Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Missing the Boat Once Again

This post could also be titled, "Does The Device Really Matter?" more on that later...

A recent tweet linking to this article really got me fired up today. Not because of the technology, but because of what I see as a vision for technology that has missed the boat.

I'm not going to get into the have-have not debate of private vs. public education. This is a purely unsolicited comment about the article. The school that has decided to pilot iPads in the classroom is Morristown Beard School. The headmaster should be praised for making a decision to try out the iPads, a new device that has turned heads wherever it goes. It was the "it device" at ISTE this year!

Where this article turns sour for me are the comments made about not choosing laptops which to Alex Curtis create a communication barrier...

"When the clamshell comes up, it's literally a barrier between the teacher and student,'' Curtis said. "That barrier does get in the way. You want eye contact.

Curtis loses me here with a flawed argument that laptops are a barrier to learning. I think it's 100 year old teaching/delivery methods that are barrier to learning!

A number of things come up when considering this quote. (These generalizations are in reference to Curtis and his mindset and perception of technology in education, and not the teachers at the school. It sure would be neat to talk to one of them after this announcement though!)

1. If the laptops are a barrier to eye contact, how are students learning? Does Mr. Curtis have visions of laptops creating walls between a teacher lecturing at the front while students furiously take notes from a Powerpoint presentation laden with paragraphs of text on each slide? IF this is the case he's missed the boat. I've personally ignored teachers lecturing by setting up my textbook in front of me. This is nothing new.

2. What is the physical environment of the classes in his school? Are they all in rows? Are they engaged in project based learning looking at "Big Questions"? It doesn't matter what the students are using, because if they aren't working and investigating together, then the iPad, laptop, netbook or desktop is a glorified paperweight.

3. How are teachers being supported in their own learning? Taking officials to Cupertino to see how the iPads can be used in the curriculum is one thing. The front line teachers using them is another thing. I just hope that some teachers got to go on that trip! If not, they've missed the boat.

Where are they on point? In the second half I am hopeful after reading about the geosciences teacher who comments that [the iPad is]:

"a new tool and when you change your mindset and see it as an extra resource, then it becomes exciting to think about how it opens up new avenues.''

In the end, it doesn't matter what the tool. We didn't go crazy when a student showed up to class with a pen or pencil, mechanical or wood did we? I'm hopeful that this school will perhaps give their students the option of a laptop, netbook or iPad in the future.

After year one of our own laptop project in my school I share the belief with many that the cost of devices and student saturation will soon mean that any device should be able to be brought into a school to be used as a learning tool. I understand that when initiative like this the new and exciting district officials and principals want to publicize them as cutting edge and innovative. Let's just make sure that they are reminded not to miss the boat with the intent of technology integration.

What are your takes on the article?

Image courtesy of motionblur on Flickr