The Bumpy Road to a REAL Paradigm Shift, part 2, Objection!

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Question: What is the HS dropout rate in Georgia? About 35%!

Question: What is the average Math SAT score in Georgia? About 490!

Keep doing what we’re doing? Are you kidding me?

Over the last several weeks and months, I’ve heard lots of questions and concerns about putting tablet devices in the hands of kids. Frankly, most comments come in the form of objections – “here is why we can’t or won’t do it.” In this post, I’d like to list some of the more pertinent objections and address them. Your comments are always welcome.

Objection: We can’t afford to put a tablet device into the hands of each child.
Overruled: Stop spending money on expensive PCs, the software for them, and the support organization that tries to keep them running. That will help. Supplement that with grants, SPLOST, and other sources. You still may not have enough. You may have to roll out tablets a grade at a time, a school at a time, etc. It probably needs to happen slowly anyway. Just because you can’t supply everyone at once, don’t use that as an excuse not to serve anyone. BYOT/BYOD might be useful and help the process. Look, we KNOW that 2 or 3 PCs in a classroom or a lab-full here and there HAS NOT, in general, improved outcomes, retention, etc. Why keep doing the same thing? This is a radical shift in the way that you do business. Plan accordingly.

Objection: Teachers will need to be retrained.
Sustained: Yes, this will be the single biggest snag in doing a large tablet deployment. This is fundamental reform. Teachers will need to get off the stage and learn to be coaches in an environment where differentiation and project based learning rules. Further, teachers will need to get up to speed on apps and web resources and be able to demonstrate use. Some won’t like it. Some won’t make it.

Objection: Students would be better off with a Windows laptop or netbook.
Overruled: There are a number of reasons a tablet is a better choice for students including being more compact, lighter, no exposed keyboard, better as a book reader, instant on and ready, etc. Apps for tablets offer productivity tools, broad coverage of education topics, and connect easily to web content. Yes, you CAN type on them. I’m doing this WordPress blog on one.

Objection: Some kids won’t be able to take them home – for safety or other reasons.
Sustained: As much as I would like for every kid to have their tablet 24/7, that may not be possible. OK, move on. Have them pick them up at the beginning of the day and turn them in at he end of the day – or whatever variation is required.

Objection: Kids may not have network access at home.
Overruled: That is the beauty of a tablet device. They can be loaded with cheap and free education apps, students can pre-download files before they leave school, etc. Also, $10 home Internet is now widely available. That might help. Free wifi is available in many locations including libraries, downtown areas, McDonalds, etc. Get creative.

Objection: Tablet devices are fragile.
Sustained: Build quality varies and screens are always an issue. They will slide off desks and kids will drop them. Fortunately, there are cases at reasonable prices that are designed to provide robust protection. Think OtterBox and equivalents. Plan on stocking spares so that if breakage occurs, it’s a quick matter to get a student (or teacher) back in business. I’d go for 5% spares as a start.

Objection: We will need to upgrade our network infrastructure (especially wifi.)
Sustained: Plan for at least 25% of your students actively using wifi at any given time. That may mean a significant upgrade is needed. Fortunately, wifi N is now widely available and offers far greater speed, capacity, and range than the legacy G you may have now. Careful: Put N in the 5 GHz band. Cost? See above objection.

Objection: We won’t be able to control security.
Overruled: Apple, for instance offers the iPhone Utility and MDM in $49 OSX Server. 3rd parties are falling all over themselves to provide security/management solutions for Android and iOS. For wifi, put up a VLAN for student access that is filtered and gives no access to important systems (SIS for example.)

Objection: Students will abuse the tablets
Sustained: There is no perfect solution. Don’t let the troublesome 1 or 5% spoil the tremendous possibilities tablets bring for the rest of your student population. If teachers and administrators are well trained and policies well thought-out and written, abuse can be minimized. Given the privilege of having and using a wireless mobile device, students have been observed policing each other.

Objection: We’ll need to retrain our support staff.
Sustained: Supporting tablets is very different from supporting PCs. For one thing, it’s a simpler environment. But yes, tech folks will need training on iOS or Android, minor configuration and troubleshooting training, etc.

Take-Away

Lets be clear, making the move to tablets will take time, money, policy changes, experimentation, and lots of work. But I repeat, what we have been doing for the last 20 years, in general, HAS NOT worked (yes, I know there are exceptions.) As a technology person and citizen, I don’t want to look back in another 5 or 10 years and again see that we have made no real improvement in achievement and retention. I hope you agree.

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