Random Thoughts

The Tale of Two iPad Programs

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There are more schools this year rolling out iPad programs. I still have my personal reservations about these programs in high schools. But seeing that nobody asked me I’ll give up on that argument for a moment.

Two programs have come across my radar lately. I want you to watch the media coverage of these two programs.

Full discloser…I have known Tim Wilson for many years as a blogger, a podcast superstar and just a great guy to hang out with. So it doesn’t surprise me that when his district rolls out an iPad program that they have media coverage that goes beyond textbook replacement.

The other school, Gonzaga Prep (GPrep), is from Spokane, Washington…basically in my back yard.

Now I don’t know how Tim’s community is responding to the iPad program and I’m sure he’ll be leaving a comment here letting us know how things are going.

However, I do know how the GPrep program is being sold. The iPads are seen by the community, and if you watch the video by the media, as a replacement for textbooks. Sure they mention apps…but really everything I hear makes me cringe.

In the Wayzata School District video, listen to how the iPads are sold, not as a replacement for books but rather a device that has limitless possibilites. Count how many times the word “Create” is used. Why is this word so important? Because it is what is at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Higher Order Learning.

Next I want you to re-watch the GPrep video with the SAMR model in mind. Here’s an image to help frame this model of technology integration for you as you watch the video.

From Jenny Luca
From Jenny Luca

What do you hear? What do you see? Using this model of technology integration, which one of these programs do you want to be a part of? I even went to the required apps page for GPrep in hopes of finding something there to make me think these might be used for more than just textbook replacements….but really everything I am seeing is at a Substitution or Augmentation level of the SAMR model.

So here’s the thing.

  • If you wanted a textbook replacement…that’s great….but there are much cheaper devices that will replace a textbook than an iPad. 
  • Please do not expect your teachers to “teach differently” when everything that I am reading and can find about this program is about replacing not advancing learning. 

Am I picking on iPads…..maybe a little. But to be fair I pick on all 1:1 programs that put an incredible powerful device in the hands of students with the goal of not changing learning, not changing education, but rather replacing what we are already doing.

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. Gary Hewgley (@ghewgley) Reply

    I also wonder how easy it is for them to even get their textbooks on an ipad. Thinkcentral has textbooks online, but they use Flash. I don’t see publishers rushing out to put their textbooks online.

    Like you said, most of the usage substitution – when are the teachers going to have PD to change/adapt teaching methodologies? Great post!

  2. I can’t say that I really agree with your point of view re iPads in the classroom. We have evolved a 1:1 iPad Program for students K – 6, over about the last 2 years, and it has really changed the way that our classrooms work. We have found the open ended creation apps brilliant and the reliability, versatility and portability really enabling. iPads aren’t perfect, but they have really revolutionised the possibilities for both teachers and students.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Rich,

      Totally get that in the lower school. Love iPads for K-2 personally. Yes…if we are using open-ended learning and apps that support that go for it. But with the GPrep school above that is not what I’m seeing. Maybe I’m missing something but I have been all over their website and “book replacement” is mentioned way more then “create new learning opportunities” is.

      In these above roll outs I would have written very much the same thing if it would have been two laptop programs.

  3. Gary Hewgley (@ghewgley) Reply

    I also think we need to analyze how the word “creation” is used. Pages will let you “create”, but is it a modification or redefinition? It certainly isn’t if the student simply types what was written on a piece of paper (or instead of writing it on paper). It’s creating, but is really just a form of substitution. In order for it to be a modification/redefinition, it has to be something that requires a computer/tablet/phone. A one paragraph essay typed into Pages could just as easily be written on paper. Could you create a video inside a picture without a computer? I’m thinking Eyereport, Coach’s Eye, SnapGuide, etc. here. Having a student explain, show links, etc. while talking about a topic is not a substitution – with all of it being recorded.

    Some apps that might redefine might be Eyereport, Snapguide, Touchcast, Kidspiration (it converts an organizer into an outline – with added audio notes). Maybe the Showme app with the ability to take a picture of the board, annotate it, voice record your thoughts, and blend it all into a movie – that’s redefining.

