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The Tabletization of Learning

Sometimes when I read articles about ubiquitous access these days, I find myself feeling a little tentative. You know, you want to believe it’s all good, and everyone is embracing the sorts of things we have all worked so hard to achieve…but sadly, there is no Santa Claus..and they are not all what you hope they might be.

Such was the stunning realization I had from a very recent New York Times Article, with the pithy headline, No Child Left Untableted. Now the title has to provoke interest, credit to the sub-editor, but as you reach deeper into the piece by Carlo Rotella the warning signals come in loud and clear.

You see this is a story of one of Amplify’s latest conquests, in Greensboro, N.C., where more than 15,000 students now have tablets from Rupert Murdoch’s latest adventure into education. And as if Rupert wasn’t enough, the mastermind behind Amplify is the former Chancellor of NY Schools, one Joel Klein. Need I say more?

But this is not an isolated example of what is emerging, sadly it is becoming a trend. The Corporate sector has found the Education Treasure Chest, and it’s called “ubiquitous access to technology for all students”.

Now as hypocritical as this all might sound, coming from someone who has devoted a number of decades driving Papert’s 1 to 1 vision , there is more to be told. You see, what is happening has very little, in fact in most cases, nothing, in common with that original vision. This is all about control, and, you guessed it, money.

This story, in the Times, does give some insight into where Murdoch’s cronies want to take ubiquitous access, but there is more you should know about how he uses his considerable, if not unprecedented influence.

In recent weeks my own little humble island continent had a national election, and Rupert, a former citizen, and not for the first time, wanted a change of government. He wasn’t subtle about it….you don’t have to be when you own nearly 70% of the country’s major newspapers ( yes, I do mean 70%)…but if you want a snap shot of how he uses that monopolistic power, have look at this...and yes, he got his change of government.

Is this the sort of person, or company you would want anywhere near your child’s school?

But sadly, that is not the most disappointing part of this explosion of corporate interest in 1 to 1, because the good folk at Apple, with their iPads, have seemingly opened a veritable ‘Pandora’s box of triviality’ that is undermining much of the extraordinary work of the past 15 to 20 years. It didn’t have to be this way; but they just couldn’t resist the temptation, so instead of developing a genuinely fully functional personal portable computer, they gave us a ‘dumbed-down engagement device.’..and they’ve sold tens of millions of them….too many of them to students. Fortunately a number of their competitors have seen their error of Apple’s ways and are showing more respect for young learners needs with fully functional devices.

Maybe I’m just a purist, or maybe I am starting at the wrong end, but I thought we all agreed, many, many years ago this was meant to be first and foremost about learning. I thought we agreed the only place to start was with a clearly articulated vision of how kids learn, and then from that we could build out extraordinary possibilities for a child having 24/7 access to their own computer… to use as Gary Stager says as “ an intellectual laboratory and a vehicle for self-expression.”..or as Alan Kay expressed so many years ago as “an instrument whose music is ideas’. I saw none of that in the shallow examples outlined in the Times article, nor in the many similar stories I have come across recently about the “tabletization’ of learning.

Our priorities are not the priorities of companies like Amplify and others who are seeking to leverage the momentum to 1 to 1 for their own commercial gain.

There’s nothing wrong with profit, in fact in most cases it’s a very good thing. But why can’t companies that set their profit sights on education, and that are massively over endowed with funding and influence focus on the things that really matter...like how kids learn; like effective pedagogy; like the possibilities of the future and not the traditional practices of the past?

You don’t use technology to control kids, it’s meant to be about liberating learners. That means new thinking about trust, new roles for new contexts, and new models for learning, for schooling and …for doing business with schools.

This is not a time for ‘oh, well, we tried’…it’s a time to standup and speak out. It’s the time for educators across the globe to take the lead in the public debate around education and the unprecedented opportunities technology offers our young learners, to ensure they reach the bold and ambitious heights we’ve aspired to for them for so long.

