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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast

Reflecting: ISTE 2010 Conference and Mobile Technology in a K12 Setting

Is Bring Your Own Technology a Good Answer?
Another technology conference has come and gone.

It is good to be home after two weeks of travel doing professional development in Minnesota and Iowa; then enjoying the companionship of like-minded ed tech’ers at ISTE 2010 in Denver, Colorado.

I’ve read a few reflections and take-aways from ISTE– one of the first was by a CIO in Illinois: Henry Thiele.

Thiele identified 5 Developing Themes from the conference. His 2nd item in his list: Personal Computing Devices.

2. We are have some pretty big decisions looming on how we are going to handle an influx of personal mobile computing devices into our society. With the ipad, new iphone, android devices in both phone and tablet forms arriving, and the continued growth and popularity of netbooks, there are a lot more discussions of how we are going to respond to this trend as schools. These conversations center around network infrastructure, policy, instructional strategies, and preparing teachers for this change.

credit: Henry Thiele

This was also major focus of my thoughts as I had just delivered the first iPad in Education workshop for Apple Professional Development and had participated in ISTE’s Leadership Bootcamp right before the general conference. It is another question that grows out of economics and the mandate placed on adult educators to manage the student’s learning experiences.

  • It is difficult (particularly given today’s economic conditions) to pay for every student to have their own laptop.
  • More and more students have portable devices that have more computing power than the systems that sent men to the moon.
  • If this is what the students already have for learning and communicating devices, doesn’t it make sense to build on existing skills?

Ok, fine! It is hard to argue with the above... but taking the position of the average educator in the classroom (in spite of the fact we expect them to all be extraordinary)–
  • If we rely on student/family provided technology, educators will no longer be an agent of leveling educational advantages- we will be amplifying the technology gap.
  • We will not have consistent, or even similar technologies to engage the students with in our activities. In a very pluralistic society, how many different types of cell phones would you expect to see in a class of 25 students? How many different menuing systems? Different feature sets? Different service plans, ie: how many students have limited vs. unlimited texting? Can you imagine the average teacher having to navigate these waters? Troubleshoot all these devices?
  • Processor power aside, many of these devices are at their core very specialized devices- meant primarily for allowing people to remain connected and informed of and by specific types of content. Even though the iPad’s touch keyboard is very good and nearly the same size as a laptop keyboard, a touch typist like myself cannot be as efficient composing an essay and formatting a term paper. Doing this on an iPod touch is like choosing a toothpick to dig a well with–it is the antithesis of choosing the right tool for the job.
  • If we are relying on parent purchased / student owned hardware, not only are there issues with hardware consistencies / equalities, but software required for specialized activities such as concept (mind) mapping, video editing / conversion, etc. become impossible to manage. We have had a taste of this already with the average teachers getting frustrated over versions of software and interchangeability between file formats and installed fonts.
  • Not only are these devices owned by individuals (not enterprises), but they are designed for use and management by individuals– so even if the students/parents were to provide “administrative” access to these devices- most of them do not permit or have the tools that enterprises are used to having for management/troubleshooting, etc.
  • Finally, there is the reality of malware, theft, and physical damage that occurs to these devices while the students are under our supervision. If they voluntarily bring them to school there is still a limited level of liability– but if they are required or compelled to bring them to school we have just increased the school’s liability considerably.

One might argue that these are real world problems that students will encounter in the workplace and as adults, but even as an educational technology advocate, I think we need to be fair in our expectations of the teachers, administrators as well as what we are asking of our institutions.

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