With nearly 7,000 shares on Facebook and 1,700 tweets about it, TheAtlantic had one of the most well read edtech posts this week ‘Why Some Schools Are Selling All Their iPads‘.
It’s a really good read, it follows a few case studies of districts retreating from 1:1 iPad deployment and some migrating towards Google Chromebooks.
But there’s one thing that bugged me as I read through it. As an edtech community we’re often focused on picking “the one device”, and assuming that one device will meet the diverse educational needs of students and the teaching styles of all teachers. Just like in any format or console war.
It was three-quarters of the way through the article before they quoted David Mahaley, a head administrator, said “First you have to ask: What do you want the device to do for your children?”
Mahaley’s advice should really guide all of our edtech purchases.
So instead of just weighing up devices we need to consider five careful questions before purchasing a device. In fact, we should consider an educational vision before we even discuss what tool will help us to realise it:
1. What do we want to achieve?
Before deploying any educational technology we need to consider what we want educational technology to achieve for our students. These outcomes need to be very clear and measurable. They also need to be linked to the educational priorities of our schools.
For example, if your priority is enhancing student collaboration and extended writing, then a Chromebook is a suitable purchase. The keyboard and native integration with Google Apps for Education makes this a suitable purchase.
If, on the other hand, you want to use subject specific apps to enhance students’ subject knowledge. Or if you want to enhance the ability of students to annotate, consume, and analyse information while gathering lots of assessment for learning then an iPad with ThingLink and Socrative is most likely going to meet your needs.
Both devices have strengths and weaknesses, but they need to meet your needs. These needs should be discussed before you even talk about what device to buy.
2. How comfortable are our staff and students with this device?
Once you’ve thought about the device that meets your needs and vision, now think…will staff and students be comfortable using it?
Trial one or two of the devices with a few members of staff and see how they respond to it. What problems do they encounter? What are the first questions they ask when they are stuck? Do they appear to be a native user? If staff and students use the tool with ease then you can be confident to deploy it. If there are problems, you need to think how staff will be supported. For example, you may train a core of students to act as digital leaders in the classroom. Staff and students would feel very well supported if something went wrong.
Every institution will be made up of people with different opinions and needs. Make sure that you meet them. If the device doesn’t seem to do this when you show it to staff, consider changing it.
Also, seek out the most sceptical members of staff and talk to them about the device and your plans. They may well articulate the feelings that are running through the nerves and veins of your school. Perhaps the device doesn’t solve the current problems that your school faces. Perhaps it’s something that people would like to see working well around the school before they opt-in. You may need to rethink the device and your plans for implementation based on this feedback.
3. Do pilots show that this device is enhancing or transforming learning?
Once you feel confident to trial the device with a few classes or teachers monitor the use of the devices in informal observations. Firstly, are they being used? If they are, do you see the device being used to enhance or transform learning? When is practice effective, and when is it not?
You may conclude at this stage that you have the wrong device to meet your needs. You may start to notice that your initial vision of having every student collaborate on a Chromebook was not realistic in all lessons. Likewise, you may conclude that the iPad is not transforming learning and only offering apps that enhance existing methods of teaching and learning. You may go back and think that a Chromebook would offer a bold leap into collaborative learning, and far more creative production. Step back to stage one if you need to and rethink your vision.
4. How will we measure success?
By now, you may feel ready to put your vision, and the device that supports your vision, into practice. You may decide to buy a lot of class sets of the device or you may push boldly into the world of 1:1 deployment. Whatever you choose, consider how you will check if your vision is being realised. Set very clear success criteria that you can refer back to.
Link everything you do to the needs of your institution. Is the technology able to solve problems that your students and staff face? Is it making life easier, and more importantly, is it making learning better?
5. How will we embed good practice?
Once you’ve had the device deployed for a long time, don’t run into a programme that you’re going to scrap. It will take time for new tools to be adopted into classroom practice and to have a lasting impact. Give time to allow good practice to become embedded and to work. Make sure that staff have a platform to share success and to get used to the device that has been chosen.
Don’t rush! Take time, rethink, and always put your vision and the needs of your school before any device that you think about purchasing.by