This week I received a phone call from a friend in a large Texas school district, who I met about five years ago when I created a series of videos about technology leadership as part of the Gates-funded Texas Technology Leadership Academy. He asked me my opinion about purchasing iPads for school administrators in his district.
I definitely love my iPad, and continue to be amazed by its capabilities. The question of whether or not limited district technology funds would be well spent on iPads for principals, superintendents and directors requires more than a yes / no answer, however. Like many questions, the answer to this one depends on several factors.
In a school district in which all students (over grade 3,) all teachers and all administrators ALREADY have district-provided laptop computers which they are permitted to not only use at school but also take home and use, I think iPads might be an outstanding purchase. Tablet technologies have been around for many years, but this new generation of touch-sensitive tablets as well as the bounty of creative applications which are being brought to market seem to herald a new day. If all learners in a school district ALREADY have a wireless, personal learning device, it would make sense for district funds to be spent on a cutting-edge learning platform like the iPad for administrators.
We need leaders in our school districts who both understand and model technology literacy and fluency. To this end, it DOES make sense to empower administrators (as well as teachers, librarians, and students) with personal digital devices. I think, however, a smartphone is a better choice at this point than an iPad or another tablet device for a school administrator. The iPad doesn’t fit in your pocket. While I love the lightweight, 1.5 pound weight of the iPad, its functionality does not YET allow it to be a complete replacement for a laptop computer and the everyday, productivity-focused applications which an administrator would run on it. The iPad is sexy, it is eye catching, and it’s cutting edge. If school administrators don’t already have iPhones or another type of smartphone, however, I think the decision to purchase iPads for them would be premature.
There are not many things my iPad can do at this point which my iPhone cannot. An iPad can share a Keynote multimedia presentation directly to a LCD projector, while a non-jailbroken iPhone today cannot. An iPad can run iPad-specific applications with greater resolution and screen space features than an iPhone, and some applications (like iBooks) which are ONLY available on the iPad. The proliferation of applications for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad is likely to keep growing at a dizzying pace in the months ahead, which could open new doors of productivity and computing possibilities for school administrators as well as others. School officials deciding how to spend limited technology dollars should focus on the most important reasons and purposes for purchasing educational technologies, however, and that analysis should point in one direction: Student Empowerment.
As educators, parents, and citizens of our communities, we should NOT be satisfied with school systems which continue to perpetuate an analog learning status quo. The age of the Internet is here, and that means EVERY learner (regardless of age) should have access to mobile computing platforms. Do all the students in your district have their own laptop computers? The answer is a resounding ‘NO’ in most of our Oklahoma schools today, as it is in most other U.S. states. (Maine is the primary exception which comes to mind.) One to one computing is an imperative today for twenty-first century learners, not an option. Technology purchases in schools today SHOULD reflect the importance of equipping leaders as well as followers with digital learning devices. Unless all certified staff and all students older than third grade already have district-provided laptop computers, however, purchasing iPads for administrators is analogous to buying more water to throw on a swimmer who is already in a swimming pool.
Would many of our school administrators enjoy using an iPad? Undoubtedly. The iPad IS a “magical device.” Would limited district technology dollars be well spent purchasing iPads for administrators? In most school districts, NO. Those funds should be committed to teacher and student laptop initiatives, which have far more potential to positively transform teaching and learning than purchasing a new, high-powered tool for principals.
There is one case I can think of where iPads for a group of administrators would make a LOT of sense, and that is for a grant-funded technology leadership professional development setting. Rather than provide participants with reams of articles and paper, all the instructional materials for participants could be provided electronically. Using Stanza, for example, existing digital text files could fe converted to open eBook format. Leadership-specific video presentations from the K-12 Online Conference could be loaded onto the iPads, or better yet… Administrators could learn to subscribe to and download those free, high quality PD resources themselves! Administrators could use their iPads to document classroom observations using customized Google Forms running in Safari. The impact of these activities on technology leadership skills and visioning for NETS support could be significant.
Does your school district have a plan for moving EVERYONE into a 1:1 learning model? If not, get on it. The kids are ready. All your teachers are NOT ready, but they never will all be. You don’t need an iPad in your hand to be an innovative and forward-thinking educational leader. Sure it might help you feel cool, but it can’t inspire and move you like a school full of students equipped and empowered with their OWN mobile learning devices.
It’s all about priorities.
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