iPads in Education

Innovating education with technology.

Do iPads Have the Capacity to Change Education?

You hear it repeatedly. You can't throw technology into schools without training and support for teachers. If you purchased a truckload of iPads for your school then you better have a plan for developing teachers that are skilled in using them ... but what does it really mean to be "skilled"? If I know all about technical specifications, how to download and synchronize apps, how to configure my iPad - does that make me skilled? What constitutes effective professional development? How do we train teachers to use technologies such as iPads and expect a real change in education?


The United States spends more per capita on educational technology than any other nation on earth. It's not even close. While we can bemoan a lack of thorough teacher training, by and large it has been relatively significant. The obvious question remains after all the investment in educational technology - where are the results? In the USA we are currently caught in the midst of a very public national educational crisis. Newspapers are publishing teacher ratings, schools are being closed and national academic standards are falling. It seems apparent that despite all our costly technology implementations, educational standards are falling significantly. Why? 

In her study of how technology is used in industry, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff has identified two distinct phases in the way new tools are implemented. She calls them "Automating" and "Informating". In the Automating stage, new tools are used to reinforce existing practices and processes. We see this stamped all over the educational space. Smartboard use that reinforces existing frontal teaching methods. Digital content replacing paper distribution. Technology that speeds the efficiency of existing standardized testing. The essence and character of traditional educational practices however hasn't changed. It's still "business as usual" in most American schools. 

The second phase of a tool's implementations - "Informating" as Professor Zuboff calls it - involves the re-imagination of processes using the new technologies. Instead of focusing on making existing processes more efficient, we start to look at entirely new methods and goals. We are in the infancy of that stage in education. In the Informating phase, educators reevaluate goals, visions and processes: 

- We see a society that values skills such as critical thinking, communication and creativity over the rote memorization of content. After all, the vast majority of content can be easily accessed within seconds on most mobile devices. 
- We value new literacies such as informational literacy that enables students to access, filter and evaluate the evolving mass of content now available. 
- We recognize an emerging global society where development of collaborative skills far outweigh traditional demands that students sit still, listen and work only on their own. 
- We understand and value the use of text as a means of conveying information but also recognize that alternative medias are the language of new generations and their use needs to be encouraged in schools. 
- We feel the empowerment granted by new technologies and their ability to move us from frontal delivery of content to involving students in discovery based and interactive learning practices. 

The availability of technology such as iPads is important but alone, it's not nearly enough. The value of having well trained teachers is also vital but will fall short if we only focus on "how-to" technical skills. How much value have we added if we use iPads for activities such as distributing black and white text-based documents for students to read - even if done efficiently? If we develop a "cool" method for having students create documents on the iPad and store them online, have we really innovated if we restrict them to working alone and creating simple word processing documents? Powerpoints/Keynotes - nice tools but do we really feel that they cause a significant shift in educational practice? 


Professional development becomes far more valuable when it searches beyond the simple nuts and bolts of technical use and instead encourages teachers to disrupt the traditional flow of education - to dabble, experiment and re-imagine how that technology can be used to sculpt new educational horizons. A skilled teacher knows more than the simple mechanics of how to use a specific tool. A skilled teacher knows that technology implementations won't have any impact as long as you try and retrofit them on to outdated teaching methods. Only when combined with the creativity and ingenuity of dedicated teachers can technology have a truly disruptive and transformative effect. 


There are many teachers finding exciting new ways to utilize iPads and other technologies to craft innovative new educational paradigms. Let's hear their stories. Add them to the site. It is the responsibility of educational leaders to usher in this "second stage" of technology integration. The future is calling us.

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Comment by BalancEdTech on January 29, 2012 at 7:17am
Following on Jonathan's post, we use Puentedura's SAMR in an iPad session we do. A rough draft of that session is posted here:
Here's a link explaining SAMR:
Episode 1 (Whole presentation is worthwhile. SAMR starts around 10:50.)
Comment by Sam Gliksman on May 14, 2011 at 6:51pm

The book is called "In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power", (1988) by Shoshana Zuboff

Comment by Shaun Barton on May 14, 2011 at 6:46pm

Hi Sam,

Any chance of getting the details of the paper by prof. Zuboff? I would like to have  read for an assignment.

