Our Space | September 2012 Digital Edition

Stop Buying iPads, Please

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's September 2012 digital edition.

Have I got your attention? Good.

Before you starting writing me blistering e-mails, rest assured that I am not advocating the boycott of iPads. But I'd like to suggest a little restraint--or perhaps more effective communication--around what appears to be a buying craze among our nation's schools.

It seems like every month, at least, we have a new story on thejournal.com about the latest school district that has gone out and bought a boatload of iPads. Indeed, we reported in late July that Apple sold twice as many iPads as Macs to schools in Q3 2012.

So I get that these devices are popular. My question is: What is the plan for using them?

From the stories I've heard, it seems that many schools are thinking that the iPad is their way to achieve 1-to-1 computing. We know that for technology to have a real and positive impact, students need to have continual access to it. So looking to iPads with their base price of $499 makes some sense.

But what I'm not seeing in most of these announcements is clear thinking about how exactly the iPad is going to bring about positive learning outcomes. Schools say they will use their iPads to increase student engagement, create individualized learning, foster 21st century skills, and bring about world peace. (Okay, maybe not world peace.) Those are all noble aims, but iPads, ipso facto, are not going to accomplish any of these goals. For 1-to-1 computing to achieve its promise, it has to be accompanied by some pretty seismic shifts in how instruction is delivered, the kind of curriculum being deployed (and a bunch of apps do not count as a curriculum), the role of students in directing their own learning, and how systems and structures support school change.

Maybe the schools that are gobbling up iPads like animals at feeding time do have commensurate educational restructuring measures in place. But they're not talking about these reforms; they're talking about their "iPad initiatives."

This is a very dangerous practice--talking about technology rather than about teaching and learning. Mark Milliron, chancellor of Western Governors University Texas, calls this the "Cro-Magnon" philosophy of technology in education, which he characterizes as: "Technology. Good." (You need to say the last word with a basso grunt.)

I spend a lot of my public-facing time defending the use and the expense of technology in schools, and it's this kind of iPad purchasing craze that makes it very hard to explain to the mainstream press and parents what the heck schools are doing. As Milliron says, "Technology initiatives have to be grounded and branded in the notion of improving or expanding learning, or we're never going to get wherever we want to be able to go."

So, no more "iPad initiatives," please. Let's create and publicize initiatives in teaching and learning that are supported by professional development, new curricula, authentic assessment, and, yes, technology--along with all the other tools we know are part of true and lasting change in education.

P.S. Next month, I continue my discussion about the iPad in education and ask Apple: Can you pleasepleaseplease make an iPad that works in an institutional/enterprise setting? If you have stories about this, share them with me at [email protected].

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].