“I manage our iPads. I’ve never used an iPad.”

I was fortunate enough to appear on Fraser Spiers’ and Bradley Chamber’s highly informative podcast Out of School a few weeks back, and we had a conversation that left a terrible mark. Over the course of our time together, Fraser told the story below:
“A visitor came to our school this week…I asked her, ‘Where did you study?’, and she named one of the teacher training colleges in Scotland.
I said, “So how much ed tech training did you get in your four year degree? And she said, “None. None at all.”
The kicker?
“She is in fact being put in charge of her school’s iPad deployment.”
How are we letting this happen?
During a class I took recently, the professor assumed his position at the front of the room, clicked through some slides (which will become ironic in a few sentences), and pontificated. He decided to deliver an ed tech hot take:

“There has literally never been a study that shows technology helps students learn.” People say this and thing like it to me all the time, like they’ve located the secret weakness in all my evil plans.

Let’s parse this.

Firstly, what is “technology”? I’ll ape every terrible essay I’ve ever read and throw out the dictionary definition: “The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.” So every application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes in the education realm has failed, according to this professor. Sounds like a solid premise. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he means Smart Boards, laptops, iPads, doc cameras, etc.
Does he not understand that Smart Boards don’t teach? That iPads can’t design pedagogy? Does he realize how poorly he is articulating his baseless, pointless assertion? How can someone without even a basic understanding of the research make such a claim? Here’s the best part: he’s the one training the next generation of superintendents, principals, etc. He’s also clicking through slides using a portable projector connected to a laptop (running Windows, but it counts) displaying slides designed (sometime in the 90s) in Power Point. So he’s using tools that have not proven to be effective, which seems like a suspicious choice for an education professor.
I wrote a book that covered 50+ studies, the vast majority of which pointed to positive learning outcomes or improved student achievement in 1:1 and 1:2 instructional tech programs. As the old saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.
There are amazing teachers out there who will never pick up an iPad. There are students who will learn better when you lecture. This is proof of diversity, not an argument against technology. The dinosaurs training the next generation of education leaders need to understand this soon, because they are not helping students by preaching a me-me-me-centered theory of pedagogy development. And administrators need to stop thinking the Social Studies teacher who sets up people’s emails is equipped to become a technology director.

How free will you be?

A Berlin pedestrian traffic light

You should make sure your students see more green than red.

Once you’ve made the decision to put an iPad or laptop in the hands of every student. you face a pressing question: will your approach to internet access be laissez faire, or will you try a more proactively restrictive approach? Both have merit, so the responsible educator or administrator has several factors to consider. My point of view is simple: Don’t ask your students to climb a tree without branches.

The Facebook Connundrum
I’m using Facebook to represent any website or app to which you might want to restrict student access. And while it makes sense to limit distractions, I would argue that blocking websites that may have pedagogical value in a 1:1 computing environment is the equivalent of building a beautiful house and encasing it in glass. As counterintuitive as it might feel, providing students with more freedom rather than less has major benefits.

It’s quite simple to use your institution’s web filter to block all Facebook traffic, but this will only extend to devices on the school network. Students with cell phones (i.e. the vast majority) will still be able to access any sites or apps they choose, and the students who fastidiously observe the restrictions probably aren’t the ones your worried about. In other words, you might implement a restrictive Internet policy that only restricts those without the desire or inclination to violate the rules your institution has established. The same logic extends to Twitter, Tumblr, and other apps and social media sites. Any limitation placed on the student network will necessarily be a limitation placed on the teacher and his or her ability to utilize the technology in the classroom. I use Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Edmodo, and a host of other sites and services that would be closed off to me if our school went in a more restrictive direction. As it is, I have the freedom to use virtually any tool I choose in my classroom.

A laissez-faire approach to student usage does NOT mean providing unmoderated and unfettered access to the internet. Every school should use a trustworthy web filter and build in protections against prohibited websites. Those who advocate a more liberal approach to student access acknowledge that, while students will invariably browse the web or fire up a game of Angry Birds during class, that potential will not lead a school to limit the usage of apps, web browsers, cameras, etc. And while the potential for distraction is real, they aren’t much different than the distractions that have been present in classrooms for decades.

