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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

yes, but
Politics aside we are at the mercy of the multi-nationals to whom the bottom line is the bottom line. Companies like Toshiba with whom we all partnered in the SNAP program dropped the education machines with had a good price point and thr features we argued for in favour of retail models .... because here in Australia, Toshiba are governed by Japan and thr country and the channel are indignificant in terms of profit. Samsung have now withdrawn their offeringsfrom the educational market, apparently because of falling profits, leaving fewer options when we are looking to refresh our student platforms. So who is championing our cause? Which company is willing to provide us with appropiate models at a price wecan afford? It is becoming harder andharder to resist the iPad push from the BYOD evangelists, but with the almighty dollar determining what\'s available more and more school administrators are giving in.
Posted By: graham hughes on October 3rd, 2013 @ 4:38PM
sorry for the typos
My tablet keyboard is a pain!!!
Posted By: graham hughes on October 3rd, 2013 @ 4:40PM
absolutely agree
absolutely agree
This has been one of the best posts I have read recently. Like yourself, I have always been a 1 to 1 Papert follower. I have become increasingly concerned though at the banal use of technology in schools.
You are right to say that it is about commercial gain and control. The only problem is that the banality will not produce the problem solvers that we will need if we are to make any progress in the future and survive the huge threats to our existence that we face.
We need more articles such as this if anything can possibly be done.
Posted By: malcolm bellamy on October 22nd, 2013 @ 2:08PM