    Many schools talk about etexts (which are great), but then the next biggest thing is games. I think you are right about the pre k – 2nd grade point. I still think we need to almost look at having some sort of curriculum set-up, with higher-level apps that modify and redefine, built-in as a part of lessons. I’m sorry but Pages/Office, iBooks, and graphing calculator are mostly substitution apps. Notability does allow annotating and voice recording so it is really the only app that really redefines a task.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Gary couldn’t agree more. These are all the thoughts that go through my mind when I’m walking through schools. Understanding the level of use allows us to move forward to create new learning opportunities for students. Great comment!

  4. Tamara Holmlund Nelson Reply

    I haven’t done any formal research on 1:1 programs, but I have talked to elementary and middle school students in our area who say they are highly motivated to interact with information, develop their own ideas about the content, and share their ideas with others (my words) using their iPod touches or iPads. I saw some evidence and much potential for enhanced and transformative uses based on what these students and their teachers were presenting at a Showcase.

    As an educator thinking a lot about STEM practices, I see a lot of potential in students’ access to tools such as iPads, smart phones, and the apps they could use (or create!).
    I’m very curious about the role of games on devices — just more rote practice or truly open-ended problem solving that nurtures creative thinking?

    But bottom-line, are teachers, parents, and administrators willing to take the risk of letting students out of the box? If not, these devices are just electronic paper and pencils. If so, then the adults will need significant support in really transforming the learning experiences that students encounter.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Agreed….and when I’m working with schools have have gone iPad we take the SAMR model and apply it to apps. It’s interesting how many apps are at a Substitution level. Not that it’s bad…just know you are substituting and not changing learning.

  5. Hey Jeff,

    I saw this post come through my feed this morning and was surprised to read my name. I appreciate the kind words. Unfortunately, in this case I can’t take credit for the good work you saw in that piece. The news story featured three different school districts: Edina, Wayzata, and Osseo. Wayzata is the one doing the iPad 1-to-1, Edina is doing an aggressive BYOD initiative, and we’re trying to pass a tech levy this fall to fund our own digital learning vision. My part in the video as Osseo’s CTO was simply expressing my sincere belief that we must get to the point of ensuring that every child has an Internet-connected device with him or her at school full-time.

    The tech leaders at Wayzata and Edina are both friends of mine. (We tech leaders stick together, you know.) They’re both visionary guys who are doing some great work, and I agree that the Wayzata is coming at their iPad project with a great learning first perspective.

    School districts in Minnesota have the option of asking their local communities to support an additional property tax for capital projects to support instructional technology. Many of our neighboring school districts have tech levies in place which provide substantial additional revenue for projects like 1-to-1s. (See http://www.district279.org/DistrictNews/Levy2013/docs/TechLevyComparisons.jpg) We’re asking our voters to support a measure like that for us this fall, and we have some exciting ideas about how we’d use the funds. Here’s our tech levy web page with specific info: http://www.district279.org/DistrictNews/Levy2013/TechLevy.cfm. Do check out our newly minted Digital Learning Vision for some insight about how we’re thinking about digital learning these. It’s at http://d279.us/dl4a

    By the way, I’m far from convinced about the right tool for a 1-to-1 project. Of the three major options—iPad, Chromebook, or laptop—I see major positives and negatives for all of them. I try not to let my own biases cloud things, but I’m a laptop guy and can’t see myself going with a tablet for a significant portion of my work. I hear lots of stories though about school-age and college-age students doing just that so there must be something to it. We haven’t committed to a particular devices (or devices) at this point, but if our levy passes on election day we’ll finalize that decision shortly after.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Thanks Tim for taking time to respond. Great stuff and always good to hear how districts are funding these devices. There are so many ways to come up with the funding and so many devices…..like you above 4th grade I’m a laptop guy but am keeping an open mind. In the end I want every student have access to the Internet anytime they or I need it. The Internet is the killer app the device is becoming secondary.

      See you soon somewhere I’m sure!

  6. This article makes some great points and addresses the main reason I am an advocate of digital tools in the classroom. The visual you provide from Jenny Luca says it all (can I re-use that on my blog?). My students amazed me and came up with things to demonstrate their leaning and to teach others that I never imagined…

    Technology is not the savior, however it does provide an opportunity for students to take the content to amazing levels when used the right way. As my district moves towards 1-1 we are using all the information outlined in this article and others that are connected. Teachers and the community as a whole need to understand the difference between consumption and collaborative creation. Thanks for providing a visual and succinct place to research and discuss issues in the world of education technology!

