The “new” meatball sundae?
Source: Tech & Learning, February, 2012

“Social Media…How to make it work in the classroom.” The headline elicited a laugh. I haven’t read the article yet and don’t know who wrote it (ok, I’ve clicked it and I see some familiar names, including Texas’ favorite librarian, Carolyn “technolibrary” Foote! Kudos!). A question going around in my mind is, how have schools re-aligned themselves so that powerful, easy to use technologies like the iPad and Linux-based netbooks impact the bottom-line of schools?

Should school teachers be mobilizing to spend so much time making technology designed for personal, non-instructional use work in the classroom? It’s a question that some school districts may be asking, and it’s a great way to introduce technology that has no purpose being mis-appropriated for classroom use with students. In fact, we can have a bit of fun with the idea and invite others to conversation…maybe the T&L article would be a start.

As much as I enjoy using social media, are our current curriculum & instruction efforts fundamentally aligned with the use of emerging communication, collaboration and curating technologies? Should we be going down this road? I’m reminded of Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae (a must have book for school PR professionals) message:

Image Source:

A meatball sundae is the unfortunate result of mixing two good ideas. The meatballs are the foundation, the things we need (and sometimes want). These are the commodities that so many businesses are built on. The sundae toppings (hot fudge and the like) are the New Marketing, the social networks, Google, blogs and fancy stuff that make people all excited. (Source: Meatball Sundae)

Seth Godin elaborates with this scenario:

You go to a marketing meeting. There’s a presentation from the new Internet marketing guy. He’s brought a fancy (and expensive) blogging consultant with him. She starts talking about how blogs and the “Web 2.0 social media infrastructure” are just waiting for your company to dive in. “Try this stuff,” she seems to be saying, “and the rest of your competitive/structural/profit issues will disappear.”

Seth goes on to write:

Most of the time, despite all the hype, organizations fail when they try to use this scattershot approach. They fail to get buzz or traffic or noise or sales. Organizations don’t fail because the Web and the New Marketing don’t work. They fail because the Web and the New Marketing work only when applied to the right organization. New Media makes a promise to the consumer. If the organization is unable to keep that promise, then it fails.
New Marketing—whipped cream and a cherry on top—isn’t magical. What’s magical is what happens when an organization uses the New Marketing to become something it didn’t used to be—it’s not just the marketing that’s transformed, but the entire organization…You can become the right organization. You can align your organization from the bottom up to sync with New Marketing, and you can transform your organization into one that thrives on the new rules.

The connections between Seth’s message and what school edtech advocates are trying to do with technology lie below the surface. If we unearth them, the message is startling direct: 

If schools want to use new technologies, they have to transform themselves, aligning themselves to learners’ revised expectations.

For school technology directors, it won’t matter if you bring in the latest, cool technology. If nothing changes, you’re slapping a cherry and whip cream–iPads, netbooks, etc.–on foundational ideas of standard curriculum, standardized uses of technology that lock technology down. Students’ expectation, parents’ and community’s expectations of technology like the iPad in schools are…what? And, if you lock those down, are you being entirely honest or just building the meatball sundae? No doubt, tough questions for organizations that don’t want to change.

“What’s your instructional purpose?” asks a colleague of anyone who wants to deploy a new, exciting technology in a classroom, boardroom, or school. Unfortunately, that is an unpopular question for his district administrators that would rather not spend time thinking about that. Their focus is often giving the impression of innovative change by putting hot technology in the hands of students and teachers.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been exploring iPads as a viable alternative for the creativity tool in schools. While the choice may seem obvious when comparing a Windows-based netbook to an iPad+keyboard+AppleTV, I don’t believe it is so obvious when comparing a Linux-based netbook to an iPad with peripherals (more on that later). Wait, wait, stop laughing!

A quick comparison by a traveller that concludes the iPad is the better

Of course, the comparison is doomed from the start for a simple reason–iPad is already the “darling” of school administrators looking to score a public relations hit with local community members, etc. 