When I present this information in workshops, educators typically ask about keeping students off Facebook and preventing them from achieving total Fruit Ninja mastery. The answer is always the same: engage them. Whether you use a chalkboard, Smart Board, or tablet in your room, students will occassionally call out, behave in a disruptive manner, or simply disengage for a few minutes. But no device can prevent this, and no device can cause it. It all boils down to the quality of the classroom teacher. If they aren’t paying attention to you now because they have iPads, they probably never were.

Kill your library

Paper is simply not a long-term storage solution

Bye bye, school library.

Yesterday, I gave a presentation at EdmodoCon 2012, a global web education conference, about becoming a one-to-one computing classroom or school. It went pretty well until the Q&A, at which point someone asked me a question about funding these grand, expensive initiatives, and I was forced to go off script (always a mistake!). Judging by a few of the emails I got, I touched a nerve with my statement that we don’t need librarians anymore. If anything, this post doubles down on that assertion, but I want to explain why I feel this way, and how I think killing your library will help you go 1:1.

Let’s start by stating the obvious. Computers are to libraries what mp3s are to CDs. Your school simply won’t need a librarian or library for long after you hand out iPads, laptops, or netbooks, and the money you save can be pumped directly into your mobile computing deployment. I don’t want to see anyone out of a job, but I also don’t want schools with extremely limited resources to apportion them in a less than optimal way. So understand that I’m not anti-librarian; I’m just pro-2012. The skills and talents of librarians need to become part of the toolbox of every teacher. In essence, all educators are librarians now because we have to curate information and sources, and help students analyze and qualitatively assess data. And if we’re all librarians…

Getting started
Let’s assume your school is fortunate enough to have a full time librarian making between 30-50k a year. By eliminating that expenditure, you just bought between 75 and 100 iPads or (cheap) laptops. If you buy refurbished from the Apple store, you can get up to 125 iPads for 50k. That’s certainly the beginning of a deployment. And if you launch with a one grade or several-class pilot program, 125 should be enough to get the ball rolling. If it’s not, it’s time to take a look at the library and computer labs themselves.

There’s no need for a fully loaded computer lab in a K-12 one-to-one school. At the college level, students are working with specialty programs and processor-crunching applications that require standalone systems. But the majority of what K-12 students do can be done on an iPad for a fraction of the cost. In the event that there is some major computing task that does require heavy duty machinery, you might want to develop a relationship with a local college and use their lab on special field days, or outfit your school with a handful (ten to fifteen) of standalone PCs that allow more RAM-intensive programs to run without error.

The money
So let’s crunch some sample numbers: a typical PC monitor and tower lease will cost around a hundred bucks a machine for a term of three years. If you need a hundred machines, you’ve just dropped $80,000 for three years worth of PCs, and you’ve stuck them in a lab environment that by its nature limits the devices’ classroom applications.

You can lease iPads for somewhere between 400 and 500 bucks a machine, depending on vendor, length of relationship, etc. So let’s assume you need a hundred machines at five hundred dollars each. Good news: you just saved 30k. Celebrate by picking up 75 more refurbished iPad 2s with your extra money, and now you’ve got 200 iPads. Just like that. And you haven’t spent an additional penny.

The space
Now let’s look at the library itself. If you’re lucky enough to be in a school with an expansive physical library, I’m envious. Now start figuring out what you’re going to do with the space when the students are all carrying virtual libraries in their backpacks at all times. I spent my summer doing scholarly research on one-to-one deployments, and I stepped foot in a library exactly once (and I read over fifty studies and articles). There is little the physical library has to offer today’s student.

Maybe you rent it out, maybe you repurpose it, but whatever you do, STOP throwing money at an outdated, outmoded concept. Most schools spend hundreds to thousands of dollars maintaining a library. Divert that money to databases like JStor, LexisNexis, and Academic Search Premier and you will simultaneously cut the cost and raised the quality of your school’s library, whether it be a mix of virtual and physical or is exclusively virtual.

Reshaping education will not be without casualties. The key is adaptation; sometimes, our skills age poorly (I can still write raw HTML with the best of them, but I stopped keeping up around 1997…I know of what I speak) and we have to choose a new muscle to develop.

I think we can learn a lot from librarians, but unfortunately most schools and districts can’t afford to have it all. Supporting a full library, librarian, and mobile devices for every student probably isn’t feasible for the majority of public and private schools in the States. And if something has to give at this point, it can’t be the technology.