When Justin came to teach history at the school, he demonstrated a lot of leadership qualities and thoughtful reflection on the curriculum and its objectives. He led us to revamp the world history curriculum at the 9th grade level. I was immediately impressed with his abilities and thoughtfulness. He was also a very skilled and respected teacher.
LSI: You wrote in the book, “Despite the incredible influx of iPads in our classrooms, this opportunity to craft purposeful and meaningful learning is being lost.” How so?
JR: Teachers have used technology, such as laptops, to take what they’re already doing and then do it again with technology, sometimes with small gains in efficiency but many times without substantial changes in student learning outcomes. That’s the fear we have with iPads. We have these extraordinary devices for multi-media production that allow students to develop and demonstrate their understanding, but many times they are used to take notes. There’s nothing wrong with taking notes on iPads, but we shouldn’t have any expectation that students are learning anything different by taking notes on an iPad than they do when taking notes on paper.
TD: The most common scenario is that administrators make a decision to purchase devices—iPads, Chromebooks, Surface tablets, PC laptops, etc.—then hand the devices to the teachers and leave the teachers to figure out how they should be used. The school might offer training that is centered around the iPad—often a technical focus on how to navigate it—but the key component that’s missing is how to teach with it. So what happens is that despite the influx of iPads and some technical training, the teachers lack an understanding of the pedagogical benefits and instructional strategies that make best use of the technology. So many iPad programs flounder because there is no reflection about how learning should be different as a result of the use of the device.
LSI: You believe many educators are too focused on iPad conveniences and allure and are pushing ahead to discuss purchase plans, app selection, and device distribution before first developing a vision of effective student learning with an iPad. What should schools do in terms of strategizing before purchasing iPads?
TD: Teachers need to consider a pedagogical framework for iPad integration, and it should occur well before the students arrive with devices. Often the teachers have little pedagogical understanding of the device, and when the students arrive there’s invariably some confusion and error, and an iPad program may experience early setbacks and frustrations. There are some questions that schools need to address before students arrive with iPads, such as how iPads can help achieve learning goals, which apps and web tools are aligned with learning goals, and how learning will change because of iPads. When you start by identifying values and goals and then choose tools and strategies that align with those goals, then your technology program has a valuable purpose.
JR: We think schools could do a better job of saying, “Over the next 24 months, we want our students to be better at this.” It could be something like using evidence to support their arguments. That’s something that could potentially benefit students across all grade levels. Maybe you can’t have a district-wide goal, but you can have department-wide goals. Until people come together with goals, it’s very difficult for computers to have any systemic impact.
LSI: What is the Consumption—Curation—Creativity framework?
TD: It’s a framework for moving teachers through a spectrum of fundamental and advanced uses of the iPad. When the iPad was first introduced, it was defined chiefly as a consumption device. Even Steve Jobs extolled its consumption virtues and much attention was on consuming text, images, and video. We work with teachers on effective consumption with an iPad, but the device is so much more than that.
Curation refers to the selection, research, annotation, and organization of content. Teachers want students to be able to organize curriculum content, and taking notes is a fundamental skill that cuts across many grades and disciplines. Some apps allow students to take traditional text notes only, but many also include multimedia capabilities so that students can add their voices and other audio to documents. They can include web content in their notes; even videos and podcasts can be added. These features create all sorts of opportunities for multi-modal curation and consumption. So, we’re no longer limited to the two-dimensional pen and paper notebook.
The heart of our focus on iPads is learning to create and creating to learn. Our ultimate goal is that iPads are used as portable media creation devices to unleash student learning. The focus should be, “What can students do?” and not, “How can I teach with iPads?” The latter question implies the technology is in the hands of the teacher who controls and disseminates content to students. The former question implies students are at the center of the learning process and take ownership over creating educational content.
LSI: In the book, you wrote that the only way your school’s investment into tablet devices will have a real return is if schools invest just as much into teachers as they invest into technology. How should schools be investing in teachers in light of your subject matter?
JR: A few years ago administrators started calling us saying, “We’re going to spend $400,000 on technology platforms and devices, and we’d like to spend a few thousand dollars on training.” We thought, of course we’ll do it, but you’re crazy. If the investment in people isn’t similar to the investment in tools, the tools aren’t going to be very beneficial. Schools need to think about what they’re hoping to improve and how will they have a more powerful impact on students in the next two years. Then if technology is going to be a part of that solution, we ask how will it help with the stated goal. You have to develop the capacity of teachers to be able to think through those types of problems. All of this takes time.
LSI: How do you see tablets being used to assist students who have learning differences or delayed development of motor skills?
TD: We know that if we can present content through different modalities—for instance, a combination of text and media—it can help a diverse range of learners understand what is being taught. It’s about finding different pathways into the brain. Tablets help reach a wide range of learners through their accessibility features. For instance, on the iPad, it’s possible to have elements spoken to you, so text can be read back to the student. The speaking rate can also be adjusted to suit an individual student’s needs and it also works with foreign languages. The size of the text can be manipulated, so you can make it larger or smaller depending on your needs. That’s helpful for the visually impaired or students with reading delays. Ads can be removed from a webpage in Safari, making it less distracting for a student with attention deficit disorder.
JR: We also want students to represent their understanding in multiple ways. With tablets, they can make a screencast, draw something and take a picture of it, and record themselves explaining their answers to lessons. We also want to provide students with multiple entry points of motivation. A lack of motivation is as debilitating as an inability to read. If you don’t care about what you’re reading, you’re going to be as bad at it as someone who can’t read.
LSI: You created the iPad Summit to gather together educators who are successfully integrating technology into their classrooms. Each year it’s sold out. Do you check in with the schools after the conference, say a year later, to see if they’ve made strides in using technology in more creative ways to advance learning than they were before the conference?
TD: We have dozens of client schools and districts where we have an ongoing relationship, and many times they are part of an extended program, so we’re able to check in with them on their progress. Our ultimate goal is to create long-term relationships with schools. To bring about lasting and sustained change, one must create a professional development program—not just an event. So the philosophical core of our professional development services is a one-year blended program that many schools and districts follow. An extended program is a way for us to help bring about sustained change and develop a cohort of teacher leaders who can go back to their departments and grade levels at the end of the program and help their colleagues with effective technology integration in alignment with worthwhile learning goals.