When, Why & What 1:1 iPad? Part 3

Why I very strongly believe that BYOD schemes as distinct from 1:1 schemes, are the 'wrong' path and an IT Time Warp.

Those who follow me through either Twitter or this website, will know that I am writing a book currently, to help lead senior leaders through the current maze of possibilities with technology supporting learning. However, several recent experiences have led me to resurrect my iPad series of articles to try to help leaders in the vacuum before my book is complete. All of these topics are explored much more in the book, but I hope to at least make some stop to consider with this article. Some sections of paragraphs I have extracted from the draft chapters of my book. So, the article:

From what I hear and see, I think I should first highlight that the starting point for this article is that we are over the debate about whether mobile technology for each child and teacher is the modern way. I say this because when I visited BETT2013 (Educational Technology Show) I felt as if I was in a time warp, with vendor after vendor demonstrating their latest IWB (Interactive White Board) or Visualiser, or incredibly old looking PC based software, seemingly written for Windows 3.1. There are other examples, but let me just take these three examples to exemplify what I mean;

Firstly, for decades now, the 'traditional' model of IT in education has centred around placing the device in the hands of the teacher, not the learner. It always left me cold seeing the teacher enjoying themselves with trendy board clicking, seemingly very pleased with all the fun they were having, whilst the learners looked on with varying levels of interest or dis-engagement. Anyone who has seen a class engaged with a tablet each, does not need to hear anything more, if you haven't, go to see one! I suppose an IWB per student may have merit (not really), or a classroom with multiple IWBs for group work, but this is beyond the scope of most schools and in any case I would want to see a tablet each as well. Low tech. wise, the new write on every surface learning spaces coupled with tablets for all seem to be the current and near future utopia.

Secondly, Visualisers (essentially a video camera on a stand linked to your projector) are relatively expensive and have one use (although I'm sure vendors will manage to talk you through why I am wrong). A tablet with camera hooked up wirelessly to a projector can seamlessly and flexibly perform the same task for a fraction of the holistic cost and have added advantages such as being mobile, being able to easily record the output, etc. I chose the example of Visualisers because they are a perfect example of equipment which is now obsolete (except in very specialised circumstances) due to the flexibility of modern tablets and WiFi connectivity.

Thirdly, software has evolved and is evolving to be simpler, not more complex, for the user (yes, I understand that this often means that the creator has a more complex task). Microsoft Office for my money lost its way when it started to become ever more complex. The world wide web was quite inaccessible only a few years ago, and it is the advent of Apps to utilise the power of the connected world through simple discrete purpose software, which released the power of the internet through simplicity. There is then modern use, which is becoming a much less formal experience with most users not wanting to be straitjacketed into their chair at a fixed desktop. Deskbound software will become obsolete in classrooms since learning should be a collaborative and creatively dynamic experience as the world of IT use becomes more flexible and mobile. And finally, with modern Apps to compare against, software needs to look good. Software vendors for any platform need to bear these concepts firmly in mind when developing their software, or Apps.

A plea to schools looking to spend money on any of the above who aren't yet aware of the incredibly flexible and effective use of modern tablets. Look into tablets fully and then afterwards, see if you still need to invest in any of the above. My suggestion is that you will not.

So, to BYOD:
A central question is whether you believe that you are a school that is isolated within its community or whether you believe that you are a central part of your community, working for and supporting the community as a whole. If the latter, take a lead.

The foundation of a BYOD scheme is based upon the premise that parents know what they are doing. Some will, most won't. Parents try to weave their way through the maze of opportunities and marketing strategies, to equip their family with the best combinations of devices that they can either afford, or understand sufficiently at that point in time. This means that your community of students will have an enormous multiplicity of devices, some almost completely obsolete, some very capable, some which will complement learning, some which will be extremely intrusive and of little benefit. So, a question, do you see it as your job to support parents or not? Simple question, no doubt some complex answers. My response is simple, yes.

I found some of the mass media marketing of devices a few weeks ago prior to Christmas to be verging upon the upsetting. Glitzy campaigns designed to encourage parents to purchase a device which quite clearly is not up to the job compared to the best on the market. Yes, price is a consideration, and I will come to that, but again, a question, do you as an educational leader believe that a part of your job is to help parents to know which is the best device to support the learning of their child? My answer, yes. 'Best' is an important word. My view is that all children should have the very best to support them, not simply the best that can be afforded, or the best that could be found without much concern about the wider infrastructure, software support or holistic picture of devices. I was demonstrably upset when I heard that a friend had bought their child a Netbook for Christmas, oh my goodness, why, can they take it back? were my first thoughts. It is because of these last points that when launching the 1:1 iPad scheme I gave parents a 12 month lead in so that they could start to build the scheme into the thinking of their family finances and device planning. Parents in the town of Clevedon will have known that they were being supported and secure in the knowledge that the educationalists were giving them a very clear lead about the best device available to support the learning of their child.

So, money: Parents currently buy a complex mixture of cameras, Mp3 players, mobile phones, netbooks, laptops, desktops, games consoles and tablets of all types. The money is being spent, but is it coherent, does it support their child in the best value for money way, for all needs? With the best tablet, combined with a cheap and cheerful mobile phone, all needs can be met. A family that builds this model into their thinking fully, will save money. The biggest divergence usually appears when discussing laptops. The need for a laptop centres around knowledge of modern learning. Modern learning is not all about how many thousands of words are written or typed, it is about creativity of concept and thought, with multiple manners of creation of 'work' through all available collaboration and media. Both of my children, aged 14 and 16, have an iPad and they now never find any need to switch on a laptop or PC, all of their needs are catered for. The time for a laptop (as well) will likely come when they go to University, since then the extended essay style of work will need a laptop device, but currently, no.

