Friday, January 11, 2013

Going 1:1? How Would You Respond To Comments Like This?

Also posted on the Connected Principals Blog:

I had the opportunity to appear on National Public Radio’s Here and Now Program last week along with one of our students to talk about our 1:1 iPad program here in Burlington at our high school. The segment was titled Educator Answers Your Questions On iPads In The Classroom While the interview went well, I really enjoyed reading the comments from listeners who choose to enter their feedback.  Our first appearance last March resulted in 122 comments and while this year’s appearance prompted a bit less feedback, I think it is important for people who pursue these types of initiatives to be ready to respond to comments like the one below.
For about three thousand years or more all that was needed  for learning and writing was some sort of pencil. Plato never wrote his master piece The Republic on an iPAD. Leonardo Di Vinci never used and iPAD. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa did not use an iPAD to write his Sicilian masterpiece The Leopard and Hemingway never wrote A Farewell To Arms with on a iPAD. Pencil and paper are a thousand times cheaper, yet we continue to spend my tax money on iPADs which don’t seem to improve learning, or on car race tracks as part of the Fiscal Mythical Myth phony deal which produced a modicum for revenue to pay down deficits. Apparently if a young person at school does not have access to an iPAD he or she can’t learn! The simple process of using pencil and paper is good for students. This simple process exercises and induces the brain growth plus coordination of other areas of a young persons developing body including learning how to write. So what does a young person really for a quality foundation to learn? He or she needs a grownup at home to help them with their after school home work. To many households in America have two people working and are to tired to help their children with their homework. Really, this is just a slick promotion for selling Apple products (which are quit good) which in turn make money for investors and does not guarantee success in the class room.
While there are a number of predictable questions that you will need to answer in regards to WHY you support such a financially significant initiative, the one above is one that is common from taxpayers who don’t want to spend the money necessary to put modern resources in the hands of teachers and students.   I know I did not respond to all of the arguments that were made and I am not even saying that my comments were “the right answer.”  The point is that schools and/or individuals entering into this type of an endeavor need to be prepared to provide a response that they are comfortable with. Of course, the best part is that we have a growing number of schools creating concrete evidence of what can happen when these initiatives are implemented thoughtfully.
As I conclude with my response below, I am wondering how others would respond to this type of comment?
I agree with some of what you say, but the point is that none of the creators of classic work that you mentioned had the opportunity to use technology like an iPad.  While I have no problem with pencil and paper or someone who prefers to get a task done with those tools, I think we have to face the fact that the world has changed and that the jobs that our students will be working in will probably not be employing paper and pencils. Learning happens and it happens in many more ways than what you and I were programmed to think in our traditional experiences.
 Having said this, I think that the role of public education is to prepare students for the real world. The fact of the matter is that the people outside of our schools, in the real world, are using these tools more and more. My doctor walks into the exam room with an iPad in his hand and the pilot who flew the last plane I traveled on also utilized an iPad in lieu of his old flight manual. 
Whether we like it or not, I think that the our students need experiences utilizing modern resources like tablets or whatever comes next. While I do not think technology can be used to do everything (i.e. DaVinci’s masterpieces), I am pretty sure these great minds woud have taken advantage of modern technology. In fact, I am thinking that Plato would have been much happier with a pencil that had an eraser instead of something along the lines of a metal stylus that was probably in his hands at the time.  
 In regards to the change that has occurred with families in our world today, I do not think we can blame technology for that. My belief is that we can utilize some of the technologies we have available to keep families connected in a time when so many more factors keep them apart. While nothing can replace the physical presence of a family member or loved one, we need to be thankful that we have ways to stay connected when we can’t all be together in the same place.
That reminds me, I need to facetime my son to see how his day went at school today. It’s so much better than a text or phone call. I am thinking Alexander Graham Bell would approve?!


  1. Patrick, you write and think with clarity and vision and I enjoy your blog. As the Principal of a school with 1:1 computing, I love answering these queries and comments, too.

