Category Archives: Leadership

We Need Keyboards With Our iPads. Not!

This past summer, Maine's schools got the choice for the first time to purchase tablets as part of the statewide 1to1 learning with “laptop” initiative (MLTI). It has spotlighted an interesting demand related to tablets: we need to get keyboards so students can use the tablets.

I kind of understand why people might think this. The virtual keyboard on the iPad does take a little getting used to, especially if you're a pretty good typer on a regular, physical keyboard. Also, adults and students hear other adults say, “we need keyboards for our tablets.” And the idea is reinforced by the TV ads for some tablets that state theirs come with a keyboard “so you can do real work.” Locally, we even have an owner of a call center claiming (while pounding his fist on the table…) he won't hire any of our graduates because they won't be able to type on a physical keyboard.

My own experience with a full sized iPad is that it took me a couple weeks to get used to the virtual keyboard, but now I type on it as fast or faster than I do on a physical keyboard. And I have heard similar stories of parents or community leaders in other districts demanding keyboards because of the hard time they personally are having typing on the onscreen keyboard, but a couple weeks later saying “never mind” when they have developed familiarity with it.

Admittedly, if I'm doing any quantity of writing on my iPad mini, such as writing this post, I do use a bluetooth keyboard. My hands are just too big to do anything more than a modified hunt and peck on the smaller keyboard. But the core of this debate is not about the size the keyboards on the (smaller) screens, but rather about onscreen vs physical keyboards.

I do believe that some folks really do need a different keyboard or sometimes need a physical keyboard. MLTI provided keyboards in something like a 1-to-10 or 1-to-7 ratio to the number of student iPads. We have put those in a keyboard lending program in our school libraries (students can check them out as needed), and a few students with a specific need have one permanently assigned to them. We even have students and families who have bought their own keyboards or keyboard cases (but that was a personal choice rather than a universal demand).

But the real issue that keeps coming up is the question, does everyone (or even just most students) need a keyboard? Districts in Maine that have experience with 1to1 iPad initiatives had interesting things to say when the question of keyboards was posed on the state technology email list.

The Cape Elizabeth tech director reported:

In our high school, we bought around 40-50 iPad keyboards for use in English and Social Studies, and also in our Library. This was in response to concerns from teachers, rather than from students, and although they did get used, they got used primarily because the teachers wanted them to be used rather than students needing to use them. They certainly got used less and less as the year went on and even teachers who borrowed them stopped using them as they ended up finding the onscreen keyboard just more practical.

The high school in RSU 57 has had a 1to1 iPad initiative in place for about 2 years. Their tech person talked about the keyboard cases they had provided students:

This was based on concerns from the administration and staff that student's would need a keyboard especially for typing long papers. Two years later and (my opinion) most students do not use the physical keyboards. Last year's class used it less than the previous class. What I am seeing is that the more the iPad and its virtual keyboard become mainstream the more the students are used to virtual typing before they are ever issued an iPad. Had we stayed with our original plan, I was not going to purchase keyboards this year.

In South Portland, the high school has had a 1to1 initiative for about 3 years, involving about 400 iPads. They have had “almost zero 'real' keyboard use/demand for the few we had purchased to allay concerns.”

Similarly, folks from Falmouth shared:

We bought 50 keyboards for our Elementary School iPads when we started the program 2 years ago. The thought was that 5th graders were going to need them to be able to type papers. 48 of the keyboards are still sitting in a closet unopened because they just have not been needed. The other two I have loaned out to staff but they always bring them back because they don't use them.

Foxcroft Academy has had one of the first high school 1to1 iPad initatiives in Maine. Their Assistant Head of School for Academics pointed out:

We're beginning year 3 of our 1:1 iPad program for all of our grade 9-12 students. We bought a few keyboards in year 1…They've received almost no use. There are plenty of barriers to student writing, but I can assure you that the virtual keyboard is not a substantive one. And, with built-in speech-to-text on these fancy new MLTI iPads, the virtual keyboard is even less a barrier. In short – buy a few (no more than a handful) if you must, to show that you're listening, but know that they are very likely to gather dust.

The Tech Integrator from Bar Harbor responded this way:

We plan to disallow external keyboards for iPads in school, unless the school determines that a student needs one. The thinking is that students will learn the iPad quickly enough, and that we don't want to set up for “have's and have-nots,”…. also the experience of our teachers using iPads, is that even an adult can learn to process text on an iPad.

That educator went on to say that when parents inquire, they have been referencing the articles here and here.

The issue is primarily an adult issue. Surprisingly, much of the demand for keyboards came before any of the schools even had their iPads! As one educator stated in the online discussion:

Some can't understand how you can interact in an educational setting with a device that does not have a keyboard with keys on it. An English teacher here, who was using Edmodo, had a student submit a lengthy paper the student had “thumb typed” on their iPhone!! Don't worry, the kids are all ready there or they will adapt very quickly. We just need to get out of the way.

I am empathetic to folks having fears and concerns about “new” technology they have only a cursory understanding of. This keyboard issue is a common perception about iPads.

But being a common perception does not mean that we have to respond to it, especially if we have adequate reason to believe it is a MISperception. (Nor do we have to respond to a concern just because it is stated repeatedly, or loudly, or with confidence, or by condemning those who disagree, etc.)

It is on us to make the argument (politely and diplomatically) about what works (not what is perceived or guessed or intuited or philosophized…) and provide the evidence that it works (such as through the stories that have been shared here).

 

Communicating with the Community: Getting the Message Right

I attended messaging training this summer while at the Association for Middle Level Education Affiliate Summit. The training was put on by the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 16 leading education associations all focused on improving learning in America's schools.

