Takeaways from LAUSD iPad Deployment

Keeping Pace recently blogged “Los Angeles Unified’s iPad rollout not going according to plan.” As a former teacher and district technology integration coordinator, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this rollout, too. For the past few days I have read multiple news reports on the LA Unified School District’s (LAUSD) issues with students cracking their district-issued iPads so that they could play games and access social media sites. The first article I read in the LA Times blazed the headline “LAUSD halts home use of iPads for students after devices hacked.” Once the district realized that the students had gained access to materials the district deemed inappropriate, it ordered all of the iPads returned to the school.  Now, I’m not surprised that the students rose to the challenge of breaking through the restrictions on the iPads, after all that’s human nature. In my mind, these students saw an obstacle and found a way around it, like a modern day version of Lewis and Clark. I’m not suggesting that they earn a reward for their efforts, but I certainly do not condone the district recalling the devices. In fact, recalling the devices strikes me as very similar to not teaching students to read or write because one day they may read or write something outside of school that someone deems inappropriate.

Instead of being reactionary, LAUSD and the students that it serves would have been better served by proactive leadership and planning.

  • First, administrators should have provided extensive professional development for teachers. Teaching in a classroom where students have devices is an amazing opportunity for students to receive personalized education that can be highly engaging, if the teacher is knowledgeable about the technology and pedagogy. If, instead, the technology is just layered on top of traditional teaching methods, with no changes in pedagogy, then this is a recipe for disaster. I always believed that if you want a technology initiative to succeed then at least 25% of the resources should be dedicated to professional development. In a highly technological society, the most valuable asset in any classroom is still the teacher.
  • Second, they should have provided digital citizenship training to students before issuing any devices. Many districts are switching to responsible use agreements (sample) in which students are expected to act responsibly when using technology. An informed student population is essential to a successful technology initiative.
  • Third, LAUSD school officials should have known that most mobile device management (MDM) systems can be disabled by deleting the profile on the device (I learned this from my son when he was twelve).
  • Fourth, Many schools are overzealous with filters, firewalls, and various blocks in the name of CIPA compliance. “CIPA requires K-12 schools and libraries using E-Rate discounts to operate "a technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers with Internet access that protects against access through such computers to visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors...".”[1] CIPA does not require wholesale blocking of social media sites or gaming. Being overzealous in the name of keeping students safe does more harm than good.
  • Lastly, LAUSD school administration needed a plan to deal with individual students who engaged in serious violations of district policies and should not have treated all students as though they were in the wrong. This clearly sends the message that all students will suffer educational consequences because of the actions of some students crossed a line.

I often hear people say that schools should not provide students with devices. In fact, when a school board candidate in northeast Ohio mentioned that he would look at providing students iPads, a community member posted on Facebook the following comment “[O]ne thing I have noticed during my 30+ years in education is the fascination that the people in charge have for every new fad that comes along. These bright ideas never make the kids any smarter.”[2] This statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of technology in education—and it’s not a view held only by the commenter. Devices will never make students “smarter.” Instead they are the bridge that can allow teachers to provide personalized learning opportunities that are highly engaging for all students. I recently heard George Curous say “if you don’t know what a hashtag[3] is then you are becoming illiterate.” He is absolutely correct. Technology is not a fad; it is as essential to a well-rounded education as is the well-trained teacher.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children's_Internet_Protection_Act (I cited Wikipedia because the FCC website is shutdown as non-essential at this time).

[2] https://www.facebook.com/pages/Medina-City-Schools-Outrage-Page/512176345494836

[3] Just added hashtag to my Word dictionary.