    1) The first thing behind this question is fear of change. The ironic thing is that people who claim schools and instruction don't need to change with technology don't really dislike technology. They are just attached to a particular vision of school... that includes a particular version of technology. Paper books and pencils are technology, too. One of the monks who used to copy religious texts by hand, pre-Gutenberg, probably griped about "kids these days" and how they were going to lose the art of illuminating and translating a text by merely sharing tomes freely among themselves.

    Also, I guess adding to a community conversation via blog is good enough for this writer, but not good enough for children in our schools. Why not?

    2) Another element in this comment is what I call 'tax patriotism,' in which one holds schools partially responsible for the fiscal condition of our government and economy, and thus wants to punish them by starving them of operating funds. When I hear this, I say: "Yes, schools sometimes waste money -- you're right. At my school, we're working on NOT doing that, and here are some examples how we're doing it." Of course, this person's preferred version of a school, with no technology, is supposedly superior to one that furnishes an I-Pad for every student. All the companies that are the economic engines of our economy provide technology for their knowledge workers and many of their manual laborers. The writer needs to research the economic principal of 'opportunity cost.' I would recommend starting with wikipedia!

    3)Finally, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to a point regarding the function of the brain and the impact of writing with a pencil. The world of brain research has exploded in the last 40 years, and we know things now that we didn't know a short time ago. We absolutely SHOULD read and digest the research that indicates which learning processes are superior to others. I've read a bit of it, and I'm always reading more -- and it is one of the things that convinces me 1:1 computing is a great idea for learning.

    1. Wes,

      Thanks so much for sharing your points here, I could not agree more. One thing that I find interesting is that schools are not questioned about some expenditures that they make annually (i.e. textbooks). Additionally, no one asks for evidence for us to prove that these large purchases improve student learning.

      In regards to the research, I also enjoy seeing brain research and other studies that show that we are doing is supported. But regardless of the research, I think the thing I like the most is that there are more options for learners to choose their "learning pathway." I hope that we do are job guiding learners and allowing them to make choices as to which resources help them most. It is important that we have benchmarks for students to meet, but I love the fact that there are so many ways for show that they have achieved these benchmarks.

      The bottom line - There is not one right answer here. The important thing is that we have a clear plan and rational thought process for choosing to do what we do. In addition, once we make our final choice we have to be constantly reassessing or decision and revising our plans to ensure that they are still relevant.

  2. I would add to that the sliding scale that defines what constitutes technology. A former teacher used to open his tech talks with a reference to a New York Times article that laments a new technology that will ruin learning and make lazy an entire generation of students by spoon feeding them information that they would otherwise have to learn on their own. The technology? The chalk board. The article was from the 19th-century. (And I regret to say that, despite looking, I've not been able to find it.) Every new technology will be decried in some fashion. While that is certainly people's right, it does not detract from the technology itself nor people's interest in using it.


    1. Thanks for your comment Ed. I love that story and hope you will share the link if you find it. I agree with you that we need to be respectful of people who make choices different than the ones that we would make, but it's hard to make an argument that technology should be ignored.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. It is hard to make the argument that technology should be ignored. Culture changes everyday, and after a year the way children think changes too. The way they learn changes, the way they interact changes. Teachers much change accommodate those changes and it is vitally important that we change as well.

      "The ability to survive is the ability to adapt" -Charles Darwin

  3. Your response is so powerful and wonderful, Patrick. I think about the frustration, pain and suffering students with "print disabilities" experienced in schools prior to the advent of the computer. Those students, hungry for learning, were left behind in many ways during the days I was a student. Further, recently a relative's life was saved due to the quick processing and communication capabilities of technology--during Plato's time, this child would not have survived. I'm grateful for the advances, and so happy that we're able to implement the tools and training to give students apt experiences and skill prior to entering the working world. I'm sure the training provided in my school system, your's and others with technology will serve to give our students a head start when it comes to getting jobs, entrance to college and living a good life. Thanks for all you do to advance education.

