technology integration

iPad Integration Tips For Today's Classrooms

With all the buzz about iPad integration, I figured I should share some tips that I have found on the web that appeared particularly salient.

Suggestion 1

For all of the people who are concerned about breakage and cost:

But iPads are so liable to be broken it will be said as to render it expensive to parents to keep their children supplied with them. There would be weight in this objection were it not that this liability to injury can be for the most part prevented. 1st, by care on the part of the teacher to withhold the iPads whenever the pupils are not sufficiently careful of them. 2, by having protective cases supplied by the school. Such preparation may seem a little costly at first but if it were left to my choice to furnish a school with books or iPads as a means of employment I should not hesitate on account of the expense to furnish the latter.

Suggestion 2

On how frequently learners should have screen time relative to other activities:

It is true we should not allow the pupils to have iPads in their hands the whole time. Though it should be our aim to give them constant employment yet their employment should be varied. Even the iPad, if it were at their command continually, would become tiresome. To sit still, at times - entirely still - if not continued too long, is one form of doing something; and I consider it as much a part of the teacher's duty to form his pupils to the habit of sitting still, as to teach them spelling and reading.

Suggestion 3

For schools thinking about a 1:1 program; this also has implications for schools considering any form of BYOD:

I ought also to say here, that the preceding remarks, as well as those which follow, are made upon the presumption that every pupil of every age has his own separate iPad; for I conceive this to be a highly important point, in the construction of every school house. Some, I know, undertake to say that one iPad will serve for two pupils and so it may when we cannot do better. But one pupil, and one only, to each iPad, however young she may be, is certainly preferable.

Except that these quotes are actually about integrating slates and desks. For Suggestion 1 and Suggestion 2, I replaced the word "slate" with "iPad". In Suggestion 1, I also made a line edit to the section describing the protective cases for slates.

In Suggestion 3, I did a straight substitution of "iPad" for "desk" and changed the gender of the student.

It's good to see that with every new technology, our struggles remain remarkably similar.

I included the original, unedited passages below. The quotes are pulled from Slate and Blackboard Exercises, and it was initially published in 1843. I found it via Michelle Bourgeois on the Twitter.

Original Passage 1

Slates are as necessary as black boards, and even more so. But they are so liable to be broken it will be said as to render it expensive to parents to keep their children supplied with them. There would be weight in this objection were it not that this liability to injury can be for the most part prevented. 1st, by care on the part of the teacher to withhold the slates whenever the pupils are not sufficiently careful of them. 2, by having the frames made sufficiently strong. A simple band of cord tin or wire round each corner will greatly diminish the liability to injury from falling but sheet iron fastened tightly around the corners of a good oak frame is much better Such preparation may seem a little costly at first but if it were left to my choice to furnish a school with books or slates as a means of employment I should not hesitate on account of the expense to furnish the latter.

Original Passage 2

It is true we should not allow the pupils to have slates in their hands the whole time. Though it should be our aim to give them constant employment yet their employment should be varied. Even the slate, if it were at their command continually, would become tiresome. To sit still, at times - entirely still - if not continued too long, is one form of doing something; and I consider it as much a part of the teacher's duty to form his pupils to the habit of sitting still, as to teach them spelling and reading.

Original Passage 3

I ought also to say here, that the preceding remarks, as well as those which follow, are made upon the presumption that every pupil of every age has his own separate desk; for I conceive this to be a highly important point, in the construction of every school house. Some, I know, undertake to say that one desk will serve for two pupils and so it may when we cannot do better. But one pupil, and one only, to each desk, however young he may be, is certainly preferable.

Profit Motive, and Working for the Best

Over at Edsurge, there is a post up now titled "Incentivizing Innovation In Education; or A Role For For Profits in Education." The original title of the post was "Incentivizing Innovation in Education; or, How I Kicked Anthony Cody’s Ass Six Ways to Sunday" but the current version has an updated title and an updated editor's note. I captured a screenshot of the original via google's cache; here is a screenshot with the updated title for people to compare the difference. The edited version up now makes no mention of the earlier version, or why any edits were necessary, although it is discussed in comments.

