Not long ago, several of us attended an Apple Camp intended to push our thinking in regard to classroom iPad use. The facilitator quickly got us started with some of the basic navigation techniques, and then led us through an exercise where we built our own textbooks using an assorted of pre-loaded "widgets" and content. Frankly, it was mesmerizing, and your mind does start to wheel with all the possible ways you could use this equipment to engage students.
In the following weeks, and in anticipation of our school receiving $25,000 worth of technology from Staples Canada for winning their environmental contest, we have been discussing what we should do next to take our tech profile to the next level and best prepare our school for the next stages of the BC Education Plan. We now have current Mac and PC labs, four Smartboards (probably not used to their potential) and several small computer stations around the building. Upgrading our underpowered library machines is a must as they are needed for both research and content generation and the labs are not always available or convenient for student use. We would also like more projectors and document cameras, as these are well used in our school and they are definitely pushing practice and learning forward. The wireless with the student partition and our new BYOD program seem to be working. Whether or not to jump into the iPad phenomenon now seems to be the salient question.
The teachers that attended the Apple session with me wanted more practice time with the iPads so I did go to the store and threw my own credit card down, bought several units, and have started a mini lending library to augment the single unit we bought last spring. A new laptop is also on the way with the Lion OS, which will synch all the machines using a school account to download applications. We will be compiling a list of apps that we want to try and the intention is to put these new pre-loaded iPad2s in the hands of interested teachers when they go out the door this summer. How many units we get in the building depends on teacher interest and the will of the newly formed tech committee.
Here is the exciting part:
The conversations about practice have started to ramp up again with the prospect of these devices being available. Teachers are starting to talk about their favorite science and math apps and how to integrate them into their classroom. PE teachers are talking about using the video ability to film skills and then sit and offer immediate feedback side-by-side with students (and then players on sports teams) and show the exemplars up on the big tv in regular speed and slow motion, maybe even with John Madden-like telestration. The English and drama classes can use them to film and edit scenes and easily share content using Apple TV, and socials classes can start to use them to build and share their Historical Fair projects instead of or in addition to the usual posters and kiosks and laptop displays. The ability to dive into project-based learning is huge, of course. Maybe we can run that Film Making class and use them there? We are already using the iPad in the LA room quite often and the potential there for literacy support is also really impressive. Talking about learning is the favorite part of my job, and the buzz this opportunity is creating is really positive. Sounds fantastic, right?
Here are my concerns:
The iPad1 doesn't have a camera and it won't mirror to Apple TV so you need the iPad2 at the very least. These are about $400 per unit right now, and if you buy a set of 30 that is $12,000. Add in three or 4 MacBook Airs to synch the tablets, another projector, Apple TV, and the required taxes, and you are heading towards the $20,000 mark pretty darn quickly. The lifespan on any electronic equipment is finite, so you might expect to start replacing the set in 4-5 years, not to mention any accidental damage, assorted glitches, and theft. I expect schools that use these in a 1:1 format or via mobile labs must enact a complex series of practices to mitigate against these concerns. Further to all of this, when I was picking up our iPad2s at the store, the manager was busily trying to upsell me to the newly released iPad3, which with the extra pre-loaded memory was close to $600 w taxes. "You don't want the extra memory?" she asked, curious that I would not want the very best item they offered for my school. "Uh, most people are still at this stage," I said, making the little scrunchy gesture suggesting the “five-finger” navigation move. The concept of the "tech treadmill" can be a little un-nerving, as you are caught in a dilemma between making a purchase today and missing out on the next exciting upgrade that comes out tomorrow, or conversely, overspending now knowing that within mere months the price will drop as the next latest items come out! Aarrgh.
It is very important to remember that Apple is a business first and foremost, and as much as some individuals in the organization may be truly excited about learning, their motivation is primarily mercantile. Our school system has a lot of needs to meet and we must always be thoughtful about how we spend our limited resources. My own interest is not just in engaging students in a medium that works for them, but also in finding ways to move their learning deeper. Collecting content into a digital textbook might be fun and easy, but unless they are moving through Bloom's Taxonomy while interacting with the material and actually pushing their own thinking and understanding forward, I have to question the cost and the value. Also, my role as principal is to make sure the conversations about instruction keep moving forward, that we are heading in a direction that will meet the expectations of the new BC Education Plan, and that we are getting the most learning per dollar spent. On an individual note, this recent endeavour will be a nice warm-up for a new position I've accepted in another district where we will be grappling with the very same issues, albeit on a much larger scale.
At this point I believe the quality of the Apple programs and ubiquity of the entire product line makes the iPad extremely relevant to our learners, and if we don't at least dip our toe in these waters, build our own skill sets, and start to provide these opportunities for our kids even on a limited level, we are doing them somewhat of a disservice. Whether we want to dive in fully or not after testing the temperature still remains to be seen.
Further opinions on iPad use and other ways to meet students' tech needs: