Why You Shouldn’t Care When Schools Throw iPads Away

In case you missed it, there were two big stories in the past two weeks about schools selling or destroying their student devices. The Atlantic posted “Why Some Schools Are Selling Their iPads” and took a deep-dive into which device is the “best for interactive learning.” Additionally, Hoboken, NJ, made headlines when they publicly claimed “giving students laptops is a terrible idea.”

What it comes down to is that both schools – and schools across the country – look to devices to change the way teaching and learning happen.


Since Apple released the iPad four years ago, starry-eyed educators have lauded the revolution that was to come. We saw the revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy and introduction of the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning. Suddenly, every school had devices earmarked as a method for changing instruction. Every large computer manufacturer is now in education with devices, vying for attention from schools desperately trying to keep up (often at the expense of other programs but that’s a different discussion).

Rather than asking, “Does this device allow students to easily type?” educators really need to focus on new criterion:

  1. Can the device help students connect with the world? – Think of this as the “fourth wall” of education. Students need opportunities to connect with (both consume and produce) information outside of the building.
  2. Does the device dilute or enhance accessibility? – Often, devices are purchased with accessibility cited as a reason. But, neither teachers nor students receive training on how to enable that functionality.
  3. How will we change classroom practice? – Staff typically receives training in how to use the device, but rarely are they offered training on new methods or approaches to teaching and learning. Without support for changing practice, the computers can destroy a culture of learning.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by yohann.aberkane

I know I shouldn’t read the comments, but I did for both of these. 400+ comments combined, and most of them are disparaging at best. There is a general lack of understanding about why devices are important to the learning process and this is something schools in general are failing to communicate well. Perhaps this is also because of the inappropriate preparation happening when devices are purchased.

So, what can schools do?

  1. Research. – This is not a device pilot. If we’re focusing on larger issues of classroom practice and school culture, then the device doesn’t matter. This means reading research literature on education practice, site visits to neighboring schools, and speaking with experts on education theory. Having a solid pedagogical background will help solidify meaningful change.
  2. Build a core group of educators dedicated to cultural change. – These are the leaders who will slowly begin to help the school shift from one of didactic instruction to dynamic learning.
  3. Advocate for students. – Any change needs to keep students in mind, especially when it comes to large purchases. If the school cannot point to solid reasons (pedagogical and cultural) for why they are spending the money, they need to slow down and evaluate their motivations.

It’s disheartening to see coverage focus on purchases and failed plans rather than success stories and true change. Hopefully, as we continue to mature, we can shift the story.

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