The post on Edsurge is instructive, as it provides insight into one view of how people are trying to profit from the educational market. There are many things to disagree with; for reasons of time, I limited myself to the second paragraph, as it contains some common misconceptions, and common techniques used to spread those misconceptions. This paragraph is quoted below, with commentary inline.

Some bloggers are quick to point to the evils of the “profit motive” and the dangers of politics pushing technology for technology’s sake; but those same bloggers are often quick to praise new apps that they find particularly creative and helpful.

No. Making a profit isn't evil. Politics pushing technology for technology's sake is just stupid, and while the edtech space is rife with stupidity, stupidity is banal. The problem here is that you have companies that lobby for policy that feeds their profit. You have educators in positions with decision making authority feeding from the same trough. And, these companies have great marketing that perpetuates the narrative that these companies are acting in the benefits of children, instead of in the interest of their profit motive. It's disingenuous in a fairly sophisticated way, and that's a problem.

As to bloggers who fetishize apps without reflecting on their actual value, see the line above about the edtech world being rife with stupidity. It's an occupational hazard.

I say, you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have high-quality digital tools without the profit motive

Yes, you can. The price of Apache, that runs a good percentage of the web, is pretty darn good. Ditto for PHP, Javascript, Ruby, etc, etc,etc. Open source developers have been providing some high quality software meeting a variety of needs for over a decade.

And please don't misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with the profit motive. But the profit motive isn't the only thing that inspires greatness, just as profit isn't the only thing that defines success. If we limit ourselves at the outset to such an artifically narrow definition, we will miss and overlook opportunities.

(heck, you certainly can’t have that computer without the profit motive, and I imagine even the most ardent haters of private sector in the classroom would agree that a computer is a useful educational tool).

See Raspberry Pi.

This excerpt also combines a straw man with a false equivalency. Just about everyone supports the intelligent use of computers in the classroom. Attempting to equate liking computers in the classroom with tethering ourselves to a love of the profit motive is a stretch.

Additionally, calling people who disagree with you "ardent haters" is dishonest. Smart people can - and should - disagree. When a writer resorts to shrill hyperbole, it's designed to paint people who disagree with you into a corner. Techniques like this might allow you to score rhetorical points with those who aren't paying attention, but over time, keeping score is less important than an open approach to solving problems - and, an open approach doesn't discard valuable insight because of disagreements with the source.

Instead, what you need is the profit motive coupled with a truly transparent market filled with a multitude of options. Does this market exist yet in today’s educational landscape? Nope. But the way to get there is to promote the symbiotic relationship of schools and entrepreneurs, not to detract from it.

I agree that the market doesn't exist yet - in large part, because the "transparency" the author described gets buried under marketing copy and, in some cases, patents. But this piece also commits a common rhetorical crime: attempting to use a real scientific relationship (in this case, symbiosis) as a stand in for a lesser business relationship. These types of comparisons attempt to create a level of legitimacy that doesn't exist: schools and the market don't have a symbiotic relationship. The reality is, businesses need schools more than schools need businesses. If we put a good teacher and some good questions in the right environment, effective learning can happen, with minimal expense.

The piece is worth a full read, and although I disagree with much of it, I also believe that the author does sincerely care about making things that help more people learn better. But, success looks different for different people in different places, and the lens of competition - through which many VC funded companies view education - can often lead to decisions that sacrifice long term gains for short term profits.

iOS6 and the Two Year Life Span

On April 3, 2010, Apple's iPad 1 started selling to the public. On September 19, 2012, iOS6 became available for download.

The kicker? iOS6 won't run on the iPad 1.