Comment by Jennifer Mitchell on April 23, 2011 at 4:48pm
The Committed Sardine Blog looks great Sam. Great resource. It was a nice surprise to see our Trinity College Pilot Report listed there. I do have the sense everything will go well, and the students are all really excited. I'm now designing / fine tuning the research for Phase 2, staff views / experiences on use and integration. Will be quantiative and qualitative - surveys and focus group. Might blog here soon for some suggestions about what to include.
Comment by Jeremy Dorn on April 23, 2011 at 2:56pm
Had longer post, lost power on my iPad, lost the post... Forgot to keep it charged (long battery life is a blessing and curse).

Any ways long and short, I think computers were disruptive as they had a totally different interface then what had come before. The iPad can be both disruptive and support currents methods as int can be made to conform to the old ways if need be.

Case example, I recently rediscovered my left hand as an input tool. In Numbers I was doing some heavy formula work (found some interesting tricks in numbers btw) but was getting a tired right arm. I then realized I should be using my left hand to tap cells and table on the left side of the screen.... It's not every day you rediscover an appendage, very surreal.

Disruption will come as people have these kinds of revolations about the new interface methods. I'll be watching known lefty students as I let them us my iPad, see if they use right (mouse hand) or left dominant hand. What else could be done in getting two hands engaged in a task where we were once primarily limited only to the right (both handwriting and mouse work)?
Comment by Jonathan Nalder on April 22, 2011 at 7:35pm

Hi Sam - love the automation/ informating as a way to classify this journey. Also see these two models of this transformational process:

Prensky's - old things in old ways, old things in new ways, and new things in new ways

Puentedura - substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition 

Comment by Sam Gliksman on April 22, 2011 at 1:26pm

No offense taken Jen - especially given that I am an ex-Melbourne boy myself (Go Magpies)!

You hit the needle on the head when you said that teachers react differently to PD. I'm a firm believer that leadership and direction need to flow top-down but that actual change usually comes from the bottom-up. Teachers are most influenced by their peers. Ian Jukes, a noted Canadian educator, (21st Century Fluency Project) describes a phenomenon he calls the "committed sardine". If you observe sardines swimming in one direction they seem to all abruptly turn around and swim together in the opposite direction for no reason. When studied carefully it becomes apparent that 15% of the sardines actually turn first - and only after those sardines turn do all the others quickly turn around and follow suit. This is the perfect analogy for any cultural change. Identify your 15% of "committed sardines" and help them make the transition. Develop projects with them that highlight 21st century skills and resources then mentor them through the process. That sort of bottom-up success will breed enthusiasm and spread. Soon you'll find other teachers - and students - paying attention and asking to participate.

Importantly, remember you're planting seeds with professional development. It won't happen overnight. Cultural change needs time to take root and flower but if you continue to keep tending it then all of a sudden it starts to flourish.

Comment by Jennifer Mitchell on April 22, 2011 at 12:46pm
Thanks Sam, I was really looking for guidance in my comments, not aiming to represent your view in a narrow way, so my apologies if that's how I came across. I agree wholeheartedly with all you say, truly!! It just distresses me when teachers I'm working with appear to be so uncomfortable. Most are excited and full of enthusiasm, and are self-starters. But the resistance when it comes is hard work, and hard not to take personally. If there are ways I can ease transition for them, I want to. I'm their colleague, not an administrator or IT specialist, so, my position is a strange one. I'll just keep myself positive, and speak from experience, and hope enthusiasm remains effective. Your word are wise!!
Comment by Sam Gliksman on April 22, 2011 at 11:45am

Jennifer, change never comes easily - especially as many teachers are threatened by technology. You ask, "Is it sufficient or appropriate to tell them the future is calling?". That's not really a fair representation of my argument. The world outside our school walls is changing at an exponential pace. If we want schools to remain relevant then we have to try to open the door to change and disruption in education. Opening that door doesn't mean we have to berate, demean or disrespect any of the many teachers that work very hard every day in our schools.

Professional development has to be more than mechanics of using devices. 25 years of educational technology hasn't brought about the innovation and results that we seek because people, by nature, gravitate to the status quo. Clearly I'm a great believer in the capabilities of mobile computing but no device can affect change on its own. It's what people do with tools that brings about lasting change. Unless we move towards innovation - each at our own pace and comfort level - we will remain at the "Automate" phase where technology is simply used to reinforce existing, outmoded practices ... and that isn't working.


I recently read a very interesting blog post called "The Napsterization of Learning" that expresses a similar sentiment very eloquently. It's worth a read.

Comment by Ross Toivonen on April 22, 2011 at 7:15am

Change is upon us! Educators get on or get out of the way!


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