It's the #iPad App Ecology - Be iNCORRECT


the future of learning lies in a student-centered, web 2.0 empowered,networked connectivism.   This is the New Culture of Learningand we owe it to our own life-long learning and to our students to study this mode closely and exploit every opportunity to advance it.  (Source:

In a twitter exchange with EdTechSandyK, as well as in reading an article entitled The iPad will not save your school, and considering the best approach to put technology in schools, I've found myself engaging in "soul-searching" about these solutions.

Allow me a moment to reflect on the following perspectives:

  1. Discard the Antiquated: Folly or Genius?
  2. 5 Temptations of a CEO

Before we begin, my biases are offered up for consideration:

  1. Courage of convictions: If we're going to invest in iPads because they ARE the magic bullet, then let's go whole hog. Let's throw out antiquated Dell computers, old laptops and get rid of the enterprise approach to technology management in schools. Let's use the iPads for assessment (Pearson's TestNav is due out on iPad soon), for creation and rework our daily schedules so that computer labs are non-existent. This will cost at least $21,000 per classroom to get started. 
    1. Note: To clarify, "whole hog" is...wireless everywhere, curriculum alignment for every learning activity, eliminating labs as the tech learning space, teaching online and in the cloud.
  2. The Classroom is the Portal to safe, Virtual Learning Spaces. Children don't have to go anywhere else inside the building to develop 21st Century Skills a la if they have one to one mobile devices.
  3. The level of separation between Curriculum/assessment initiatives and iPads in schools determines the success or failure of said expensive technology. If you bring iPads in, then you better match your curriculum to iPads or you are just WASTING MONEY AND TIME.
  4. For the first time in history--given GNU/Linux, free open source software--we have everything we need to make yesterday's computing solutions the most cost-effective.
  5. If your teaching doesn't involve real life problem-solving with technology that engages and extends beyond the classroom walls, then "it ain't worth squat."
(Source for iPad Infographic shown right)

TWITTER CONVERSATION - Discarding the Antiquated: Folly or Genius?
In a short exchange with EdTechSandyK, she responds to my sharing of an Edudemic blog entry, The Sad Reality of Education Technology, that points out the following:
In case you haven’t noticed yet, we are in the midst of the largest technological revolution in decades. The proliferation of wireless computing and personal technological devices capable of accessing the world has created a new landscape that schools must be aware of now. This isn’t like the other waves that have come across the proverbial bow of education.
Whole language, phonics, “new” math, you name it. Most of the proposed solutions to education’s woes have simply been a twist on the old way of doing things. This technological revolution is different; it has the potential to fundamentally change the way we teach and the way students learn. If done correctly, it can re-define the old way of teaching and provide the means for teachers to truly look at all we have done before through a new student centered lens. At the root of this change for schools is the idea of a 1:1 program.
A 3-Part Series
I would take that one step further and state that if any school considers a 1:1 program the iPad should be the device of choice. This is the first article in a 3-part series discussing the importance of a 1:1 iPad initiative. The argument for why the iPad over other personal devices will be saved for the second article in this series.

