The iPad Project on Tour

The first quarter of 2011 which - can you believe? - is nearly over already, has been a whirl for me. I've done more formal public speaking in the past three or four months than in my entire life put together. It's been fascinating, though, to meet and interact with other teachers, administrators and technologists. People seem to be very interested in what we've done at Cedars and I'm happy to tell the story whenever asked.

I recently returned from a trip to the USA which I found incredibly valuable and interesting. Let me tell you a bit about it.

On February 26th, I flew from Glasgow to Abilene, TX by way of London, an emergency medical stop in Goose Bay, Canada and Dallas/Fort Worth airport. Fortunately, the medical emergency was not me, but I thought I might have had some heart palpitations as our 747 carved its way down a deep valley towards YYR, which is little more than an airstrip and a hangar in the wilds of Labrador. It was -17C outside when we landed, so we didn't get out for a walk around.

We eventually made our way to the town of Abilene, home of Abilene Christian University, who were hosting the bi-annual ACU Connected Summit where I had been invited to speak. As we checked in at the hotel, in walked Steve Wozniak. I don't know about you but I love wrapping up a long and eventful day of international air travel by meeting one of your nerd heroes at a hotel check-in desk. Suffice to say that Woz was as humble and gracious as he is always reported to be.

The Connected Summit was two days long and seven tracks wide. There were some excellent keynotes. In particular, I took a lot from Karen Cator's speech about the future direction of educational technology. There were also TED-style "Connected Talks" sessions interspersed throughout the programme, which was a nice way of giving some stage time to a larger number of people.

I was honoured to give a Connected Talk in the final session alongside Sarah Herrlinger of Apple, Matt Federoff of Vail Unified School District and ACU's Director of Educational Innovation, Bill Rankin. The talk was entitled "The End of the IT Department?" which, I will immediately admit, is fully compliant with Betteridge's Law of Headlines. I encourage you to watch the talk when it becomes available because it's a bit more subtle than the "Users über alles!" pitch suggests. I also spoke at greater length in the K-12 track about our approach to the 1:1 iPad deployment. Again, I'll link to that when the video becomes available.

There were several other talks that I found enlightening. Because of the short-but-wide nature of the conference, there was a lot of content that I didn't see, but I particularly enjoyed the following talks:

  • Karen Cator's opening keynote
  • Adrian Sannier's keynote
  • Don Henderson's connected talk on Challenge-Based Learning
  • Maria Andersen's talk "Where's the Learn This Button?" - one of you nerds out there should build her idea. I also loved her title: "Learning Futurist".
  • Les Simpson and Steven Zipkes' presentation of the work at Manor New Tech High on Challenge-based learning.

Another part of the conference was a tour of ACU's just-opened Learning Studio. The Learning Studio is a new high-tech space built in part of the ACU library that focuses on providing space for students to focus on three aspects of digital creativity:

  • Create
  • Collaborate
  • Explore

Although the Learning Studio is a $1.8m facility, I was inspired by it because what was so clear to me was that the entire project had been very carefully thought through from start to finish. Anyone can spend a couple million dollars on equipment but the work on designing the space to support learning was so obviously there.

New York

So from Abilene to New York City, by way of my first ever WiFi-enabled flight, I went. I was in the air during the iPad 2 announcement but delightfully didn't miss a thing.

I was spending time at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn who are rolling out about 400 iPads to their incoming freshmen, middle school and special ed programs. We spent a couple of days together chewing over several issues to do with the technical and teaching sides of deployment. I'll be distilling this experience into a couple of later posts but I was really pleased that we were able to plan out a path from "we've got 50 iPads right now" to "iPad for everyone". Xaverian are going to have a great deployment, I'm sure.

While in New York, we also visited with Eric Walters and the team at Marymount School right on Central Park in Manhattan. It's literally right across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is quite a facility to have on hand! Physically, Marymount is not unlike Cedars - both are housed in adapted old townhouse buildings, so we were able to commiserate with each other about how inconsiderate the stonemasons of the 1890s were to the needs of those deploying WiFi.

We discussed many things but one that has remained with me was Eric's comment about their IT philosophy: "we try to be a 'Yes' school". There's nothing more important than that. The actual technical issues of doing anything are trivial compared to the apparent difficulty of getting people to agree to be helpful. I spoke at another conference of Scottish public-sector professionals just before leaving for ACU and the discussion that dominated the entire day was about people locked into a war of attrition with their IT department just to get their jobs done.

At ACU, there was a lot of talk about teachers creating their own textbook resources. When I visited Marymount, I saw that in action. Teachers at several different levels had used Pages' ePub export feature to create their own books containing, variously, focused poetry anthologies, science revision books and to showcase pupil work with images, audio and video. These were wonderful digital artefacts to create in order to wrap up and keep the work of a class in digital form.

TEDxNYED

Late into the trip, Bill Stites kindly DMed me to say that he had figured out a way to squeeze me into an education-focused TEDx event being held in the New York Academy of Sciences.

Well, the view from the 40th floor was stunning:

First We Take Manhattan

The talks were fascinating too, and video will be available soon. I particularly enjoyed Alan November, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Dennis Littky and Diana Laufenberg (whose talk you can already watch online).

On all my travels, I was amazed to realise the reach that this blog has gained. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to say hello or offer a kind word on this crazy project I'm involved in. I appreciate your interest and encouragement more than you realise.