November 17, 2017

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Tablets in Schools—What’s Ahead in 2014

SLJ1401w_TK_NBTOne year ago, I predicted that 2013 would be a turning point for mobile hardware in schools and libraries. That’s held true. My forecast of sub-$100 tablets from top brands came close as well. Entry-level Acer Iconia Android tablets are about $107, and the Barnes & Noble Nook HD starts at $129.

But 2013 was not the year of the tablet in the way I expected. Perhaps I was foolish to think that schools would resist the fetishism of the iPad and hold off on the massive purchase of iPads and other tablets until there was an instructional use plan in place. Alas, no. Too many schools plunged in, too quickly, with 1:1 tablet initiatives.

This year, success stories will emerge. Districts that took the time to properly implement tablet rollouts will see results. If you’re in such a district, please write and share!

Yet the recent specter of Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) $1 billion iPad fiasco will likely set back many programs. That ill-fated rollout was plagued by cost overruns. In addition, students hacked the schools’ security system to access blocked social media sites, and several iPads went missing. This high-profile failure tarnished the concept of 1:1 tablet computing when that concept should be used as an excellent learning opportunity.

What went wrong at LAUSD, and how can your district avoid a similar fate? The biggest problems can be avoided with planning. First, the budget for the LAUSD program was unrealistically low. The projected tablet price was based on a bulk purchase of tablets, but a slow rollout with smaller purchases drove up costs.

A second issue was the naïve expectation that students would adhere to the security restrictions for using the devices. Not all hackers are destructive—some just want to explore. Districts can either lock devices down so severely that they are rendered unusable or plan on installing the only solution that has a hope of working: imparting ethics.

In the end, LAUSD seemingly sucumbed, like so many other schools, to the seductive lure of the hardware—so pretty, so shiny. But we must resist the siren call of tablets and focus instead on instructional objectives. Namely: Why are these devices being purchased? What pedagogical changes will be made because of them? How will learning and assessment make use of the new tools? Most important, where are we going to find content to fill the otherwise empty devices?

Twenty thirteen was the year of the tablet and good riddance, I say. Time to focus on the real reason to invest in any tool for learning: content and pedagogy. These should be the steps toward forging the path that may lead to a 1:1 tablet program, if that proves the right way to go.

You can get started right now. Set the stage for 1:1 learning by shifting pedagogy to small group and independent work. Drawing from your existing content, put in the time to create individual lesson plans rather than assigning the same project to the whole class.

While doing so, bear in mind that all of the following can be initiated without a tablet program: flipping instruction in a print world, engaging in analog blogging and social networking, and shifting to creation instead of consumption. When—not if—devices do show up, teachers and students will be all ready to go. This is the challenge for 2014.

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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