Holt Think: Ed, Creativity, Tech, Administration

Jan 4

Mythbusters: My iPad Can’t Do That. Yes, it can.

“I think it’s common for us to look at digital devices and how they can best support what we’ve already been doing in class and with students, rather than thinking about how they could transform what we’re doing… into even better practices and activities.” Wes Fryer via Facebook, January 2014

Online discussions by Miguel Guhlin and others have come up with lists of “things” that students should be able to accomplish using technology in class. Miguel’s list looks like this:
  • 1. “code” or program.
  • 2. engage in desktop publishing.
  • 3. use GoogleApps for Education tools.
  • 4. engage in advanced image editing.
  • 5. do video recording, editing and remixing.
  • 6. complete Pearson compatible state assessments
  • 7. complete drill-n-practice and/or tutorial programs like the TexasSuccess program activities (e.g. iStation, Think Through Math), as well as others like Scholastic Math and Reading Intervention Programs, Adobe Flash-heavy projects*, etc.
  • 8. create a variety of rich multimedia products using multiple media-rich web sites and/or apps
  • 9. participate in video/audio-enhanced conferencing using web-based or app-based tools (e.g. Skype, Google Hangout, Adobe Connect, etc.).
  • 10. Provides on-board or easy access to cloud storage to facilitate saving and sharing with others.

Miguel, along with some other ed tech bloggers are using these “lists” to create matrices in which to judge technology equipment before purchase. They then will rank before they purchase. It is a good starting method of trying to look before they leap. For instance, in Miguel’s list above, the iPad scored 7 out of 10. A Chromebook, 8 and amazingly enough, a Linux device of unknown origin or manufacture had 9 out of 10. Miguel’s list is rather “Texas-centric” of course, because he is a Ed Tech director in Texas. Other states or countries have differing needs. Of course, anyone can create a list that slants a prospective purchase one way or another. For instance, in the list above, one could have easily have added “mobile” to the list which would have wiped out any desktop computer from the running. Adding “Runs Linux” would wipe out a possible iPad purchase.

The fantasy of course, is to come up with something that people claim is “software agnostic” meaning that whatever they are looking at can run everywhere anytime. Steve Jobs tried to push this idea when he forced iPads to NOT run Flash with his now famous “Thoughts on Flash declaration, claiming it was a battery hog and that HTML5 could do just as much. (Of course, at the time, people went into spasms claiming that Flash was the only way to go. Now, three years later, Flash is dying , and HTML5 is doing pretty much everything that Flash could do.)

There are of course, issues with these lists. Every list I have seen so far has one or more of the following errors in them:

Districts in the same state or schools in the same city might have differing needs. For instance, a school that is an Arts magnet school might have differing needs than say a technical school, or a traditional school. Grade levels have differing needs.

They require a specific tool or tools that binds them to a specific technology. (How many RFP’s have gone out with the phrase “Must run Windows XP or later..?)

They are not aligned to actual curriculum.

They are not aligned to any kind of educational technology standard.

I think a better way of deciding what technology to purchase, or how to construct a matrix to decide, would be to start with the standards that the students are supposed to learn, followed by the district created (or purchased) lesson plans.

The Six Strands for the Texas Technology Application TEKS are:
  • 1. creativity and innovation;
  • 2. communication and collaboration;
  • 3. research and information fluency;
  • 4. critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making;
  • 5. digital citizenship;
  • 6. technology operations and concepts

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the ISTE NETS-T will think these are familiar. Indeed, a closer look at these strands for grades K-8 will reveal that students are asked to do such a wide variety of things as:

Word processing, creating spreadsheets, create original products, use proper graphic design, research topics, pick appropriate tools to do digital work, evaluate appropriate tools, create multimedia products, use a variety of digital tools to measure, explore and create, as well as of course use digital citizenship skills and basic computer skills, manipulate audio and video files, use models, simulations communicate results of data analysis, create collaborative work and more. Of course not all of these are at each grade level, but the idea here is that tech purchasing should not ignore the standards.

I created a video a while back on the standards:

So with the standards in mind, I think that any type of purchase should be looked at in much the same way Alton Brown looks at kitchen appliances: They should not be purchased with a single task in mind, but should be able to accomplish multiple tasks. (Take the Hutzler 571 banana slicer for instance. That tool can do one thing and one thing only.) The more versatile a piece of technology is, the better. The less you have to spend on OTHER pieces of technology.

When purchasing technology for students one should look to the tool that is the most versatile, not simply the one that is the “least expensive.” For instance, no one, I think, purchases digital cameras anymore that cannot also record video and even audio. The camera is both a camera and a camcorder. You are getting two devices for the price of one. Savvy tech buyers look for the greatest amount of utility. Can this piece of equipment do more than one thing?

One of the overlooked capabilities of the iPad (and perhaps other tablets) is the ability to replace other pieces of classroom equipment. The iPad EASILY can replace document cameras, camcorders, cameras, even interactive whiteboards and student responders. That ability cannot be understated. No matter the low cost of devices like Chromebooks and Netbooks, they simply cannot be used as camcorders, scanners, camcorders, document cameras and more. The value add of the tablet device must be taken into account when doing any kind of calculation. I wrote more about it here.

So with that information in mind, let’s rework the 10 criteria for technology purchase for students to match the standards and the idea of versatility.

Any student device should have the following capabilities:

1. Create graphically correct collaborative documents from single page to multiple page, up to book length 2. Access online collaborative spaces, such as Google Docs, iCloud, or Moodle. 3. Be able to be used as a presentation tool 4. Be able to be used as a data collection device using built in sensors.(The more built-in devices available the better.) 5. Imbedded audio, still and video recording capabilities 6. Have audio, still image and video editing capabilities. 7. Has basic computer commands such as “save file” built in. 8. The ability to be used as a web based research tool 9. Can be used as a video collaborative device using such applications as Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Webinars 10. Can change it’s interfere to meet the needs of the user.

If we change the CRITERIA to meet the needs of students and not the needs of the IT department, then the scoring changes a bit.

Score: iPad: 10 PC/MAC: 7 Chromebook: 8

Some may ask why I left off the Texas Success initiative materials that Miguel mentioned. These are supposed to be used as RTI (Response to Intervention) and not meant for every student, except those that are struggling in specific areas. I will assume that the hundreds of thousands of laptops and desktops already in place can meet the needs of these students.

One might also ask why I left off “ability to program or code.” The answer is simple: Not every kid needs to code. It is like saying every kid needs to learn to play a musical instrument. That is a fad movement that is making lots of noise right now but will die as sure as the sun comes up in a year or so. (And yes, the iPad can do that…)

Perhaps we need to also redraw the triangle that Miguel created:

to more closely match how we should be looking at ed tech purchases where the standards and the ability of the device to adapt are more important than whether or not a device can use this or that website. (With the advance of HTML5, this is a non issue mostly, but not completely.)

I started this post with a quote from Wes Fryer that he left on Facebook: “I think it’s common for us to look at digital devices and how they can best support what we’ve already been doing in class and with students, rather than thinking about how they could transform what we’re doing… into even better practices and activities.”


f you believe what Wes is saying, you HAVE to ask yourself what device do you think actually transforms the learning environment. What device would lead to “better practices and activities?”

Well, which one? So what do you think? Agree or disagree? Add your thoughts in the comments section.