My colleague Malcolm Moss in the UK sent me a link last week to an article in the MailOnline with the headline shown above – "School orders parents…" Interesting to note the emotive language and how polarizing the issue of students being asked to bring their own devices (BYOD) to school can be. The article quotes UK Education 'expert' Sue Palmer as saying, "
The school is shamefully giving parents the impression that buying an expensive iPad is in their child’s long term interest… in reality parents are being asked to invest a small fortune in something that is little more than a toy and hugely associated with the viewing of porn.
Some emotive language and assertions here to be sure. "giving the impression…?" Is the implication here that it's all an illusion, and that there may not be any educational value at all in this move? And as for 'small fortune' – the average price of a mobile device isn't much different from a DVD player, XBox or Playstation – and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that ownership of these devices is very high in homes across all income groups.
Mind you, the reasons for the deployment aren't that convincing. Valerie Thompson, chief executive of the e-Learning Foundation concludes her comments in the Dartford Messenger by saying, "iPads will not replace paper, pens, whiteboards and presentations. They will be another tool in the box." Surely there has to be a more compelling reason for implementing the scheme than that?
Back home in NZ this week there have been similar comments being posted with the announcement that Orewa College is telling parents all Year 9 students will need "one-to-one computing devices" next year. The decision here has been labelled 'divisive' by Labour education spokeswoman Sue Moroney who argues we'll end up with a two-tier education system as a result. At the heart of the issue is a concern over 'who pays' – the fact that students may require access to such devices (and why) seems to be less emphasised in the news coverage – perhaps because it's election year? Certainly, there doesn't appear to be much support from the readers comments posted in the Stuff website.
Background to all this is an article I read this week by Wayan Vota on the Education Debate website, titled Tablets are Good, Content is Better, and Teachers are the Best Educational ICT Investment. In it Wayan explores the value of tablet computers in education, specifically in the context of the developing world. This is a part of the presentation he made to the recent Slide2learn conference in Queensland, Australia (see video at the end of this post).
Wayan argues that while there is education value in the use of tablet computers, there is greater value in making available high quality content, and even greater value in investing in teacher professional development. He argues:
What isn’t growing, what is lacking are the skilled teachers that can take a digital device – any digital tool – and incorporate it into the classroom, into student-centric learning.
Now this is a line of argument that resonates well with me. I've long been an advocate for the importance of adequate teacher professional learning and development, and so agree with the logic of Wayan's argument.
However, I don't feel he goes far enough along the value chain. For the real value of things like tablet computers to be realised, we need to plan for and strategically bring about a transformation at a system level. To fail to do so will simply see new tools, providing new content, by newly inspired teachers in old settings, following old ways of doing things including old pedagogies and old assessment practices (sound familiar?).
The more I analyse and reflect on the arguments against (expensive toys) as well as for (just another tool) I can't help but feel we're caught up in the old world thinking here. We need new leaders who are visonary and risk takers – like the Russell Burts and Kate Shevlands of this world, each of whom worked with their communities and sought their 'buy-in' for the initiatives they pursued, and have sought to fundamentally change the way teaching and learning occurs in their schools as a result. I'
I'm sure this debate will rage for a while yet – but the floodgates are open, and we need some system level leadership to help chart the course.