5 Lessons drawn from the LAUSD iPad fiasco

It’s becoming difficult to read the news in Los Angeles these days without running across yet another article about the problems faced by the sputtering LAUSD iPad initiative. Finally, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy announced this week that they were “>the US spends more per student than any other country. That spending isn't always reflected in results that show US students continuing to drop in performance rankings. Technology is widely viewed as a panacea so it's not surprising that many districts and schools are investing heavily in educational technology systems and devices. However, the dominant trend maintains the status quo and patches technology use on existing pedagogical models. When we turn a blind eye to the massive disruption occurring in the world around us we fail to build new educational visions that harness the enormous potential of technology to reform learning. 

The cost of the LAUSD iPad initiative was initially estimated at $500 million but was quickly revised to one billion dollars within the first few months. If for no other reason, financial accountability would demand a well thought out and designed vision for technology use – a vision that addresses the evolving needs of modern learners and changes the rigid, curriculum driven instruction that has characterized institutionalized education for decades. Instead, whatever plan there may have been was sketchy, poorly communicated and certainly didn’t stem from any attempt at educational renaissance. Rather than aspiring to renewal and reform, from the beginning LAUSD was mired in delays and technical fixes that were reflex reactions to unanticipated events. The classic example occurred when iPads were recalled within days of their initial rollout as “>wrote a year ago;

     “Technology can be used to empower students to research, discover, create and connect within more student-centered, experiential learning processes … In contrast, LAUSD’s iPad initiative is still entrenched within an age-old educational paradigm that stresses course delivery and administrative control. The iPad becomes a glorified digital textbook that contains extensive Common Core courses by Pearson for pre-K to 12th grade, designed to prepare students for standardized tests.”

The plan seemed questionable from the start when “>December 2013 survey revealed that a large majority of teachers would have voted to discontinue the iPad rollout.  Most teachers viewed it as an additional burden. They weren’t given a voice in the formation of the plan and lacked the necessary clarity with respect to the project goals. The general school community still remains puzzled by the concept of Common Core standards, the perceived rush to purchase several hundred thousand devices and the continual stream of negative press after the initial rollout. LAUSD leadership was dictating terms of a very expensive and hastily conceived plan. They failed to communicate a clear understanding of the urgent need for reform in an education system that's becoming more rapidly outdated with every passing day. As a result, they didn't get the support of teachers and the community at large. 

Lesson 3:  Training requires more than an introductory “how-to” workshop.

If your dentist tells you he’s about to remove your wisdom teeth you’d hope he has more experience than an afternoon workshop in tooth extraction. When it comes to using technology however, many administrators imagine that teachers simply need a few hours in a crowded room with a technology instructor and they’re good to go. 

Effective technology use requires a change in school culture. Firstly, training has to extend far beyond simple “how-to” sessions. Teachers need to feel comfortable with technology in their classroom. Don't mistake that to mean that they need to be skilled in technology applications. Knowing how to use an iPad or a specific curriculum app doesn't translate into an understanding of how to utilize iPads as effective educational tools. Training should reflect the educational goals and stimulate discussion about new horizons and pedagogical practices.  

Secondly, educational technology training is not an “event”. It’s an ongoing process that's busy with ongoing discussion, experimentation and evaluation. Technology use can stimulate cultural change when it's energized by sharing and collaboration and encouraged to swell from the bottom up.

LAUSD pilot teachers were given an initial 3 day workshop – one day by Apple and two additional days by Pearson to provide instruction on their Common Core curriculum app. The result? “>iPads in Education for Dummies 
Contact Sam for workshops and professional development at samgliksman@gmail.com