While the hardware of the iPad 1 is still plenty functional, the lack of even any basic security updates for web browsers and email programs (let alone any of the installed apps on these devices) make the iPad 1 obsolete after two years. From both an environmental place and a budgetary place, this enforced obsolescence is both wasteful and unnecessary.


So, for those of you who were wondering if iPads in schools were on a 2 year or a 3 year replacement cycle, you now have your answer. And for those of you planning on saving money on textbooks on iPads, make sure to update your spreadsheets with the cost of the new device.

Apple has created a system that strongly pushes device churn every 24 months. As schools evaluate the pros and cons of iPad programs, I hope that they take a look at the costs of device churn, and how that churn costs countless person hours in training, updating devices, dealing with bugs in Apple's configuration and management systems, and - most importantly - requires that programs take place within Apple's ecosystem, on hardware that a school purchases but Apple controls.

This is what happens when we cede control to a company that has a strong financial interest in creating the conditions that require us to buy new hardware. If Apple continued to support security releases for older versions of iOS, this would be less of an issue. But, given the closed nature of Apple's software distribution system for the iPad people with older devices are stuck.

Apple sells hardware, and they require that we use their hardware within an increasingly closed system. However, the notion that a perfectly good piece of hardware should be discarded every 24 months to accomodate the business needs of the manufacturer is absurd.

Schools and other learning organizations using Apple hardware need to remember that we are not just observers or consumers here. We can demand better, and demand more, and articulate a rationale against the hype cycle that would like us to believe that newer is better.

More importantly, we can't demand that our students be makers and creators when what we model is passive, unsustainable consumption of the means of production. As a teacher, how can you encourage students to take ownership of their work when their ability to access that work is tethered to a device over which they have limited control.

Maybe we could all protest down at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, provided we used an Android device to access google maps to get there: Or, reverting to iOS5 is another option. But, for the schools who have gone all in with iPad programs, it's hard to talk about these programs in anything but glowing terms, precisely because they cost so much money. And, for schools that are already neck-deep in iPad rollouts, do what you can to make your teacher professional development and curriculum technology-agnostic - this way, when the next thing comes along, your staff and students will be more nimble, and will have the skills and mindset to apply principles that help them learn, regardless of the technology they have in hand.

The Gift Of The iPad Has Nothing To Do With The iPad

The biggest gift of the iPad to the education space has nothing to do with the iPad, and everything to do with the mediocre tools to manage a fleet of iPads.

Over the last several weeks, as schools have returned to session, there have been a slew of discussions about how to best control the apps on iPads, how to provision student accounts (even though the App store appears to actively prevent mass account creation), how to prevent student work from being wiped out, replacement cycles, and other edge cases as personal devices get shoehorned into an institutional management process.

Purchase Not Allowed

The stories have been pretty incredible - one school built a Filemaker database (which, even as I say it, feels like a contradiction in terms) to manage redemption codes for apps purchased through the Volume Purchasing Program, and then distributed through the Configurator. Using this custom built system, an app could be requested by a teacher, and it only required around an hour of an IT person's time to push the app to the iPad. One hour to install an app is what success looked like.

Other stories included the Volume Purchasing Program failing unpredictably and intermittently - some of the nicer things said about the Volume Purchasing Program included statements pointing out that you could generally get it to work if you only used Safari, and cleared your cache before every attempted use of the program. This type of flexibility exemplifies the ease of use that Apple is known for.

Some schools do not make an effort to exert centralized control over the devices, and in these situations, the management headaches are often supplanted by fears from teachers and parents that the iPads will be used "inappropriately" for "non-educational" things. It's worth remembering that before technology, students were always perfectly focused, and could never be distracted from doing exactly what the teacher felt was important.

All kidding aside, because centralized control of the devices really aren't possible, more schools have become more open to less control. It's a shift that smartphones started (and that educational experts have been talking about for at least the last 100 years) but the shift definitely gained more mainstream acceptance with iPad adoption.

And people are seeing that great things happen when learners are granted autonomy. And when the iPads are gone, hopefully the autonomy will remain.

