EdTech Friday: Digital Devices: tablets and laptops in the classroom

Ed Tech Friday is a weekly look at the issues, trends, and conversations that are important in the world of education technology. This week we are doing a broad overview of the field in order to introduce this new series.

Part 1: Train Wrecks Make Better Stories

Most stories about placing digital devices into a classroom are either optimistic “we’re going to do this” or train-wreck stories of what went wrong. Rarely do we see stories about successful implementation of technology that get wide attention.

There are three reasons for this.

First, the media loves train-wrecks. As this article points out, we don’t read any stories about the approximately 11,160,000 flights that took off and landed successfully over the last four months. But we’ve seen plenty of reporting on two Malaysian Airline flights that ended in tragedy.

Two stories about classroom devices that got a lot of attention are from the train-wreck genre. One is about how the Los Angeles unified school district took back some of the iPads distributed as part of a major $1 Billion dollar initiative. The headline is more alarming than the article, of course. “L.A. Unified takes back iPads as $1-billion plan hits hurdles” but the article clarifies that only two out of 47 school districts were affected. The second story is about a failed Chromebook distribution program in Hoboken. The school district got windfall funding and decided to buy laptops for every student without a good plan for training teachers or using the technology.

Second, successful technology implementation should be boring. While you may read about a the city investing in a new water system, you probably don’t want to read a story about every time a building successfully uses water out of the tap. The best technology is invisible. You don’t think about using it, you just use it.

Third, we actually are seeing stories about technological success. However, these stories are not about the technology, but what is being done with it. Once again, the technology itself is invisible. Gordon Ramsey doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about sharp knives and gas burners. He talks about what cooks are doing with the food.

Stories about things being done with the technology include:

None of these stories are really about the technology, but they all (and many others) are based on a successful implementation.

The disaster stories are still important, though. Especially at a time when, for many schools, devices are being incorporated into the classroom for the first time. This process should include a discussion about what we are trying to accomplish with these devices, what we gain, what we lose, and how we could mitigate any losses. We’ll take a look at those issues in the next two parts of this series.


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