By Dan Koch – @danvkoch

The year is 2012. Citrus Springs Middle School, in Citrus County School District, is one of the only schools in the state of Florida to be moving forward with a 1:1 device program for, at that time, one grade level (7th). Before being awarded the funds to purchase devices, the school laid out a plan for implementation with numerous monthly goals in place, which consisted of a teacher timeline that would slowly immerse students and teachers alike to any new technology that would be in their hands the coming school year. In short, the implementation guide was extremely lesson-driven (April and May, the end of the previous school year,  would see teachers training with devices and exploring ways in which to use them with their specific content areas and colleagues, while August through the end of the subsequent year would see the timeline encourage teachers to attempt digital interactives using the 1:1 devices in the classroom at least once a week, gradually moving towards a “paperless” model by the end of the year).

None of this was mandated by administration. The timeline, which was treated more as a “guide,” was never a “gotcha” document to trap teachers into being caught not using technology in the classroom and hence, not utilizing the money spent on the devices.

After some product demos by Lenovo, Microsoft, and Apple, the district and school eventually decided on Apple’s iPad – a device with a rich background in the Liberal Arts, creativity, and, at the time, one of the only mainstream tablets on the market with a rich App store and device capabilities other tablets did not have (or were in their infancy). Citrus Springs Middle, like many other schools, had (and still have) mobile COWs (Computers On Wheels) carts full of laptops – which are still useful (if not a bit antiquated in terms of what our students are now expected to be able to do when they enter high school, college, or the job market). They can use them to type up essays. They have WiFi. They have Flash capabilities and iPads don’t (Steve Jobs addressed this in his “Thoughts On Flash” piece in 2010 here). [http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/]

 

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I think it’s at this point in my writing where I can sense some readers beginning to take sides–whether it be in House  Lannister or Stark Apple or House “Every Other Thing is Better than Apple.” In fact, I’ve heard this debate (which has evolved into a full fledged tech battle with warring Houses from all sides) over and over again–whether it be from tech bloggers, people who attend technology conferences and expos, and, most interestingly, teachers.

Fast forward to 2016. The pilot year of 1:1 iPads in the 7th grade at Citrus Springs Middle School has expanded to the entire Citrus County School District moving forward with a plan to distribute iPads to all of our elementary, middle, and high school students and teachers. There are also countless other companies with competing tablet computers on the market with varying price points when compared to the iPad, ranging from competitive to “way cheaper.”

The drums of the Device of Thrones war are loud, and heard for miles in every direction.

Full disclosure: I am an Apple Distinguished Educator [http://www.apple.com/education/apple-distinguished-educator/] (no, I don’t work for Apple; I applied for induction into this educator ambassador program in 2015. An excerpt from Apple’s Website describes ADEs as follows: “…ADEs advise Apple on integrating technology into learning environments — and share their expertise with other educators and policy makers. They author original content about their work. They advocate the use of Apple products that help engage students in new ways. And they are ambassadors of innovation, participating in and presenting at education events around the world.” My most recent professional development session for teachers? Using Google Apps for Education in the classroom.

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I mention this because I think it brings up the central catalyst for many of the debates that occur surrounding educational technology (and, I believe, the wrong one to be engaged in): One device to rule them all (thanks, Tolkien, for the subtlety). This is simply the wrong thing to be focusing on. Here are some paraphrased remarks I’ve heard enough times to recall them from memory:

“Students NEED Flash based components to access proprietary “digital textbook” material.”

“Students NEED a keyboard. They don’t like typing on glass. Here’s an article I found from 2011 that references some study someone conducted somewhere.”

“Students won’t NEED a tablet in high school. Tablets are just for making funny movies and doing pointless middle school work. In high school, they need a laptop for ACTUAL work.”

“Students will NEED to use a laptop or PC in the workplace and not a tablet.”

And, perhaps most damaging of all statements:

“Students NEED a laptop or PC because their exams will be on a computer.”

If you are basing your decision making on which device is best for your students solely on how it will transfer into a Computer Based Test grade, you are essentially telling students something very clear: “We only care about how you do on a test.”

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Notice the phrasing of all of the statements above. We are also doing something very damaging to students without realizing it: Telling them what device they need when we don’t even know what tomorrow’s technology landscape will look like. The fact is, regardless of how much we do to prepare our kids for their eventual futures, many jobs they take will require some onsite training of some proprietary technology system–one that they will need to figure out. I doubt many of them will be reflecting on their 11th grade essay writing experience on their school-issued Chromebook/laptop (or iPad) to complete this task. What we CAN do is realize that in our current societal and technological climate, there are multiple ways to consume, curate, and create content or information, and these avenues only grow exponentially as we continue to evolve into a more connected world. A car salesman may have all the selling savvy to talk a customer into a deal, but if they can’t use their dealer’s tablet VIN program, they won’t be making the sale. Restaurant owners use multiple devices in their establishments. Walt Disney World uses tablets to gauge their guests’ experiences, while more in depth feedback from guests is completed on a PC. If students can only have one device, and we are concerned with mobility and capability, the iPad can accomplish essentially anything a Chromebook or laptop can–while the reverse is not necessarily true.

Schools and teachers are tasked with so many duties. Teaching our students state-mandated standards. Feeding our kids every day. Making learning fun. Using technology in a relevant, meaningful way should not be inhibited by those not in the classroom squabbling over which device they like best. Instead, let’s empower our students and teachers, trust them to make the best decisions possible with the devices we’ve given them, and realize that the game changer will never be technology–it will be our teachers.

 

 

What do you think? Is there one device to rule them all in schools? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Dan Koch is the Citrus County Schools Title I Technology TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) and is part of the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2015. He is also the 2016 Lead PBS Digital Innovator for Florida.

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