February 13, 2014

Meaningful Integration: Optimistic About iPads in Schools

Categories: Edtech, Educational Practice
group of young students holding up ipads over their face with pictures of their face on screen

Late last year, my colleague Thomas Philip and I discussed why we were so troubled by the ways the Los Angeles Unified School District bumbled its way through adopting iPads for its students. And, as the second largest school district in the country continues to waffle in its plans for students, I’ve been excited about one district’s initiative to meaningfully integrate technology into the school lives of children.

Starting last week, the St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado began its “deployment” of iPad minis to students at two middle schools. What will eventually be a 1:1 plan for 6-12th graders by next academic year, I was struck by how the language of this plan sounded so different from the jargon-y rhetoric of LAUSD administrators. In the video below, I speak with the district’s Instructional Technology Coordinator Bud Hunt about the plan and what makes it different.

I want to emphasize that the ways we communicate and articulate the purpose of technology in schools is key. The different vocabulary that Hunt adopts for this plan signals a focus on students and their families in ways that never comes across in LAUSD’s messaging. For example:

A learning plan vs. a device program

I am particularly appreciative that Hunt corrects me at the beginning of the video when I refer to the district’s initiative as an “iPad plan.” By looking at the investment in iPads (and Chromebooks) as part of a larger learning plan, the district positions iPads as part of how change in schools takes place, not as the sole anchor for educational reform. Further, in discussing the plan, Hunt explains that the move to a 1:1 program for secondary students began by talking with teachers. The expertise of those who delineate what happens in classrooms and develop relationships with students helped decide and shape what educational technology can do within the district.

Deployment vs. pilot

Another key language shift I want to point out is that the two schools that received iPads last week are not pilot schools. Hunt explains that this is a committed pedagogical move on the district’s part. The idea of a deployment of iPads and that the students and their parents are not able to “opt out” of a program is fundamental: the technology integration — at least in how it is planned is not one where these are ancillary devices but rather tools fundamental to learning akin to textbooks, pens and paper.

More than an in-school initiative

Finally, one of the most exciting components of this program for me is the way that the iPads are innately connected to the lived experiences of children at home and with their families. Hunt explains that these should clearly be tools utilized and monitored by parents and siblings — if these devices can aid others in learning, all the better. The equity implications of distributing these devices to students and their families cannot be overstated. One tension that Thomas Philip and I have noticed in our research of mobile technology is that in-school mobile devices do not have the same social value in-homes as students’ own mobile phones. Hunt’s explanation of how the district expects these devices to be used could be a huge shift.

There still are significant questions and uncertainties ahead for the Saint Vrain Valley School District. I am excited to follow along in the coming months — Hunt and I hope for this video to be the first in a series of ongoing conversations. As a district that is interested in moving language away from “policies” around technology to “expectations and commitments” for students, parents, teachers, schools and the district, this is an exciting moment at looking at how instructional need comes first in the use of technology.

Banner image credit: Joe Duty