Apple and Pearson's products did what they were designed to do. The Los Angeles Unified School District lacked vision, a plan, and an understanding of what 21st century education is. Most people misunderstand the term "21st Century Education" and assume it is synonymous with the use of technology. It isn't. It is excusable for a non-educator to think that. For a school district to miss that, it is not. Having the correct focus and goals would have prevented this disaster which is sending the wrong message to schools on the fence about moving forward in to the true 21st century. And I have some ideas and folks who can fix it for you.
Apple sold iPads to the Los Angeles school district. The devices worked as they were designed to. Nowhere in the iPads' user guides does it ever say that the iPad will increase learning or fix problems in education.
"The moves by the Los Angeles school district, one of the largest school districts in the U.S., was supposedly designed to inject technology into the classroom."
The district wanted to "inject technology into the classroom." I'm pretty confident that $1.3 BILLION injected plenty of technology into the classroom. I hope most people who read this can already see the problem. What the goal is missing is, well, the goal! I have not found one instance in the several stories (NBC News, c|net) about this nonsense where the school district, its Board, or superintendents mention change in teaching and learning. At the end of one article, a Pearson representative is quoted as saying, "Our focus is, and has always been, on helping all students learn.” Learn what? Learn how?
In a Facebook comment, I stated that I could write a book on this topic but, like this post, will (try to) keep it short and simple in the hopes that it will be read by many.
Apple did not fail here. iPads are amazing computers that function very well. Pearson has a product up for purchase and when you buy it, they give it to you. The failure of this initiative was 100% on the decision-makers and any educator in a leadership role of the implementation process of the LA Unified School District.
Who am I? I am an educator. I am also a director of technology at a school where the students each have an iPad, starting in 1st grade and up through 5th (our elementary school's top grade level). Our teachers, parents, administration, and students could not be happier with the education they receive at our little school. Did you catch that? I never said a thing about the iPads, or SmartBoards, or iMacs, or MacBooks, or Wifi, or air conditioners, or the classroom lights when I made the statement about the experience here at St. Stephen's. I'll make a statement that will sound old and tired to those of us who have spent years in educational technology (EdTech) but will hopefully make a spark in a non-educator's brain, "technology is just a tool!" One of my book's chapters would be dedicated to how using the word "just" in that statement is a bit off because it lessens how important these tools are by stating that's 'merely' what they are. I digress. Here's my point...
You MUST start with teachers who are trained. Not trained in how to use an iPad (copy/paste, switch between apps, export from camera roll, configure their email, and use a word processor), but rather trained and educated on how students best learn today and how to prepare them for their future, and not our past. How is that different than before? It is different because now, facts are free. It is useless to the future persons that we are educating today to stuff them with tons of facts that only prepare them for a just-in-case scenario in their future. The Internet holds static answers (but beware, there's plenty of efforts working on making the web as dynamic as we are) and those answers are easily found. If a teacher is doing no more than delivering factual information from the front of a classroom and asking the students to memorize that information so that they can later show they memorized it by answering questions on a test, then that teacher needs to fear for his or her future as an educator.
"Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, should be." -David Thornburg
What does a 21st century educator do differently? They accept and embrace the nature of facts being a quick Google away. They know you can pull out an Android, Bing just about anything found in a textbook, and there it will be. Facts are free and good educators know this. What happens next is where the not-so-magical but important wonder lies. Teachers now get to explore with students. They can find real-world problems and encourage students to work together to solve them. Teachers are free to send learners to a website to learn some facts but then use those facts to create something that's never been done before. Educators who understand 'when' we are in time, give students a choice on how they will demonstrate what they have learned or how they will showcase what they have created. Sharing solutions to problems is what today's students should be focusing on and it is what employers will be looking for when they end their scholastic years.
To LAUSD, do you want to fix this without further embarrassing yourselves and using the media to shine a light on everyone else but you? Hire a real expert! Get someone like Adam Bellow to oversee the direction of your teachers' professional development. Get Tony Vincent to provide that PD. Learn from teachers like Erin Klein about technology NOT being the focus or center of any lesson planning but rather a very useful tool to be used at the right time, for the right purpose. Hire Todd Nesloney (aka @TechNinjaTodd) to show your lower grade teachers the amazing ways students become engaged when they feel empowered by the teacher and can then express themselves on a blog post or iMovie. Have Kevin Honeycutt come out and inspire teachers beyond what you thought was possible and watch them have a newfound fire at the heart of why they became educators in the first place. Get Dr. Wesley Fryer to work with your upper-school faculty so they can explore the countless ways students are able to show what they know and share what they make with digital media. Are you concerned with assessment? Great, hire Dean Shareski and/or John Spencer to help out with that. Carl Hooker has proven for years what a successful independent school district can do with a 1:1 iPad implementation and would be glad to help out, I'm sure. You may want to also hire his teammate, Lisa Johnson, to come out and show your teachers the endless lessons available to them that would make their iPad use come alive and would result in students truly enjoying what would otherwise be flat, stale, and boring. Need more? Hope you get lucky and Vicki Davis is available. Get George Couros (aka The Principal of Change) to speak to your leadership and open their eyes very, very wide. Have Sarah Thomas demonstrate what passionate, thoughtful teaching looks like. When you decide to use Google Apps for Education, get Kyle Pace to come out and train your entire staff, including administration and superintendents. Need more suggestions? Tweet me, I've got an amazing PLN!
Alternatively, you can do as one commenter posted somewhere on Facebook, "bring books back!" You can stop trying to do the technology thing for its own sake, save $1.3 BILLION, and continue to teach students in ways that will prepare them for nothing more than the past. On the bright side, books don't run out of batteries.
At the time of writing this, I did not notice commenting on my blog was disabled and I'm currently working on getting it functional again. Feel free to comment on my facebook post for now. Thanks!