I know we are facing some communication challenges presently, and I suspect some of you are, too, so here are my notes on that session (cleaned up a little).

Key Questions to Shape Your Messaging:

  • What's your issue/messaging challenge?
  • Who should you be reaching out to?
  • What's your ask?

Key Findings from National Public Opinion Polls and Survey Data

  • Recent growing support for teachers
  • A belief that there is a lack of adequate funding
  • Rank local schools high but think country's schools are in trouble
  • Parents want to know how their child is progressing

Common Assumptions (from that national data)

  • The community can be influenced primarily by parents, students, teachers
  • Top education problems & issues: motivation, character, discipline, effort
  • Student success and teacher effectiveness = caring
  • Choice is good
  • Reforms need a lot more money
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to go to college
  • Individualization is needed to strengthen basics (not for innovation)
  • Education is a limited commodity (there is only so much to go around)

Common Agreements (from that national data)

  • Public schools are key to a nation's economic future
  • High quality pubic education is a right, not a luxury
  • Public education benefits society
  • Innovation is important, but don't experiment on my children – we need improvement
  • Goal of pubic education is the preparation needed to support our country's quality of life

Values That Work in the Community (from the national data)

  • Education is a shared investment
  • The current system needs updating to prepare students to live in a rapidly changing world
  • Improving education requires a practical set of iterative steps toward an ultimate goal
  • Issues of equity are about the distribution of resources, not about bad people (maybe about unlucky people, not bad people)
  • Don't say “my child” say “every child”

 

Deliberate Leadership for School Change: an Overview of the Lead4Change Model

Large-scale school change often involves both complex systems (lots of different people, schools, organizations, etc.), as well as, things that teachers have never experienced themselves.

That's why schools need a model of deliberate leadership for school change. One such model is Lead4Change.

Lead4Change grew from early learnings from the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) about what strategies successful schools were using, and were often missing at schools having less success. Working with a variety of schools designed to motivate students, it became clear that the lessons generalized nicely to all kinds of school change, not just 1to1 laptop and tablet initiatives.

This 16 minute video provides an overview of the model.

My school district is applying this model to our technology initiatives, MLTI & Advantage 2014, and several districts, including mine, is using it to help shape our work around Customized Learning.

 

The Series on the New MLTI: Choice, Auburn, and Learning

Maine has long had the first (and, unfortunately, only) 1to1 learning with technology initiative: MLTI.

The MLTI contract was up for renewal this year, and, for the first time, Maine is allowing each district to choose from 5 finalist proposals, producing a lot of conversation about the choices and how to choose.

Below is the series of blog posts I have written about the MLTI renewal, Auburn's choice and choice process, and my interest that MLTI selection focus on learning:

 

Strengths of the Early MLTI Program – Let’s Keep Them Going

Maine's learning with technology initiative (MLTI) is going through changes this year:

  • The contract renewal framed it not as a Maine contract, but as a multi-state contract, in hopes of making it easier for other states to do their own statewide initiatives.
  • When our governor announced the new contract award, it wasn't for our 12-year partner, Apple, but rather for HP.
  • The governor is allowing districts to select from any of the 5 finalist (Apple is included).

I'm not sure how all these changes will play out. My hope is that Maine's educators will rise to he occasion and take MLTI to the next level. My fear is that this will eventually kill what has been an internationally recognized learning program.

But it has made me think back on MLTI and what we identified that made the early MLTI such a powerful initiative. I found a couple old articles that address that question:

What we identified then as the strengths of this initiative include:

  • Access to technology
  • A focus on learning
  • A focus on leadership
  • Context-embedded professional development
  • Technology as a tool, not a curriculum area
  • Thinking how technology can change/improve teaching and learning

I hope Maine's educators, including the DOE and MLTI staff, continue to place an emphasis on these areas, and, despite the changes to program, MLTI continues to be the strong impactful initiative we had 8-10 years ago.

 

What We Want from Technology – MLTI, Customized Learning, and School Vision

There have been many discussions around Maine since the Governor announced schools would have choice over which solution they select for MLTI for the next four years. But most of those conversations have focused on the device, or its capabilities, or why it is “my preferred device,” or why people are worried that the device they aren't that familiar with will not be sufficient for the task at hand…

I wish so much more of those conversations had instead been about school visions for learning, and what we hope to get from technology for learning. What role can technology play in learning? What is your school's or district's vision (ours is here), and what is the role of technology in fulfilling that vision?

And for Auburn, as I would guess for other districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, we are concerned about technology's role in helping us succeed with implementing Customized Learning (such a critical part of our vision).

Here is what we think the roles for technology are for learning, especially for Customized Learning:

  • Instructional Resources for Building Foundational Knowledge
  • Instructional Resources for Using Knowledge, Creating, Complex Reasoning, and Projects
  • Learning Progress Management
  • Supporting Independent Learning
  • Assessment
  • Home School Connection
  • Student Motivation

How are you currently using technology for each of these? What are teachers doing (maybe in your district, but maybe in another) that shows you exciting ways technology could be used for each of these? What is best technology practice for each of these roles?

But much more importantly, as Maine's districts think about selecting a solution for MLTI, how does each proposed solution measure up against each of these roles for technology?

You don't have to be interested in Customized Learning to be interested in these roles. But I don't beleive a school can make a satisfactory decision about which solution to select if they are only thinking about the device or the operating system…

 

What Did Auburn Choose for MLTI and Why?

Auburn chose the Apple Primary Solution (iPads for students; MacBook Airs and iPad Minis for teachers) for MLTI.

Here is a two-page FAQ document we prepared for our teachers and community. Among other things, it explains our rationale for making this choice.

(Again, we aren't asking anyone to choose what we choose, but rather we're trying to share about our process and how we chose.)