It's just hardware!

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Yesterday I, along with about 10 other educators from my school, went to the first Apple seminar for international schools held here in Shanghai. Apple has sent a team here to “break into the international school market in Asia.” They are based in Beijing but travel around Asia promoting their products and what they can offer to schools who are looking to either go to a full 1:1 program or just looking to get more technology in their schools. I get teased a lot from fellow teachers who are Mac lovers for being the “Dell guy” because I do own a Dell computer. But I can run both platforms (although I’m a little rusty on OS X) and at the end of the day it’s just hardware!

What follows are brief notes that I took from the presentation:

Digital Tools for Digital Kids:
An Apple seminar for international schools

Apple’s Education Vision
A world where all students discover their own special genius

Basic Skills
Technology Fluency
21st Century Literacy
Sense of Self

Talked about wikipedia being a powerful tool even though we can’t access it here in China but not about the connectiveness of information.

The challenge is:

Change management
Change pedagogy

Standards for Authentic Instruction

Higher order thinking
Depth of knowledge
Connectedness to the world beyond the classroom
Substantive conversation
Social support for student achievement 

Case Study taken from Mabry Middle School

An iChat with Dr. Tyson from Mabry Middle School. (Thank you Dr. Tyson for staying up until 1am to chat with us here!)

What needs to be explained is how Dr. Tyson has set up his school. The difference between Mabry and the regular Middle School format as in technology support, administration expectations for staff, and administration support to try new things. Dr. Tyson said when he was hired he was seen as the “Geek Principal”. Question was asked after middle school what is the high school like where these students go? Is it just as computer friendly? The short answer…..no.

Showed movie on Stem Cell research from the Mabry Film Festival.

Students as creators of information.

Not a lot of notes for a 3 hour presentation. I made it about an hour and a half before I shut the lid on my laptop (yes a Dell) and started drifting into Jeff’s World.

I do not blame Apple’s Educational Speaker/Rep and actually he did a pretty good job of showing what iLife can do. We iChatted with Dr. Tyson, with a teacher at the Western Academy of Beijing (school is going 1:1 with Apples), and a technology director of the new Renaissance College in Hong Kong (also going 1:1 with Apples).

But at the end of the day it’s just hardware.

As I was listening to the presentation I keep thinking back to a day when a similar presentation might have taken place…only over the #2 Pencil. Think about that the next time you’re listening to a presentation.

I don’t care if you have 20 computers in a classroom or 20 pencils. They can not do or change education without the instructor understanding what can be done with the tool they have been given. We do not ask students to use a pencil to read with, because we know that’s not what a pencil does. Educators understand what a pencil can and can not do. We have used it, tested it, and found its limits. We understand that it works best on paper, can be used in art, and is a great tool if you are drafting something as it is easy to erase. It is not a great tool if you are looking to keep a document for an extended period of time as the graphite easily rubs off, fades, and smudges over time. We use a different tool for those types of documents…a pen.

The computer is the same. It is a new tool. You can give one to every child in your school, but if the instructor does not know what the tool can and can not do, how can you ensure that the tool will be used, used properly, and used to it’s fullest extent?

The computer is just hardware, I don’t care if it is branded Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, or Lenovo. It will not revolutionize education…that’s what educators are for.

Dr. Tyson has done amazing work at his school, but he has set up a system that allows teachers to experiment, play with, and utilize the use of these new tools. I’ve said it before Tim Lauer, Dr. Tyson, and Chris Lehmann, are administrators who are taking these new tools and changing the education system within their schools. There is a difference between changing a school and having one or two renegade teachers in a school using technology. These folks have changed the systems within their schools. From the way they communicate with their parents, community and students, to the way learning happens and engages students. These educational leaders are not waiting for the spread of technology to happen from the renegades to others, but instead are standing up in front of their staff and making it happen.

