iPads, Schools and Teenage Dreams

ipad-releaseThe LA School District has been pioneering a roll-out of iPads to High School students. But reports today suggest that things have not gone according to plan.

Following news that students at a Los Angeles high school had hacked district-issued iPads and were using them for personal use, district officials have halted home use of the Apple tablets until further notice.

It took exactly one week for nearly 300 students at Theodore Roosevelt High School to hack through security so they could surf the Web on their new school-issued iPads, raising new concerns about a plan to distribute the devices to all students in the district.

“Outside of the district’s network … a user is free to download content and applications and browse the Internet without restriction,” two senior administrators said in a memo to the Board of education and L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. “As student safety is of paramount concern, breach of the … system must not occur.”

People might call this unintended consequences but, in fact, they are only unintended because people are blind. Has there ever been a single restriction on teenagers that has worked? My guess is no. That is because the job of a teenager is to ensure they don’t work. They are a freedom loving people.

Here is what I think happened. Someone sold the schools on the idea that it would take a good amount of technical knowledge to overcome their “security” system that would allow teenagers to freely use the device versus using it for intended educational purposes. That may have been the case. But what happens is that your would be criminal teenage entrepreneur cracks the system and then quickly educates everyone else. Again, those teenagers like to talk to each other and the first they did was educate each other about how to use their shiny new devices. Every single place technology has been rolled out in high schools this has happened. In my day, we had access to a single computer which was programmed using punch cards. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t long before some printer was spooling out “Mr xx and a very small pppp.”

The point here is obvious. If you want to roll out technology for learning, you have to expect that technology will be learned. The only control you have is that you own the device and that the device can be taken away. The kids will want their iPads so they can use it for fun as well as learning. Moreover, the iPad allows you to track their learning to some degree (although one can imagine ways of cracking that too). That means the only hope is to offer a deal to students, if you demonstrate iPads are helping you learn by actually learning what we want you to learn, you can keep them and use them freely. Otherwise, you are back to books. What is more, that actually mirrors what you want in the real world. It is the same criteria that will allow you to keep a job that has an internet-connected computer or device.

3 Replies to “iPads, Schools and Teenage Dreams”

  1. “If you want to roll out technology for learning, you have to expect that technology will be learned.”

    Ain’t that the truth. Too bad lots of people in charge of children don’t care so much about learning as they care about power.

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