As you can see, the key ideas expressed in this excerpt of the blog entry are as follows:
  1. We are facing changes that are unlike anything we've seen before.
  2. The biggest change is personal technological devices that connect us wirelessly and what those make possible.
  3. The iPad should be the 1:1 program device of choice.
It is the last assertion--iPad as the Magic Bullet--that EdTechSandyK objects to, but that is the single reason I bothered to tweet the blog entry in the first place. In essence, what Sandy objects to is what I most agree with.  Sandy explains it in the following way (tweets listed with oldest one first):
EdTechSandyK: I don't agree that 1:1 has to be an iPad, but rest of article is spot on: The Sad Reality of #EdTech HT @mguhlin
 mguhlin@edtechsandyk ha, that's exactly why I thought the article was spot on...that assertion of one device to rule them all. ;-) 
EdTechSandyK@mguhlin Awesome! I've seen different folks do so much w/ different tech over the years that I don't believe in one answer for all. :-) 
mguhlin@EdTechSandyK diversity is a gift, however, standardization on a base device in orgs with limited resources/funding is necessary.
EdTechSandyK@mguhlin I agree to an extent. We tried standardizing on IWBs for that reason, but more desirable options came along.
EdTechSandyK@mguhlin It's a big risk to decide on a standard today when something better can come along at any moment. Limited resources... 
EdTechSandyK@mguhlin ...could leave you stuck with less flexibility. I still think iPads are difficult to manage in an enterprise environment, too. 
EdTechSandyK@mguhlin If all we had to worry about was teaching with them, that might change my thinking. But I'm still learning, too... 
mguhlin@EdTechSandyK my apologies, 5 Temptations of a CEO (not a leader). #3 is relevant with waiting for perfect device.
As you can see, the conversation finishes up with my reference to Patrick Lencioni's 5 Temptations of a CEO, a book written to illustrate 5 temptations leaders fall into. I mention it because often, we find ourselves waiting for the "right" technology to implement. Which will be the best technology to invest in? Since it's always in the best interests of technology companies to continue updating their equipment, schools find themselves in the expensive position of perpetually upgrading that equipment.

The solution is blindingly obvious. Rather than invest in the newest and greatest, schools should invest in yesterday's technology to establish a baseline for technology in schools. That means, you don't buy the latest and greatest, but you learn to make do with yesterday's technology. While that may mean "No iPads," it means that you can buy sub-$700 desktop computers and load them with free productivity software and/or access cloud computing apps.

Today, it is less about content and more about thinking. It is less about whatyou know and more about how you know and who you know to get it from.
Once you know, you must do. I do not mean knowing facts and doing exams. You cannot simply consume; you must contribute and create. (Source: Barking Up the Wrong Tree)

For example, consider this suite of apps that are free and high-quality:
  1. - An Office suite that is completely compatible with MS Office, is well-supported by GoogleDocs, and relatively easy to use. Not only that, you can give it away to everyone in your school community. It works on Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems, so it runs practically on all the "old" technologies.
  2. InkScape - a vector drawing tool that could easily fill the hole the role of Adobe Illustrator, and I've used it often.
  3. THE GIMP - This image editing tool--not unlike Adobe Photoshop--offers incredible uses and is part of my daily kit.
  4. Scribus - A desktop publishing tool, if you find LibreOffice unequal to the task or your past workflows.
  5. Dia - Graphic organizer software that offers similar functionality to Inspiration and other web-based graphic organizers. I just used it yesterday and was amazed at the maturity of this program.
  6. OpenShot Video Editor: Although there are plenty of tools available, with a Linux machine, you could have a powerful video editor that works better than Windows-based MovieMaker.
  7. And the list goes on....
Unfortunately, this approach to computing in schools has failed. It's failed because it's not been widely adopted in schools, and learning how to use technology has been relegated to the work of computer lab teachers. As wonderful as the new tool-sets are that enable us to do for free what has been costly in the past, these free tools are "obsolete." That's not to say that they can't get the job done, but are considered antiquated in the face of tools like the iPad.

With a single iPad, one can replace all the tools above, as well as seize a world of apps. Simply, the richness of the app ecology overshadows anything offered on desktop/laptop computers. Combine that with the 1:1 programs, or cart-based implementations of iPads, the iPad App Ecology is what makes the iPad the choice.

Still, some argue that the iPad isn't the tool of choice. That's the point made at Technology with Intention's entry, The iPad will not save your school. In that article by Jac de Haan, this point is made:
Administrators around the globe are looking for the ‘next big thing’ to save students from a mediocre or irrelevant education and it seems that many have decided that Apple’s iPad is the catalyst to an answer.1
In truth, there is no surprise there...administrators have always sought out the magic bullet, something that will teacher-proof learning in classrooms. And, in reading the headlines about teachers who have made poor choices in student to teacher relationships, refused to build their PLNs and eschewed technology as a way to deepen the impact they can have on teaching and learning in their classrooms and broaden the reach of student voices to a global audience, teacher-proofing as a knee-jerk admin reaction isn't surprising.