The Red Herring of BYOD

One of the big conversations in education technology recently is the question of of whether allowing any device within classes (aka, BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device) is better, or worse, than standardizing around a single platform.

Advocates for BYOD say (in general terms) it is a step closer to true student-centered learning, and that it mirrors more of the real world, where people use the same device for both professional and personal use (unless, of course, you work for a company that cares about security).

Advocates for a standardized approach say (in general terms) that having students and teachers on the same platform (generally one defined by and often provided by the school) allows for a greater degree of precision in lessons, which results in better use of class time, and smoother running technology. Additionally, there are concerns that BYOD programs give yet another advantage to students from wealthier families.

Red Herring

The prevalence of these conversations, however, is a sign that edtech is lost and confused. The BYOD/school-provided discussion is at best, a sideshow, and at worst, a distraction from what really matters. It's also a sign that educators and administrators have bought into the narrative that a "better" or "reformed" educational system is something that we can somehow buy our way into.

If we are focused on the device, we are not focused on people.

If we are focused on cases, charging stations, the best cleaning wipes (I'm not making this up; I've seen multiple threads about the best wipe for iPad screens), automated deployment strategies for apps on tablets, managing apps, whether an iPad should be in active for for one, two, or three years, etc, we are stuck in a conversation about management issues that are at least one step removed from actual people, and actual learning. Management issues are not learning issues, and we conflate them to the detriment of learning.

People selling hardware have a lot to gain from these discussions, as it keeps the focus on their products - and, by extension, on their marketing, hype, and outreach efforts. And management of hardware is important, and it matters. But the emphasis has gone pear-shaped, with the amount of time and attention devoted to BYOD and device maintenance in general outstripping the amount of time devoted to the actual learning people can do with a device.

If a teacher opened a class by saying that Microsoft Word was an essential element to learning how to write, they would be justifiably laughed out of the room. Yet we tolerate comparably specious statements about (as just one example) the utility of things like iBook author.

So here's my question: why not devote comparable time and mindshare to describing the types of behaviors and habits of mind we want students and teachers to develop? Then, we could trust the people achieving them to define the tools they needed to succeed.

The question of BYOD relative to other options is small subset of the actual problems technology needs to solve. It is, however, the problem that vendors want us to focus on, as it increases their visibility - and by extension their importantance - in what people consider the essential questions around learning. We need to restore a level of balance to the conversation, and keep our focus on the things that matter.

PS. This is probably coming off as more harsh than is intended. There are a lot of great, intelligent, dedicated, caring people working in and around educational technology, and if this post comes off as a slight, my apologies, and I'll gladly buy you a pint/cup of coffee and go through the details the next time we are in the same physical space together (provided, of course, you are still talking to me). But the point here is that we need to get out of the device-focused rut in which we find ourselves. When we allow our stories to be told/mediated through the products we use, we diminish our voice and our efficacy, and, simply, that's not okay.

Image Credit: "Red Herring" taken by 'No Matter" Project, published under an Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license.

Sharing Files Is Hard

I came across this tutorial on file sharing using iPads. The entire tutorial is 3500 words, and is accompanied by a 6:30 explanatory video. The piece goes through various attempts to share and organize files in a 1:1 iPad setting, and ends with the following observation:

It would be nice if there was a way to accomplish this functionality without having to go through all the steps listed above. If anyone finds one, please let me know. For now, this has been worth the time for us. Since setting up these tools, teachers and students are using iPads with more confidence and success.


Really? 3500 words, and 6 minutes of video to explain how to share and organize files? In 2012?

The more I read about the contortions schools and teachers go through to do basic things with iPads, the more convinced I get that we are allowing sales pitches and hype to distort our view of what is really necessary for quality learning to occur. This feels like a return to technology for technology's sake, rather than an intelligent, targeted use of technology to support student-centered learning.

Image Credit: "Good Esther" taken by C-monster, published under an Attribution Non-Commercial license.

