First Thing We Do, Let’s Rethink All the iPad Initiatives

by Gary Hartstein
for the DigitalJLearning Network

A new school year is upon us and with it the excitement of new ways to learn new things. And, a new school year often brings new initiatives and programs – some are school-wide, while others are subject or grade level-specific. Sometimes they’re new things we decide to try ourselves! With this in mind, I’d like to share a conversation that I hope you never hear in your school – and with good reason, as I’ll explain in a minute.

Boy w/iPad

English Teacher: “I have a friend who teaches math at another school. She just told me about this amazing package of math texts and manipulatives she is using. Not only are students’ scores rising, but their engagement is off the charts!”

Administrator: “Hmmm. That sounds interesting. Why do you mention this?”

English Teacher: “Well isn’t it obvious? I want to get the same packages for my class! If my friend is having so much success with her math class, I’m sure it will work wonders in my English class!”

OK, you’re probably thinking that’s a silly example. No good teacher would even remotely consider buying math resources for an English class, even if they heard wonderful things about them. But many of those same teachers – and administrators – will dive head-first into the iPool without first making sure the waters are swimmable and that it is really where they need to be.

Let me give you an example of a real conversation I’ve had many times over the last two years:

Caller: “Hi, I’m the principal at XXX School and was referred to you. I’m hoping you can help me with something.”

Me: “Sure, how can I help?”

Caller: “We just bought 60 new iPads for our middle school. Do you have any suggestions for things we can do with them? Maybe some applications that would be helpful? Maybe some lesson plans or some other kinds of resources that will help us get the most out of them?

Me: “Um, well, let me ask you something. Did you just order them or have they arrived already?”

Caller: “They just arrived today! We’re very excited.”

Me: “OK. I have one last question for you: Is it too late to send them back for a full refund?”

Caller: “…um, what do you mean? Are you joking?”

I know that may sound a bit harsh; it’s not meant to be. Rather, it’s meant to draw the caller’s attention to the big missing piece. How many other major purchases do schools make without first having a clear idea of how they will be used? And more importantly, without knowing what goals they help the school achieve?

In practical terms, this simply means that many schools are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to buying devices. It’s easy to get mesmerized by the hype and “shininess” of what is arguably the most popular tablet on the market. It’s easy to start by thinking about what apps would be great for your students; in fact, it’s a rather natural way for many people to approach buying such a device. Add in all the money Apple spends on marketing and the sheer ubiquity of the iPad everywhere you look, and the iPool begins to look more and more like a shimmering and inviting body of water – at least on the surface.

But if we dive deeper, past that surface, with our eyes open, we might see that while a wonderful invention and handy tool for many reasons, the iPad may not necessarily be the right choice for a classroom or school-wide deployment. It may well be right, but you certainly don’t know that when the iPads are purchased simply because you want iPads at your school. Let me say that again, a little differently for clarity: If you base your iPad purchase on any of the reasons below, you won’t find out if you’ve picked the right tool until it’s most likely too late.

Reasons NOT to Justify a Major iPad Purchase

  • iPads are really cool! So we bought them for our school.
  • We’ve heard that they have many great apps that students can use to learn.
  • We know that people are using them successfully for education.

Just like you wouldn’t blindly buy a math resource to solve an English class issue, it’s important that when buying devices – or any resources for that matter – the educational reasoning is clear and the purposeful use of those devices clearly supports that reasoning.

Kill iPad Blog Image

If you haven’t seriously worked through steps 1-4 in the picture above, you are not ready to choose a device, let alone settle on iPads. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting a good deal. It doesn’t matter if they come pre-loaded with really cool apps. If you decide to get them before you know what you’re going to do with them, I can guarantee one thing: Your iPad initiative will fall short of expectations and give your teachers, parents and students one more thing to complain about not working properly.

With thoughtful planning and focus on academics first, you’ll make a decision that truly reflects the needs of your students and teachers. This also gives you the best chances of establishing a foundation from which you can successfully grow your implementation in the most meaningful way.

Remember, it has almost nothing to do with technology!

cross-posted at DigitalJLearning Network