So what about school economies. This is quite simple. I have heard many, many schools say that they cannot afford a 1:1 iPad scheme. You are likely correct, but the answer lies in the fact that you are focusing upon the wrong question. The question is, or should be, can we afford to work together with our parents to both guide them in the best current device, and to subsidise the cost in parental partnerships where the cost is shared? Perhaps a complex question, but the answer is simple, yes, you should want to and can afford to do this. The models are available to develop the financial systems to subsidise and provide your parents with the system by which they can buy an iPad over time, in partnership with the school. Every school can afford this, you simply need to ask how.

There are some simple and enormous savings that will also accrue to schools in terms of vastly reduced photocopying and printing costs in the order of many thousands or tens of thousands of pounds per year, and in the reduced need to provide fixed computer suites. These savings can also then be structured into the subsidy of the iPads to parents, and staff. The simple way to envisage the savings, holistically, is to picture the multitude of devices in student homes sitting idle during the day, with school resources sitting idle each evening, weekend or holiday.

A quick word about ownership. Ownership breeds care and full use. Hence even if I could afford as a school to buy the devices outright, I wouldn't. All students and staff should contribute towards the cost since only then do you get full community engagement and devices being looked after carefully. Subsidy for parents being tiered to support those most needing support and similarly with staff, but with greater subsidy since although they will be using the device for personal use, they will be utilising it for work for a large percentage of the time.

So, to the BYOD or decisive model of device choice:
The question here is; Do you let children bring in whichever device their parents have bought for them, or do you clearly lead and subsidise the model that you believe to be the best? When you purchase resources for your school, do you usually look at all of the possibilities, decide that some things are superb, others awful, others in-between and then decide that you will buy all of them in a complete and planned way to ensure that all students have a complete diversity of experience? Do you regularly have departments planning to use their capitation accounts to ensure that they buy the best text books, the not quite so good and the awful, so that every class can be sure to be difficult to teach and with planned inequality? Do you then ensure that they rip out some pages to ensure that some students will not be able to access some topics and that there is a mismatch of differentiation so that the less able have more capable complex resources and vice versa? You don't do you, you decide, you plan, you ensure that there is a coherent plan, and you lead. I hear an awful lot of muddled thinking hidden under the phrase of 'organic growth'. The mess of a stock cupboard that you brought the skip in for last year, for the department that had fragmented resources, grew organically.
I have known colleagues who were fully engaged in modern educational thinking, knew that technology can be a superb assistance to learning, but have got stuck in their thinking, at the BYOD stage of edgy thinking, who have said to me that they can 'see BYOD but not 1:1 iPads'. BringYourOwnDeviceofChoice (BYODOC) seems for some to be the better model, the fairer, the more 'real world'. I actually agree that a few years ago, the electronic fully flexible learning supportive technology, had not been invented, and perhaps then, organic growth would have been the preferred option because there wasn't one clear device which did everything and was outright best. Now however, there is. I am afraid that desiring a multiplicity of devices is a complete mis-understanding of what IT does for learning. IT is perfect in doing its job to support learning, when it disappears, you don't notice it. You will only do this by making things simple and consistent.

The learning across a community of learners needs certain consistences unless you can afford to supply 1:1 teaching. Even taking aside that one device is currently far superior in ease of use and comprehensive back up of eco system, collaborative learning with a mixed economy will be restricted to a choice of online general resources such as Google Docs, etc. Where students would normally teach each other 'organically' there will be significant differences and this will not happen so fluidly. All of this will detract from the learning experience unnecessarily.

When I research or consider something, I become obsessive. I exhaust every possibility, look into the small print under the small print, talk to everyone, and do not stop until I 'know' the answer. Many others have done the same and without any doubt, at the current time, the best device to support learning in schools, is the iPad. This will likely change, but not in the near future. So why would I want to promote anything other than the best device for my students? Why would I not lead and take the time to ensure that parents know why I believe this? Why would I make it easy for parents to buy seemingly cheaper devices which I know are not as capable as the best and hence their children will be disadvantaged? Simple answer again, I wouldn't, I didn't and I won't.

So, why 1:1 iPads? iPads are top of the tree technology for interaction, collaboration, creativity of expression and holistic user experience. Many copycat (not in the legal sense obviously) devices have appeared, which by the very nature of the world we live in, have to ensure that they are different to the iPad. Since the iPad is fabulously intuitive, very often they are not. I would like nothing better than to see other manufacturers creating devices which can truly compete, with coherent eco systems of support, safety and security paramount, operating systems and Apps consistent and well designed, since this would help to drive down the cost of iPads, but they just don't currently exist. I actually feel sorry for any child who has been given a Microsoft Surface tablet come laptop, they have a truly horrible interface and design to wrestle with daily, which I didn't fully realise until I had a hands on opportunity this week. Apple 'gets' user experience and user experience is what is experienced every day. Please do not do anything less than everything in your power to ensure that students have the best device, rather than simply the best their parents could afford without your clear direction and support, both in knowledge and finance.

Again and to finish, 1:1 supportive technology in education is about the learning. The biggest transformation of educational technology in history is happening now, mobile devices are the future. Getting the device into the hands of the learners has got to be the way from now on, otherwise, what are we doing? It isn't just another trend, we don't ask students to share pens or exercise books, we know that a class set of text books is almost always better than sharing, and where not, it is an easy path to share... the time for 1:1 tablets is now.