Apple sales are higher than ever, and the New York Times reports many schools are doing their part to contribute to those revenue numbers in their article today, “Classrooms Around the Nation Embrace the iPad as a Tool.” Several quotations from the article are notable.

Teacher's Desk

Do you know how many educational apps, and specifically free apps, are available for the iPad? According to page 2 of the article:

About 5,400 educational applications are available specifically for the iPad, of which nearly 1,000 can be downloaded free.

In my December 31st post, “Learning Culture Change the Critical Focus for iPad 1 to 1 Projects,” I argued change in the learning culture of classrooms and schools is essential for 1:1 learning projects, including iPad initiatives. Alex Curtis, headmaster of the private Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey, is quoted in this article and seems to disagree. His school “…bought 60 iPads for $36,000 and is considering providing iPads to all students next fall.” In the article Curtis states:

It [the iPad] has brought individual technology into the classroom without changing the classroom atmosphere.

Personal, digital learning devices in the hands of all students, but no change in classroom atmosphere? That doesn’t seem to compute. Perhaps it was a misquote. I’m not sure how classroom atmosphere could remain the same in a 1:1 computing environment with any type of device, including an iPad.

This article and some others are also notable because of the negative comments regarding the iPad from two educational technology academic luminaries, Larry Cuban and Elliot Soloway. Cuban in quoted in the article saying:

“There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” said Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, who believes that the money would be better spent to recruit, train and retain teachers. “iPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning.”

Solloway also chimes in with alternative views on iPads in the classroom:

But technology advocates like Elliot Soloway, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, and Cathie Norris, a technology professor at the University of North Texas, question whether school officials have become so enamored with iPads that they have overlooked less costly options, like smartphones that offer similar benefits at a fraction of the iPad’s base cost of about $500… “You can do everything that the iPad can with existing off-the-shelf technology and hardware for probably $300 to $400 less per device,” Professor Soloway said.

Soloway’s voice seems to be consistently anti-iPad in mainstream media articles, and he also contradicts Cuban when it comes to alleged academic research supporting technology’s ability alone to raise student achievement. In the September 2010 NJ.com article, “N.J. schools explore using iPads as teaching devices,” he stated:

“The whole notion of mobile learning is exploding,” said Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Engineering. “In schools that use mobile technologies, they’re seeing an increase of up to 30 percent in test scores.” But he cautioned that iPads are generally more expensive than smartphones and may not be the best option for cash-strapped school districts.

The focus of a 1:1 learning initiative should not be “the device,” but that tendency is reinforced by articles like this one by New York Times reporter Winnie Hu. The last two paragraphs of the article make this point, but it’s hardly the focus of the article and does not overcome the headline / overall theme of “iPad Fever.”

Daniel Brenner, the Roslyn superintendent [in Roslyn Heights, N.Y.], said the iPads would also save money in the long run by reducing printing and textbook costs; the estimated savings in the two iPad classes are $7,200 a year. “It’s not about a cool application,” Dr. Brenner said. “We are talking about changing the way we do business in the classroom.”

As the cost of powerful, mobile computing platforms continues to fall while capabilities rise, I’m sure we’ll continue to see more articles like this one promoting “digital device fever.” Yes, every student in the classroom DOES need a mobile learning device now… And educational learning models as well as ASSESSMENT paradigms need to change in fundamental ways in our schools. We should not, however, succumb to the attractive suggestion that “it’s all about the device” when it comes to 1:1 learning. The device matters, but it’s not the purpose of a mobile learning initiative to simply have/use digital devices… nor should the mere acquisition of digital devices be the main focus of a school community.

To find more information and resources related to 1:1 learning, I commend the following organizations to you:

I also commend Educational Collaborators, as a great consulting group working with many 1:1 projects (utilizing various platforms) around the United States – but need to add (as full disclosure) that I’m affiliated with EC as PD collaborator / provider.

See my podcasts, “Leadership Lessons for 1:1 Learning Projects from Leslie Wilson” and “Bruce Dixon on Planning, Funding and Sustaining Strategies for Successful 1:1 Computing” for more ideas from the leaders of AALF and the One to One Institute. The Seedlings podcast 101 from December 9, 2010, with Bette Manchester and John Newlin, gives more information about MICDL. My November 2009 post, “Saving Money on Your One-to-One Program by Alex Inman,” provides more info about Educational Collaborators and their approach to 1:1. My November 2009 podcast, “One to One Learning with Open Source Netbooks is Practical, Affordable and Powerful – Learn Why,” includes interviews with Alex Inman of EC and Warren Luebkeman of Open 1-to-1.

Also check out my collection of interviews and videos at Yarmouth High School from December 2, 2010. As Ted Hall, principal of Yarmouth High School said in the following five minute video, “It’s not about the cool tools.” It’s about the learning which ubiquitous access to 1:1, mobile technology provides WHEN that learning culture is supported by administrators and staff with a vision for true student-centered learning. Yarmouth has been implementing a 1:1 learning project for EIGHT years. We should pay attention to the advice Ted has to offer. He explains why professional development and time for lesson development is even MORE important now than it was at the start of their initiative.

For links to iPad applications with an educational / productivity focus, see my workshop wiki, “iOS Apps for Productivity & Fun.” Audio recordings from this full day workshop on December 29th are available in the podcast archive of “Fuel for Educational Change Agents.”

Hat tip to Sam Eneman for sharing the link to this NYT article today via Twitter.

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