Solving Problems and Finding Solutions in Education: A Panel Discussion at the Drupal in Education Unconference

As part of our preparations for the upcoming Education Unconference taking place on March 19th in Denver we are happy to give an update on the panel discussion.

Register for Drupal in Education Unconference in Denver, CO on Eventbrite

The participants will include:

  • Jason Hoekstra - Jason is the Technology Solutions Advisor at the US Department of Education. As part of his work in the Department, Jason is working on the Learning Registry, a system to support improved sharing and collaboration among people creating and using online content for learning.
  • Bud Hunt - Bud is an Instructional Technology Coordinator for the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado. Prior to becoming an Instructional Technologist, Bud taught English. He has been blogging about technology, writing, learning, and learning online since before there was an internet.
  • Bryan Ollendyke - Bryan works in the e-Learning Institute at Penn State as an Instructional Web Technologist. Bryan has been a leading advocate for Drupal within higher education, and is the main developer of ELMS, a Drupal-based learning and instructional design platform.
  • Glenn Moses - Glenn is the Director of Blended Learning at Denver Public Schools. Glenn has spent over a decade designing and working in blended learning environments, and helped build the largest blended learning program in the state of Nevada.
  • Michael Wacker - Michael is the Online Professional Development Coordinator at Denver Public Schools. Michael designs and facilitates online learning spaces for educators to inquire, share, reflect, and connect.

The panel will be moderated by Bill Fitzgerald; Bill worked in K12 education for 16 years prior to starting FunnyMonkey, an open source development shop that works primarily with education and non-profit organizations.

The panel discussion will start by focusing on the professional needs of people working at different levels within different types of educational systems, and what tools have helped them meet those needs.

The Unconference is free, and takes place on March 19th, in Denver, Colorado. See you there!

Drupal in Education Unconference

On Monday, March 19th, we are organizing a Drupal in Education unconference in Denver; the event will be held at Del Pueblo School. This meetup will follow an unconference format, so if there is something you want to talk about, propose a topic, find some like-minded individuals, and let the conversation start.

The event is free, and attendance at the event is capped at 150 people. To attend the unconference, please sign up here. If we get more than 150 attendees, we will start a waiting list. Please sign up only if you are certain you will be attending.

Register for Drupal in Education Unconference in Denver, CO  on Eventbrite

I'd like to thank and recognize Michael Wacker and the Denver Public School System for allowing us to hold the conference in their space. Also, Melissa Anderson has provided invaluable organizational work to help get this unconference moving.


  • 9:30 to 10: Arrive, brainstorm sessions
  • 10 to 11:30: Session 1
  • 11:30 to 1: Lunch/Ongoing Conversations There are several good food options near Del Pueblo. We are also seeing if we can arrange to have a food cart come to the school to provide another option for people to buy lunch.
  • 1 to 2: Session 2: Panel Discussion (see details below)
  • 2 to 3: Session 3

We have set up a wiki page on for session ideas; if there is a subject you want to discuss, put it on the wiki.

Additionally, if there is interest, we can reconvene at a restaurant/bar later in the day. Location TBD.

Panel Info

The panel brings together people working at different levels within educational systems. The panel includes practioners working in K12, Higher Ed, and the US Department of Education. Within the panel discussion, the focus will range from what the needs are (described in a technology-agnostic way) and what technological developments have proven most useful at meeting these needs.

We are still finalizing the participants of the panel; look for a follow-up announcement to be coming within the next couple days!

Getting There

For those people driving, on-site parking is limited.

Once you get to the venue, please enter through the West side Galapago doors. Other doors to the building are generally locked.

Can Students Be Makers When Teachers Are Consumers?

I recently came across a discussion initiated by a technology director in the first year of an iPad rollout. The release of iOS5 rendered some key apps inoperable; due to how Apple manages upgrades on mobile hardware, it can be difficult to adequately test new software, let alone schedule a bulk upgrade.