  4. Thanks for the kind words Maureen! I have benefited greatly by the willingness of others to share their stories in regards to technology integration in schools. It is so nice to be able to see best practices from so many talented educators!

  5. You know that circa 1900 radio was supposed to revolutionize education and circa 1950 it was TV. Neither really materialized. Why now with computers and IPads? We did not have to teach our kids to use the telephone or the TV in school so, why do we need to teach them use a computer or Ipad now, in school? We rely way too much on technology. First responders in New Orleans immediately after Katrina tried using cell phones. They did not work. I guess the cell towers were down. Plato may have used the Ipad if it was available but it does not mean that kids should use them in schools. Your logic escapes me. It is non-sequitur. Back when I went to school a calculator was taboo as it should be. Yet people of your ilk would have a computer or Ipad in every kids' hands. Following your logic then we should have be taught with phones and TVs all the way through school.


    1. I think the point is that there is a time and place to access different resources. I am not sure what is meant by "my ilk," but I think that your point is well made in regards to situations where technology is not available. We need to teach students how to think because there is no technological device that can do that for you. Despite, the fact that students have iPads and other technologies in our schools, we do focus on higher level critical thinking skills.

      I think the difference between the TV and the computer is that the TV is a device that allows only one-way communication while the computer (tablet or other form) allows people to communicate, collaborate, and learn anywhere anytime.

      Sorry we are on opposite ends of the spectrum on this and that you seem so bitter about the integration of technology in schools.

  6. Your response weaves bullet point accuracy with traces of humor and fact. Well done. While an argument can be made that students have been taught, trained, and entered the "real world" with only pencil and paper successfully for years, I see it as an apples to oranges equation.

    A) It is not the same world that it was "then". Whether people like it or realize it, competition from other nations is fierce. The same people who note how poorly the U.S. scores on the TIMSS test seem to forget that we were not competing with Singapore 50 years ago. It is a different, more competitive world.

    B) Technology improves and makes the modern world safer and more efficient. My mechanic, dental hygienist, and grocery store manager are all high tech jobs. I would consider them grossly unprepared for their respective careers if they did not have a working, practical knowledge of diagnostic computers, had the ability to read and share x-rays, or could not track and restock their store. Add on police and fire protection using laptops and GPS. Consider the farmer who tracks weather, the bank teller who can transfer funds. The list is endless. We're not preparing all kids for IT jobs, we're preparing them to compete for a world that embraces and relies on technology in all areas.

    As a teacher beginning a 1:1 this year, I feel well prepared and almost eager to have these conversations. Pencil and paper are valuable tools, but they are no longer the only ones required for the world awaiting our students.

    1. Patrick, thanks for bringing the issue to us to consider. No matter how we see it, it is a discussion that is important to have. It does mean we have quite a responsibility to use the tools we have well. On a Classroom 2.0 Live webinar today, there was a discussion of the technology needing to be transformative, not just a substitute for paper/pencils/books, etc. or just an electronic version of the same curriculum. That brings us to the pedagogical approach of each teacher. If they just place their old methodology on top of the technology, nothing much different will occur. BUT...if they see their method of how students will interact with them and course material differently, the technology can be a tool both the teacher and student can enjoy and in the process they can become more creative, collaborative, and communicative.

    2. Thanks Glenn! Well said! I worry about educators seeing only the way to substitute the technology to help them do the same things they were doing without technology. For instance, I worry about apps being substituted for worksheets. I agree that we need to transform our classrooms and not just look to do the same things we were doing before we put the technology in our classrooms.

    3. Hey Ben,

      Thanks for the comments! I think it is important that we allow students the access to all of the tools at their disposal and support their decision-making as they choose the appropriate tool for the task at hand.

      Good luck in your efforts!