iPads in my neighborhood

All the somewhat abstract discussion of ed tech have come home, to my own school district of St Paul, MN. I grew up in the Saint Paul schools and the superintendent, Valeria Silva, was one of my teachers at the spanish immersion school I attended for the first four years of my public education. Back then we shared a computer lab full of Apple IIe computers and we used Lego/Logo to build cool cars that we could program. Loved that stuff.

Now, iPads! Yes, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) just approved a six-year deal with Apple. The 5-2 school board vote happened in late June, and they’re rushing to get iPads out as soon as they can. But two years ago, St. Paul taxpayers voted for a $9 million a year local levy increase for a Personalized Learning Through Technology plan that used Dell. This project has been described as “troubled” and is being abandoned. See the local reporting for some discussion of the Dell plan. According to the school district, the “personalized learning” program continues in updated form.

What, then, has been learned? What will be different this time?

Two thoughts: it sounds like the plan with Dell was truly innovative, and thus a mess to actually implement. Creating truly personalized learning technology is hard — so hard that just about no one has done it yet. Second, SPPS says that it’s planning to learn from the other districts in Minnesota that use iPads, and there are plenty. I hope that does happen!

Something that continues to bother me about using iPads in education, though, is that iPads facilitate consumption over creation, and all your exploration must be done within well-defined parameters. It’s hard to program on an iPad and you can’t change your own battery. I think kids ought to have some exposure to the parts of a computer, just as I think they ought to know that it’s a green-topped carrot that results in the little orange bullets in school lunches. There’s been a lot of discussion of iPads, consumption, and creation, but that’s for another post…

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