The iPads are just a distraction for my students.
- If the students are allowed to use their iPads, they won't listen to me.
- Not all my students have iPads so none of my students can use them to make it fair .
- I don't have anything for them to do with the iPads that they could not do with paper and pencil.
The two messages that I got out of these remarks are that the teachers did not trust the students, and that they did not have the skills or appropriate apps for the students to be productive with the iPads.
As I reflected on this information, I pondered the ramifications:
- Teachers learn quickly to not trust students
- Most of the rules, policies and procedures we teachers have set up in the classroom are because of perhaps only one student that made the rule necessary, but in the process of establishing that rule, we typically ignore all of the other well-behaved students
- One student ruins it for all students. While giving them an expensive device is a certain amount of trust, it is going too far to expect that they will use the device appropriated of their own free will
- Some teachers feel uncomfortable when they do not have complete control. To them, teacher control must be enforced and if they can't enforce it, then they will eliminate the distraction
Normally this is good practice, but not when it comes to iPads, which are all about discovery and exploration.
But I thought it was outrageous that teachers would not use the iPads in class because it is too hard for them to adapt or learn ("If I had this type of tool when I was a teacher...."). I knew I could not finish that statement because on further introspection, I recognized that there were a number of mistakes that I made as an administrator. I assumed that because the teachers are computer literate, that the teachers would take the initiative and find the apps and make the learning connections with the technology. They were given the summer before and a couple of months at the beginning of the school year to get ready, why weren't they? Some were ready and eager, most were not.
It wasn't until I left that school that I understood what I could have done to avoid the "wands away" mentality.
Here are my suggestions for avoiding such mistakes:
1. Setting Student Limits
While getting teachers to trust students will always be a challenge, if the teachers know that the students can only do certain things on the iPad or tablet, then this will allay some of their fears of abuse. A contributing factor of the lack of trust was that our iPads were wide open -- students could download what they wanted to (even though in their use-agreement they promised not to). I could have had the iPads locked down or a content filter installed, but I did not because that went against my belief about the iPads and learning. Our problem was that we went from nothing to the whole world at student's fingertips. Looking back, we should have increased the freedom incrementally allowing the students and the teachers to get use to each new level of freedom before going to a more open stance. Curriculum Loft and Classlink are excellent programs that can do this.
2. Selecting Software
The other thing that would have helped, and which I understood too late, was that iPads and tablets are going to replace desktops and laptop computers entirely. That means that productivity software should be on all of them as if they were laptops and desktops. These mobile devices come with a certain limited set of writing software (note pad), but they need the word processor, spreadsheet, and other creative software to make them really useful replacements for computers.
3. Properly Preparing Teachers
The final thing I should have done to help the iPad implementation is to train the teachers on how to use the iPads to teach. Sure, I sent teachers to workshops and conferences, but we did not do any concerted training as a school about iPads and student learning. Had I figured this out earlier, I would have had the teachers practice on each other, and I would have required them to submit at least one lesson a week that would use the iPads as a learning tool. I ran across a company that not only teaches teachers how to use the technology, but also teaches them (provides examples and templates) on how to effectively teach with the technology. It's called Sublime Learning. This type of embedded learning is what teachers need in order to use technology tools effectively (e.g. interactive whiteboards, multimedia projectors, electronic tablets, and calculators).
In the Future
So basically, if I had established a more rigid structure for acceptable wand use, obtained more spells (not just free ones because you get what you pay for), and provided concentrated "how do I inspire learning with wands?" training, then things would have gone much better our first year.
What implementation advice do you have to share? Please tell us in the comment section below.