By Dan Koch

“That’s a great tool, but how do I stop my students from getting off task with it?”

I hear this question in my sleep. Let’s put this in context for a second.

About a week ago, I was going over the release notes for the Classroom app by Apple. Apple had just recently released the 2.0 version of the app, which allows users who install it on their iPad to manually set up their classes and add students to them to better monitor and manage the student iPads in their classrooms. Previously, this app required an MDM (Mobile Device Management) system that remotely managed fleets of iPads, and didn’t function without an on-site technology support person to set it up for you. I was thrilled! This is what a lot of teachers had been asking for.


For those unfamiliar, the Apple Classroom app (not to be confused with Google Classroom, which is a full fledged learning management system) doesn’t allow teachers to post or collect digital assignments, quiz students, or grade them. Instead, it allows teachers to monitor and manage student iPads in their classroom. Some of the features included are the ability to lock student screens (for those “all eyes on me” moments), mute all student iPads in the room, and navigate all iPads to a specific app, iBook or website.

I couldn’t wait to get this in the hands of teachers. New teachers would love this and it would quell some apprehension if they had never taught in a 1:1 environment before. I had demoed the original version of this app in the beginning of the school year to a few interested schools, and generally, the vibe was good. Teachers were happy to have some level of control over the devices in their classroom, and the app had a lot of potential to make teacher’s lives easier (especially the ability to “push” out individual resources to each student simultaneously, and not require the students to browse to the resource on an LMS). It felt organic and like the devices were “supposed” to work this way. I was on board. And now, with the ability to set up classes manually, teachers could get up and running in seconds.


Now, lets revisit my original first line of this blog post:

“That’s a great tool, but how do I stop my students from ______________ with it?” I left the “getting off task” part of this sentence out this time, because honestly, you can fill it with anything. This question isn’t specific to this application; it’s something I hear quite often when modeling lessons involving a technology tool, app, or device. I believe an adequate translation of this question is as follows:

“I know for a fact that my students won’t listen to me, so how do I force them to?”

Obviously, this isn’t true in all cases. I share some of the real concerns teachers have about students accessing things that are inappropriate on their device and navigating away from the assigned “task” during class time. It’s annoying, but kids do this when they are bored. We do it at staff meetings when we are bored. I wonder what would happen if administrators could brick all teachers’ phones during staff meetings? Would it cause some adversarial relationships with administrators and staff?

If we treat technology as something we need to obsessively control, this is communicated to our students in some way. It’s especially troubling to students if we GIVE them a device in the beginning of the school year, and then do everything in our power to take every sense of ownership of that device (and the stuff they create on it) away from them. This is when you start to hear things like, “I hate the iPads” from students. If you had a device that you were supposed to create, study, and rely on for your schoolwork, but it had a filter that blocked half of the web and your school treated you like a criminal before you even did anything wrong, wouldn’t you hate them too?

In the classroom, respect goes both ways. If we begin the school year essentially telling students that we KNOW they will screw up and we can’t wait until they do to take privileges away from them, we’ve effectively established a culture in our classroom. And the culture is “I don’t trust you.” Instead, let’s have an open discussion with our students and staff about our expectations, show them the control we have, and express to them that we don’t ever desire to have that level of control over them. Your students will always be your biggest stakeholders. Are we helping to unleash their creativity, or stopping them in their tracks?