The iPad In Schools: Is It A Solution Or A Problem?

This was cross posted on Edudemic

Slide via Greg Kulowiec

The question above comes from Greg Kulowiec's Keynote Presentation last Thursday - What is the answer with iPads?- at the iPad Summit in Atlanta, and it is a critical question for educators involved in iPad initiatives (or any 1:1 initiative) to reflect upon. Thinking as a school administrator who pushed for the deployment of over 1,000 devices in his school, I have to admit that I initially responded somewhat defensively as I went with iPad as a solution. However, as Greg allowed the question to linger and began his rationale for looking at iPad as a problem for schools, I began to cast aside my blinders and look at this question from a broader perspective. When Greg asked the following question, "Are we just taking iPads and slapping them into our existing structure?" I knew I had blown it with my initial answer: Of course, I knew that looking at iPad (or any device) as the solution implies a pretty simplistic look at the issues inherent with our current educational system. It also takes away the ownership of the issues from the people in the system, especially if we think simply adding a thing will improve teaching and learning. But what about looking at iPad (or another technological resources) as the problem? How can this help us? Well, the slide below is just one example of what is happening within educational institutions due to the development of technological resources that can change the way we learn. The slide references a situation that occurred at Ryerson University in Toronto when students formed a Facebook study group to help them prepare for exams.

Slide via Greg Kulowiec[/caption]

This is just one example of the countless issues that not only crop up when we bring new technology into static institutions, but also when those who think about how they can do things differently are stifled by those who cannot immediately escape their traditional thinking. I believe that educators need to understand that their initial discomfort is not just about the technology, it is also about the fact that the way learners access information has changed forever. Due to these changes, educational institutions will need to look long and hard at their practice in order to assure the success of the students whom they serve. Justin Reich described this scenario last week in a post on his EdTech Researcher Blog titled The iPad as a Trojan Mouse :

“...what new technologies like tablets or laptops can do is open new avenues for conversation. In schools where every child has a portable, multimedia creation device, what can we do differently? What is possible now that wasn't possible before?"

In Burlington, we built a formal mechanism for the conversations with the formation of a 1:1 Implementation Teamcomprised of staff, students, parents, and community members. The ideas that emanated from this group have set the stage for our professional development plans for teachers and parents, leading to summer-long edcamp opportunities, our digital publishing collaborative, technology workshops for parents, and the BHS Help Desk student support team just to name a few. There is no doubt that the conversations surrounding the arrival of iPads into our classroomss have been about much more than just how to use a piece of technology. These discussions have opened the door to deeper insights surrounding student (and adult) learning that have begun to change the way we operate.

Here’s to hoping that more school communities open their doors to these problems as well as the meaningful conversations that follow.

cross-posted at

Patrick Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning of Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA and the former principal of Burlington High. He blogs about education at