    Now on to the PD article…

  7. Conn McQuinn Reply

    Hi, Jeff –

    Thanks for another interesting post! I’m going to comment on the question of “Which technology platform is best for 1-to-1?” I think if we’re asking that question, we’re still driving looking in the rearview mirror. When I go into any workplace, I don’t see all laptops, or all tablets, or all smartphones. I see a mixture of every possible option, and most people with at least two. That’s because each platform has strengths and capabilities that are often difficult or impossible to recreate on the others. Choosing any one platform means restricting students to a subset of what’s possible. When most tech-savvy adults won’t make that choice, so why should we force it on the kids?

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Conn,

      Great question and in a perfect world where we could guarantee that every student had access to any and all tools then I would say ..absolutely…I want students to have all 3 because they do things differently.

      A big part of the GPrep program is to make sure everyone has something….and something that is of use by everyone. That is a great outcome for any school starting a 1:1 program.

      The other thing I think we need to look at is the average workplace uses technology at a very basic level. Most offices I see spend their time in email, spreadsheets, word-processing, etc. Now if this was all I expected my students to do then I would say any device would work. However, if we want student to create amazing things…they need something more. Walk into an office that is about creating content, whether it be apps, webpages, movies, advertising, 3D printing, etc and I think you’ll find that most all those offices are filled with laptops and hard working desktop computers.

      By the time students are in high school I want them to be as creative as the technology will allow them to be. Sure there are some amazing movies made on SmartPhones and some incredible things made on the iPad…and that’s great….and I love it. But I feel both of those still limit students to the full creative potential of what is possible today…..and I want every student to have the potential to create at any level.

      I hope that makes sense.

      • Conn McQuinn Reply

        It makes total sense, Jeff. But as a person that values creativity, I would be incredibly frustrated to give up my tablet, as a user or a student. There are uses that are significantly more convenient on the tablet, and there are uses for which there is no analog on a laptop. I feel there is more lost in giving up a tablet thanin giving up a laptop.
        That’s where the whole world is going as well. Laptop and desktop sales are shrinking worldwide, and tablet/smartphone sales are exploding. They are already much higher than computers. I have little doubt that our students will look back at desktop and laptop computers with the same nostalgia that my generation does for typewriters.

  8. Doug Gonzales Reply

    Conn-I would argue that for the level I was asking my students to create the iPad would simply not keep up. Unless you could show me a teacher and a students who are building state of the art online magazines with published content (Global Issues, Psychology, and US History) such as student created discussion boards, documentaries and interactive articles…I will go with a Mac desktop, MacBook, or even a PC with a 22 inch monitor before iPads every time. And my students would have too. It wouldn’t be impossible to function in my classes with an iPad…in fact I would use one for each of my groups because they do serve a purpose…but not to manipulate Google Drive, Google Sites, iMovie and an entire interactive wiki. Sales reflect a trend that has nothing to do with high yield strategies in the classroom. Most of the top notch creators in the industry who have made lengthy videos with ripped audio and video files, text and images, and detailed editing…would pick the MacBook Pro…the iPad can’t hang in that creative realm yet.

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  10. Hello Jeff!

    In your article, you have some great points! I agree with you that GPrep isn’t really going anywhere other than switching from textbooks to iPads. If they want to actually go somewhere, they should look at the iPads as something more than just a book substitute. For middle and high schoolers, I think there is going to be a lot of misuse of the iPad and that students are going to abuse their privileges. Even though the school claims that they have certain sites blocked, students have ways of getting around blocks. I think it would be better if they didn’t block sites to begin with because if the sites are blocked all it’s doing is making the students want to go on them more.
    While I don’t think iPads for middle and high schoolers is a good idea coming from GPreps look on it, I do think it would be a good idea for the kids in elementary school (K-3). I think that with the right apps and the right ideas, iPads can be a great learning tool for the younger students.

  11. I completely agree with the ideal that it is necessary to first shift the mindsets and beliefs of teachers in the classroom in order for them to be aware that in order to facilitate meaningful learning in the classroom, they must first embrace new methodologies for teaching. It is simply not enough to replace the texts with digital media, because now all we are doing is teaching the same way, but instead of using a $100 textbook, they’re now using a $400 iPad! I am really curious as to how much professional development teachers received to enhance their teaching practices with this new technology.

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