How can an iPad be the cause so much trouble? Our Vermont ISTE affiliate has been chatting about an article in the Bennington Banner, a local newspaper in the southwest corner of our state. The article investigates the new “freebie” policy whereby teachers or principals sign up for a course or workshop offering training along with an iPad. This is of keen interest to our affiliate because we offer some of these workshops. On one hand, the issue can be looked at in a simple, matter of fact way; If the district paid for the iPad, the device belongs to the district. But this simple solution has not solved the issue and it keeps coming up from district to district across our state. I think the issue is actually rather complex and brings up a host of issues:
- Do organizations truly “lure” educators to these workshops with the promise of a shiny iPad? Are teachers saying “I take whatever course you are offering as long as I get the iPad, even if the course does not match my needs”? I would hope that principals and teachers work together to plan professional development that will improve teaching practice. That might include teaching with an iPad and it might not. The courses and workshops that are being offered should be of such high quality that teachers would enroll in them even if they had to supply their own device. The people who create the courses and the people who approve the courses must pay attention to quality.
- Are we really offering “iPad Classes?” Did we used to offer “Overhead Projector Classes” or “Video Tape Machine Classes?” We truly need to get beyond the device here and teach courses about engaging students and providing quality instruction with whatever tools are necessary.
- I know that the property of the school district remains the property of the school district. It is a big deal that the community is taxed to fund education and those funds should go towards educating students. But why are we so paranoid about teachers using teaching tools for “entirely personal” reasons. Do we tell the English teacher that the copy of the Grapes of Wrath must stay at school and it is not for personal use at home? Sure, if the teacher lost the book, or lost the iPad, he or she would have to replace it, but I think there is tremendous value in educators becoming so familiar with their teaching tools that they become an extension of their own bodies. To me, it is more than okay, for a teacher to learn how to make videos by first creating a film of his or her own children in the backyard using the school’s iPad. I actually encourage this because I trust, and that is an important word here, trust that the teacher will then use these skills to help students make videos in the classroom that can lead to powerful learning.
- Is taking a workshop the only way a teacher can get a powerful teaching tool? That’s a sad statement in itself if that is true. I think the policy chair in Bennington had it right when he said that he did not have a problem with teachers being provided digital age devices but that he had a problem with “the fashion in which it is being done, and that only the teachers who register for certain opportunities get them while others are not.” School leaders need to pay attention to this and see that teachers get the tools they need to do their jobs. Teachers should not have to turn to one another and say “Psst, don’t tell anyone but you get an iPad if you take that course.” Schools must have open conversations about what makes a digitally enriched classroom and find ways to fund and support that vision without teachers having to sign up for a course as the only way to get the tools they need for teaching.