….as always, I’m interested in your thoughts.
October 3rd, 2013 @ 11:09AM | 3 Comments | Post a Comment

Unacceptable: L.A.s iPad Troubles

Ok. Enough is Enough.

I want to qualify what I am about to say, because I frankly think now something needs to be said.

Firstly I do not normally, publically at least, comment on individual 1 to 1 rollouts. Anywhere. Our role at the Foundation has been to provide support, thought leadership and advocacy in whatever form that takes. No matter how often we have seen hiccups, or mistakes or oversights; to date I have simply tried to be Mr Half-full, and we have celebrated the hard work and energy that is always invested in implementing a 1 to 1 program.

Secondly, I obviously only have news reports to go on, and so I am just hoping that what I have read in recent days regarding the first stage roll-out of iPads in LA School District has been incorrectly reported. But for those of you who haven\'t caught up with the reports, here is an excerpt from the LA Times report, and here is a summary from a recent issue of EdSurge:

\"LA UNIFIED\'S SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS: Last week, the Los Angeles Times regaled us with reports on LA Unified\'s $1 billion iPad troubles. First, students circumvented security measures and visited \"unauthorized\" websites such as YouTube and Facebook. (Using the word \"hacking\" would be giving kids too much credit; Ars Technica explains the simple steps they took.) Then 71 iPads went missing, and \"senior district officials acknowledged that they haven\'t decided on consequences if the $700 iPads are lost or broken.\" So school officials took the devices back from students--but only two-thirds have been returned. \"You can\'t do nothing with them...you just carry them around,\" one student said.\"

As I said at the top of this article, enough is enough. This is simply unacceptable. These sorts of issues, and the reporting of them give computers in schools a bad name, a very bad name…and most notably undoes much of the good work that has gone before them.
Did you hear that?…gone BEFORE!!..yes, surprise, surprise…. this has been done before, thousands of times..in more than 30 countries around the world; across tens of thousands of schools across the globe; providing and supporting more than 20 million kids across those countries with the learning medium of their time..access to their own fully functional, portable, personal computer..a laptop.

To all of you, who, as loyal supporters of the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation, are, I’m sure as frustrated as I am. We just don’t need this sort of stumble from a high…possibly, the highest…profile 1 to 1 deployment at least in the US..since Maine..and yes, look how well they managed their initiative..and as pioneers!
I’m sorry, but this sort of ‘policy clumsiness’ just has to stop. This is our young people’s future you\'re playing with, and so in future, wherever the next large deployment is scheduled ..(and there are at least a dozen that we know of for more than a million students each within the next 12 months)…could you please start showing some 21st Century Policy Leadership, and follow some very simple, easy to follow, tips:

1. Reach out beyond simple Literature searches and learn from what others have done.

2. Look for Frameworks or Deployment schedules that have been developed from the experience and knowledge of schools and schools systems who have successfully deployed 1 to 1 programs previously. Without playing favourites, AALF’s 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning, is a 2 day workshop developed from the experiences of hundreds of schools effectively rolling out 1 to 1. It has in turn been directly and indirectly used as the bible for 1 to 1 deployments to millions of students across the globe for more than 12 years. There are obviously others.

3. 1 to 1 initiatives are NOT, I repeat NOT a technology program; never was, never has been…despite how they are often reported. This is about providing exceptional, and unprecedented opportunities for deeper, more complex, more creative learning for our young people through the provision of their own fully functional, portable, personal computer. Providing the laptop is just a very simple first step on a long, hard and incredibly exciting journey.

4. Finally it is therefore on THIS basis, and this basis alone, that you must make all your decisions….. Not what is the cheapest; not what is the coolest new piece of shiny technology…but rather what will provide your young people with the most powerful choices, the most profound opportunities, to engage in learning that is relevant, worthwhile, and meaningful within the context of the technology-rich world they are growing up in.

Good luck...I sincerely hope the lessons are learned and my suggestions are helpful.

Bruce Dixon
October 3rd, 2013 @ 11:07AM | 0 Comments | Post a Comment