It’s just hardware, it will not change education, it will not make our students smarter, it will not make our lives easier unless we are willing to take a long deep look into our systems and change the way we do things. We are talking about a pedagogical shift in the way learning happens, in the way classrooms are set up, and the way we view our students in this new digital world.

It’s just hardware.

[tags]21st Century Learning, pedagogy[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Hi Jeff
    you are right – it is only a bunch of wires and plastic, the life we breath into this hardware comes from the experiences of educators. It takes people to question the technological changes that occur around them and to think “how could that enhance what I am currently doing?”.

    But you know, change is tough for administrators and headteachers of schools. I know. I have asked the question – can we use a Google Calendar instead of a written diary, but that change will be a long time in coming.

    Maybe I am a renegade I don’t know – but I suppose I embrace change and react quickly to this sort of thing. All I can do in my position when fundemental, administrative changes take time – is to prove, prove, prove the technology works; change is good and that life is great “come and join the party”.


  2. Like your principal, I am venturing into the world of 2 blogs–one for school and one for professional growth.

    First, I want to say thank you for speaking at our technology conference a few weeks ago. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach skyped you during her keynote address. One of the teachers in my school who is most reluctant to try anything different or to embrace technology became very excited over the possibility of finding people around the world for her 7th grade geography students to talk to.

    Second, I appreciate the comment you made about your conversation with Dr. Tyson. You referred to the fact that the students at Mabry do not move into a high school that is as rich in technology as Mabry is. I am struggling with the same concern in my situation. I am a middle school principal who is working to integrate technology more fully into instruction. Any time I mention doing something differently, someone usually brings up what may or may not continue at the next level. If I had a dime for every time I have said, “We can’t worry about the next step for our kids. We can only do everything we can possibly do for the students when we have them in our buildingl.”

  3. Hi Jeff,

    As tipster, I was also at the apple seminar, and a Macfan boy from way back. I have worked duel platform most of my professional life–I learned how to program on a Apple II-e in Grade 10 Computer Science class, but when I bought my first computer it was a used NEC laptop with WordPerfect saving my life. And this is typed on my Dell Desktop.

    I both agree and disagree with your sentiment: You are absolutely right that without address the pedagogy the boxes make no difference. But to say it’s just hardware misleads the uniformed. Before the pencil, there was chalk and slate which limited the students to a particular type of activity and length of response. With the advent of Pencil and paper in the classroom (and the switch from fountain pen to ballpoint), different activities were now possible. For the old slate teachers, some still delivered in the one slate at a time.

    Take a look at the two platforms our teachers have to choose from:
    Both allow for class webpages.
    Both allow email contact with students.
    Both allow for posting of content and assignments.
    But only one does it well. And it has many features built right in, like discussion boards, that are transforming the experience of some of our students and teachers.

    PCs, and here specifically, I would say Dell, HP Lenovo etc. that rely on the Windows interface are like edline. They can do the job. And with some tinker it does most of what the other one, Moodle, just does. Years ago some one wrote a book called the MAC is not a typewriter because people kept up their “good” typing habits (my mom taught typing for many years) such as inserting 2 spaces after a period. This has to do with the size of a particular character on a page and allowing for the extra space to differentiate when a full stop has occurred. When Apple introduced the mac, one market they aimed to own was the desktop publishing. A computer could be clever and actually figure out the kerning needed (the space between letters). But everyone’s old habits died hard.

    A Mac is not a PC. Yet it is. It is one that just does it. I almost wrote “right” at the end there but that just makes me sound like more of a fanboy than I am. Apple is willing to not only tackle the issue to make better, easier to use software and hardware, but they provide training as part of the package. Who else does that? Who else tackles the pedagogy?

    In closing, let me leave you a story about how useless macs are when the pedagogy is not addressed: A school received a beautiful imac 15 inch flat panel screen…and it sat in a box. In the IT director’s office, who did not have enough time to open it up because he was too busy chasing virus, and fixing laptops from Dell.

  4. Pingback: U Tech Tips - » A MAC is not a PC

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