No iPads please, we’re teachers.

I saw an article pop up on social media about a school in Sydney who are banning iPads in favour of textbooks.

Rewind five years or so to the book of EdTech in the classroom.  People were announcing huge 1:1 deployments of iPads and similar.  Great, we all thought, there’s an app for that!

The problem is twofold as with all EdTech purchases.  Tech without pedagogy is damaging and pointless and secondly, failure to plan for the inevitable obsolescence is a costly mistake.   I know, I have done it.  We like to think these things last forever, but in reality, it will be five years if you are lucky.

Edtech and this case iPads cannot teach a lesson for you.  Simply using an app will not help children to be more engaged or to learn better.  It is the skill in the teacher of being able to understand how to use the tool to best support their pedagogy.  It is a folly to suggest that any tool (pen, pencil, ohp, iPad etc.) can improve learning on its own.  Those who know me know I like to use EdTech in my classroom, but will always defer to the best tool for the job.  I will use iPads where it will have a clear purpose, usually in the publishing phase of our learning.  There has been lots of analogue work before we ever get to that stage.

Obsolescence of technology is one of those things will never happen to us.  This isn’t true.  You can keep things going for a while, but eventually, the cost of fixing things often outstrips the cost of replacement.  Of course, this has an environmental impact of e-waste, but that is a whole different conversation.  As a primary teacher, I am seeing the interactive whiteboards and projector combinations that are ubiquitous in every classroom coming to the end of their lives.  This is something that many of us didn’t consider at the time they were installed.

Similar is true of iPads.  Apple is really good at offering updates to its operating software, which keep devices up to date for longer, but what happens when your device is ‘retired?’  Sadly, many of the apps you use are no longer supported and the functionality of the device becomes less until the point it finds a place in a cupboard to gather dust.

It is a toxic pairing of obsolescence and ill-thought-out use that means that the backlash against the EdTech devices will grow.  In truth, there is nothing wrong with the devices or their use.  It is OUR fault as school leaders and teachers, not to consider a long term well thought out plan.  Our own short term thinking is what may cause the EdTech bubble to burst.

Yes, textbooks may not require maintenance, but they do require pedagogy.  You need to know what the book says to teach from it effectively.  They also can become obsolete very quickly.  Ask any teacher who still has an atlas that defines Yugoslavia or the USSR as a country!

The article comments that while it was ‘banning’ iPads, it was replacing it with a bring your own device.  In other words, putting the focus on pupils to ensure devices were up to date and thus saving money for the school.  While this may get around the problem of adolescence BOYD still needs pedagogy to underpin it.

Let’s not demonise devices in school but ensure we plan for their use with care and as a tool that supports the way that learning is happening.


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