I don’t usually jump at this stuff when it’s posted online, but this one I just couldn’t let pass by.

This morning a link to this article was posted on twitter. A district rolling out 25 000 ipads this fall to students and staff. I’m interested. Sounds like a major initiative. My first questions are about training, sustainability and the inevitable “what are you going to do 4 years from now when all of those machines are outdated,” but that’s not what really caught me. I’ve got questions.

The very first piece of the article (which is a set of questions and answers):

ipads

Margo Pierce: Given the popular notion that technology is only for play, how and why did you decide to so thoroughly incorporate technology into the educational process?”

Since when is it a popular notion that technology is only for play? Why would an interviewer ask this? Does this interviewer not understand what technology makes possible? I’m troubled.

Unfortunately, I find the beginning of the answer to this question just as poor:

“Pat Karr Jr.: Students today are digital natives…….”

Really? Have we not moved past the digital natives argument? Is there not a better justification for spending the enormous number of budget dollars needed for 25 000 ipads?

The answer to this same first question continues:

“This is our business–our students are our product, similar to any other business.”

I thought we were past this as well….. “our students are our product” First of all, students aren’t a product. They are humans. They are not manufactured, standardized or produced. They are individuals who need a learning space that is customized and fit to their needs. Second, while all enterprises have some similarities, education is not like “any other business.” Our first concern is the people in our classrooms, their families and their lives. We are about people first and their relationship with, and knowledge of, the world around them. We are not about profit margins. We are already too often, too much about numbers. This kind of rhetoric needs to disappear.

The next one I run upon is more of a question, and it may come from inaccurate wording. The quote from the article is:

“Website filtering is performed through a Cisco AnyConnect client, so students are not allowed to visit unauthorized websites.”

I’m troubled by the last part of that. To me, it sounds like students will only be able to visit white listed websites. Is that true? Are they closing off the entire web except for certain places?

“Further, we enable blacklisting to ensure students and teachers do not install unauthorized applications that do not contribute to the educational process (for example, Angry Birds).”

I would love to see a definition of “unauthorized applications that do not contribute to the educational process.” People can learn something new from almost any material they access or experience they take part in. While certainly there are apps that we could probably agree on as being fairly close to useless, this is a slippery slope to be on. Who decides what gets approved? Can I get around that process as a teacher if there is something that the kids (or even one single kid) in my classroom would benefit from?

At this point, these machines and their connectivity are starting to sound pretty locked down to me.

 Pierce: You have data showing that productivity has increased 300 percent during non-school hours. How are you measuring productivity?

Karr: We measure non-school-hours productivity by the amount of bandwidth being utilized by the device during those hours. We have seen bandwidth on our servers increase by 300 percent during non-school hours. We are absolutely seeing more productivity and engagement during school hours through bandwidth usage, as well.

How do productivity and engagement fit together here? Is the amount of bandwidth being used a measure of engagement? While certainly this might be one clue about what is going on, there needs to be a larger picture looked at. For example, if students are doing writing assignments now digitally and before they used to do them on paper, they are obviously using bandwidth which they didn’t in the past. But this isn’t a measure of increased productivity. It’s a simple change from a paper based activity to something that now needs bandwidth. Have the assignments changed to reflect the change in technology? Are kids now required to do different things than in the past? These are important questions.

The article closes with Mr. Karr making a statement about technology:

“Our children need access to resources that they feel most comfortable with so that they can excel. If we don’t create, implement, maintain, and sustain a functional, easy-to-use, and manageable environment, we will be depriving them of their greatest tools: creativity and resourcefulness.”

I absolutely agree with this. I’ve got a magazine article coming out this fall that pushes down this same path. Technology is great, lets make sure that our kids are using it to be creative and see all of the possibilities it can bring to learning. But I wonder how this fits in to the rest of this article. I’m not seeing a space that emphasizes “creativity and resourcefulness,” but instead one that focuses on the “manageable environment.” I don’t see anything in this article that emphasizes a vision for learning. There is nothing here about professional learning, possible assignments and projects, communities for teachers needing to learn how to best use these expensive tools in their classrooms. I hope that is part of the plan that is being put in place.

I get it. I really do. This is a huge rollout. A massive investment. It is important to do it well and correctly. But to me this seems to be either an article does this project injustice or is a planned rollout that is thinking about how we did things five years ago when you really need to be planning for five years from now.

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