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Before going nuts with the iPads . . .

I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to watch, from start to finish, a new house construction. It was an incredible learning experience. One of the coolest things I walked away with?

Always use the right tool for the job.

I was raised on the concept that a roll of duct tape, some bailing wire, big hammer and a good pair of pliers is pretty much all you need. It was an eye-opener for me to watch these construction guys pull out some incredibly specialized tool, get the job done in seconds and move on to the next thing.

My takeaway for today? We need way less duct tape in education.

It seems as if we as educators believe that we can do everything with only a couple of tools rather than carrying around a really big tool kit. It also seems that those “couple of tools” that we carry around tend to be whatever’s the latest craze. We get sucked into believing that textbooks will solve all of our problems or that, no, we should be using just online materials. Lecture, no lecture. PBL. Primary sources. Multi-age classrooms. Same-sex classrooms. Web 2.0. Social media.

The answer really is . . . all of the above. There are times when each of these concepts is the appropriate tool to use.

This brings me to iPads and other mobile devices. I admit – I love shiny things. And I love my iPad. But we need to be careful that, before rushing into this brave new world of mobile devices, we ask yourselves a few questions.

And I’m very impressed with the list of questions that Howard Chan has put together. Howard works as Director of Technology for a K12 public charter consortium in San Diego, California and, while he’s also an advocate for mobile devices, he wants people to think critically before going too nuts about 1-to-1 iPads implementation.

With minimal edits, I’ve pasted his list below to “serve as a guideline to planning out iPad/iPod/tablet/mobile device deployments.”

Academic questions:

  • How do the iPods and iPads align with your curriculum?
  • How much professional development in their use will be available? Who is responsible for PD?
  • How do we hold teachers accountable for using the devices?
  • Are there planning/collaboration times to share best-practices?
  • How will you assess the effectiveness of using the mobile devices?
  • Are there data and assessment tools built into the iOS to gather quality data of student achievement?
  • Is there a curriculum vision for the iPods and iPads? Does it align with the school’s mission?
  • How will parents/community be involved if students are bringing the devices home?
  • Are the educational apps available enough to support your curriculum?
  • Are there enough content creation tools to replace the traditional computer desktop/laptop?
  • How do you assess the educational value of purchasing iPods/iPads? versus Total Cost of Ownership?

Technical issues:

  • Do you have enough wireless bandwidth to sustain dense populations of mobile devices?
  • Do you have a big enough Internet pipe to sustain the network traffic?
  • Will you create a separate wireless network for mobile devices with different policies?
  • What authentication policies are in place to access the wireless network?
  • How do you plan to filter browsing on these devices?
  • Will you allow teachers or students to install apps on the devices? Or will it be centrally managed?
  • Will you allow teachers or students to configure settings on the devices? Or will it also be centrally managed?
  • Do you plan to be part of the Apple Store Volume Purchasing Program?
  • Will your IT staff be trained on how to support mobile devices?
  • Will you allow students to take the devices home?
  • What AUP will you have on mobile devices?
  • Will you allow personal mobile devices on campus?
  • Does Flash incapability hinder any present network considerations?
  • Will the ability to NOT print be an issue?
  • Do you go 1:1 or shared mobile cart?
  • What mobile cart solution will you have? Where will it be stored? Check out system?

The iPad is a great tool and one that I think we need to use more. But like any tool, let’s be careful to use them as needed – not just because they’re shiny.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. I agree that the iPad is a great tool but like anything needs to be used in a thoughtful manner.

    One thing I’d like to add to the list is the importance of creating appropriate lesson plans for the iPad. This is covered in part though professional development but worth more discussion:

    On the one hand, the iPad is fantastic because it allows students to interact and engage with academic content on the go in ways they haven’t before (see Inkling). On the other hand, lessons need to be designed and student habits encourage that guide students to stay on task and not get too distracted. Sure, some exploration is great but students’ attention can easily get diffused via the iPad.

    An interesting pedagogical challenge for teachers.

    February 15, 2011
  2. I spent my first career in the building industry. The right tool for the right job was my mantra. It saves time, money, and gets the job done right. The cost was almost always worth the benefit, however often the best tool was something very standard wielded with expertise or a lot of elbow grease.

    Now, at age 55 I have entered my second career as a teacher, something I long wanted to do. I find the same strategy to be true in education. I am assembling a large “tool box” that is collection of current innovations and a lot of conventional tools that have sat unused by educators over the years.

    Although there are always exceptions, typically I see older teachers comfortable only with relics of the past, unwilling to try new things. Middle age teachers are married to a single innovation they picked up at the start of their careers. Younger teachers find the great savior in every passing fad.

    I couldn’t agree more about the need for a large bag of tools. I see way too much duct tape and far too many shade tree mechanics in the schools.

    February 16, 2011
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the comment and welcome to the profession! I love your shade tree mechanic analogy. My dad was the ultimate shade tree mechanic but more along the lines of what you described in your first paragraph – “wielded with expertise or a lot of elbow grease.”

      But teachers can get too comfortable with their own small set of tools – for me, the bigger the better.

      Good luck as you continue your second career!


      February 16, 2011

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