Given that pieces of an academic program can be rendered inoperable via an upgrade you are not empowered to stop/opt out of, how reliable do iPads feel?

While most of these upgrades are painless, do the opportunities offered by an iPad justify having the release schedule of an external company potentially trump or disrupt the schedules you, your teachers, and your students have worked out?


I'm definitely not advocating a return to a centralized, fully controlled environment, but just as I wouldn't tolerate anyone coming in and painting my kitchen without asking, I have an equally hard time being told that I have no say over the environment of a piece of hardware I (theoretically) own.

So, if we own the hardware we use to create, and someone else controls access to the tools we use to create, where does that leave us with respect to ownership of our creative work? If the only way we can make use of the work we have created is through a device that is a closed environment with respect to hardware, running software that is beyond our reach, how can we make any claims that we have created something over which we have control? In this situation, our data is accessible to us only if we keep paying for hardware we don't control, and keep paying for software we might not need or want any more?

We encourage students to be makers and creators; these exhortations lack the strength they could have when they are based on a foundation of consuming what we are given. By using a closed system, and allowing our programs to be shaped by the whims of an entity who is completely oblivious to the day to day needs of of the programs we have laid out, we model an external locus of control.

How can we encourage students to be makers when some of our behavior models straight consumption?

Image Credit: "Lock" taken by BlackmanVision, published under an Attribution-Non Commercial - No Derivatives license.


Last weekend, the Los Angeles Times had an article of dubious worth on value added assessment, in which they pointed fingers and named names. I had something to say about it, as did many others.

But, from a post and thread on John Merrow's blog, it seems that many of the people that used to be known as the leaders are wildly out of touch. In particular, Grant Wiggins makes a stunning cameo, which could actually be a good lead in to a new program named "Misunderstanding By Design." Joe Bowers keeps a pretty good scorecard.

Against this rhetorical backdrop, Will Richardson sends us a nearly-elegiac prose postcard about the role of leadership in fomenting educational change. In it, he talks about how many people outside the echo chamber of online communities are not aware of the changes looming on the horizon - but in his piece, he also alludes to people having an alternative vision about what people should be learning:

(T)hey go back to their conversation. “It’s the schools that should be doin’ that,” one is saying, and all of a sudden, I’m tuned in, listening over my shoulder as I reach for a pack of Dentyne Ice from the candy shelf beneath the counter. “They’re just not teaching it as much as they should be.” I step away from the counter, buy a little time by pretending to look closely at the chocolate bars down below, wonder what the system is so deficient in, wondering, maybe…

“These kids just don’t know nothin’ about managing money,” he says, and I hear various sounds of assent from the others.

When I first read the Merrow post linked above, I was incredibly depressed - it was disheartening to see the extent of the disagreements between people who have been working for decades on improving education. But it slowly began to dawn on me: if this is what passes for vision, then we have a vacuum to fill. And while it would be nice to have a Secretary of Education who could do better than this, we need to play the hand we're dealt.

So, cue the music:

Elvis Presley - A Little Less Conversation
Found at

One thing we have going for us: virtually no one want the status quo (the only real exception here are, of course, companies that have a business model that depends on the status quo *cough cough textbook/test prep/testing companies cough cough*, but even they need to mouth the rhetoric of change, because the pace of change is a construct that will hold its value over time).

So, given that most of us want change, we need to listen to the changes people want. There are bound to be some good ideas in there, even among people with whom there appear to be broad disagreements. While "managing money" might not seem like a "21st century skill" people still need to know how to do it - and with minimal effort, I can think of a half-dozen project based lessons that could develop that skill.

More importantly, though, we need to act. How are you showing the value of the informal learning in which you engage? How does this make you a better educator? More importantly, how can this contribute to a better classroom, a better learning experience for students, and/or a better school? If we can't articulate and demonstrate these things - and, more importantly, if we don't make the time to enact and articulate these advantages - why should anyone take us at our word?


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