Jac offers some great points in his blog entry, and then ends with a reference to the exorbitant cost of the magic bullet, iPads in schools. And, having done the math myself, as well as seen the costs firsthand, he's exactly right about the estimated cost per classroom of an iPad implementation:
Assuming a classroom set of 30 iPads (for 30 students) that have a product life of 3 years, how else might a teacher choose to spend $20,000-$24,000 to better their ability to teach? Add in training and support costs and that number quickly moves towards $40,000 per classroom. Extrapolate that to an entire school or district and the purchasing power is enormous – what if that investment was put into any other tool – curriculum training, on-site health care for students, library science, financial literacy, reading specialists, after-school care, teacher salaries, paid professional development, or arts programs?

Jac's closing point is that the people who align curriculum, devices, ongoing professional learning are the ones who determine the success of an iPad initiative. Who can disagree with that assertion? A more important point, though, is that the iPad and it's app ecology, it's ease of use by special education students, mainstream students, low-tech capable teachers make it THE device. 

In a presentation earlier this summer, I pointed to rows upon rows of desktop computers and asked, "If you could replace these with iPads in your students classrooms, would you do it?" The answer was an overwhelming affirmative.

So, in the final analysis, it's easy to say, "I'm not sure if the iPad is THE device to invest precious technology funding." It's obvious now that an education that denies the veracity of the 21st Century Skills measure, that moves the higher levels of the revised Bloom's Taxonomy (digitizing it) OUT of the classroom, IS irrelevant, no matter how engaging, wonderful, and learning. Simply put, if your pedagogy doesn't incorporate connected learning technologies, you're preparing students for yesterday.

In Patrick Lencioni's 5 Temptations of a CEO, he shares the following temptations all CEOs face. As an administrator, I've wrestled with these myself when trying to make decisions.
Temptation #1: Being more interested in protecting your career status than you are in making sure your company achieves results.
Advice: Make results the most important measure of personal success. 
Temptation #2: Wanting to be popular with your direct reports instead of holding them accountable.
Advice: Work for the long-term respect of your direct reports, not for their affection. View them as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is to produce predictable results. 
Temptation #3: Ensure that your decisions are correct.
Advice: Make clarity more important than accuracy...your people will learn more if you take decisive action than if you always wait for more info. It is your job (as CEO) to risk being wrong. 
Temptation #4: The desire for harmony.
Advice: Tolerate discord. 
Temptation #5: The desire for invulnerability.
Advice: Actively encourage your people to challenge your ideas...don't be afraid to be vulnerable and trust them with your career/reputation and ego.
It's temptation #3 that afflicts all superintendents in these times of high-stakes testing, where so much rides on the success of teachers who must do their very best to ensure high level performance. Unfortunately, this performance does NOT require using technology a la Bloom's Digital Taxonomy. "Technology isn't necessary in the classroom to achieve AYP."

Yet, superintendents face tremendous pressure to use technology IN SPITE OF the challenges. After all, superintendents meet as their own peer do they demonstrate that their districts are innovative to each other? 

At the risk of upsetting some, I suspect that many may be sprinkling technology into their schools simply so their districts can be seen as progressive or forward-thinking. Technology, as Jac de Haan points out, makes learning more relevant--but only if you use it in alignment with everything else you need to do AND connect folks.

Are superintendents willing to be "iNCORRECT" when it comes to iPads and their use in schools? At $21,000 per classroom investment, the answer better be "Yes." One can only hope they're asking the right questions rather than responding to peer pressure.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Tim Holt said…
What is the "cost per classroom" in textbooks?
Anonymous said…
Hmm...for elementary or secondary? Need to clarify that response (good question!). Whatever it is, we're paying extra.

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