Consider these news article excerpts:

Since the iPad launched last year, some schools have replaced textbooks with E-books. Programs in two thirds of the 600 districts are new for this year; others started these “one-to-one” programs, in which schools provide one iPad for each student, soon after Apple released the tablet in April, 2010. (Source: USNews)


Jeff Bertrang is the principal of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop High School, located in south central Minnesota. When the iPad debuted in 2010, his school decided to make the investment and buy one for each student, about 375 iPads in all. Bertrang wanted his students to have the latest technology but beyond that, he didn’t want them to have to go to a computer lab to get it.
(Source: Marketplace Tech Report)


“It is a fun, engaging device that makes them want to learn. It’s like a magic learning tool.”
Michelle Lissoos, managing director of Think Ahead, a company which implements technology in schools, said she had seen iPads have a positive impact on pupils.
“We are seeing schools which have never thought about technology, opening up to technology in a way they had never imagined before.
“They are really something that can narrow the digital divide.” (Source: CapeTimes)

From hard-working productivity devices to “magic learning,” technology use in schools has evolved. We aren’t looking for technology that will make us more productive necessarily in the old-fashioned sense (pre-iPad = old-fashioned), but rather, technology that will help us accomplish what we want to do quickly, be light to tote around (ending the heavy backpack syndrome) and be drop-dead simple to use.  The bewildering array of apps can be handled one at a time, reducing complexity in the interface.

Android-based Transformer Prime tablet,
comparatively priced to iPad

As you read remarks on iPad usage, it’s obvious that the iPad–and certain competitively-priced Android cousins–there IS some mass hypnosis going on when it comes to the device. It appears that many see it as an unstoppable force coming into schools. 

We need to peel the layers on this phenomenon and ask, “Is this the way we want Joe Plumber, hard-nosed fiscal radical conservatives who already see teachers and administrators as over-paid babysitters who are failing at their job of educating America’s children, to see us spending taxpayer dollars?”

Brian Weaver (Texas educator) makes this point in a Google+ conversation that is well-worth considering:

this post started based on so many of us observing the purchasing model known as “OMG WE BOUGHTS 10,000 IPADS! ANYONE HAVE IDEAS ON WHATZ WE CAN DO WITH THEM!?” haha. worst tweet ever was last year when somebody posted their sob story about how their new ipad wouldnt be in in time to “show off at TCEA“. seriously? is that what this is about? The OP is in education. Most of us posting on this thread are. As tablets related to teachers, students, staff, can anyone (+Greg Smith included) say that they are the best choice? +Rusty Meyners can tell you that google docs and other things just “arent there YET” on a tablet. If we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, tablets probably arent being purchased for anyone for a few more years at least.

Technology for technology’s sake has been around for a long time. In fact, K-12 education has a fatal case of the disease that requires us to buy what society perceives as “the best” technology, not realizing that the best isn’t necessary. Is that the case in regards to the iPad?

In 1998, Jamie McKenzie ( wrote an engaging article on technology for technology’s sake perspective:

The educational world is awash with foolhardly, expensive and ill-considered technology ventures that may line the pockets of vendors while doing very little for the capabilities of teachers and students. If these ventures downplay the critically important role of strategic teaching, they may end up short on results and long on expense. These ventures threaten to drain away scarce resources from other programs (libraries, arts, counseling, roof repair and reading) without guaranteeing offsetting gains.

Read the rest of Jamie’s 1998 perspective. Then, line it up next to Jamie’s 2011 article, Is the iPad a Game-Changer?, created with an iPad:

I have never placed much confidence in the promise of the many tools and gimmicks that have arrived upon the educational scene during the past two decades, arguing that “toolishness is foolishness.” I think this case is different. Tablets like the iPad are likely to be game changers for schools and their students.

The days of technology as a tool are over. I hope I never hear the words, “I believe in using technology as a tool” again. Instead, perhaps we should all practice: Tablets like the iPad enable magical learning experiences for our children, enabling creative diversity, information/idea curation, and collaboration” and if you are so inclined you can add this part: “within the “box” that Apple built and controls with an iron-fist.” Oops.

After all, if China and India kids can learn to program on a Linux machine, edit video, produce content, is Apple’s vision that they too also carry iPads in schools? Will using iPads result in the kind of skills that Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, British the edge they need to beat back the hordes of cheap labor, low-cost engineering from China, India and other countries? I don’t know. Maybe toolishness IS foolishness. The more tools you can use, the better at work, but not necessarily in school?

Read my blog post, Video Editing on Netbooks

Ben Grey’s post at EdReach–iPad vs Netbook for a 1:1–really hits the nail on the head when it comes to deployment.

Let’s review some of Ben’s expectations for what kids do in schools:

  • Word processing with a keyboard – on a netbook running Linux, you have access to no-cost, full featured word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation tools like LibreOffice, as well as the lighter AbiWord word processor, Gnumeric spreadsheet. All free and offering more features than the iPad equivalent.
  • Built-in video projection plug
  • Audio editing – Audacity is a simple, powerful, easy to use audio editing tool.
  • Video editing – OpenShot is a powerful, easy to use video editor that leaves Moviemaker in the dust.
  • Cloud computing and storage – If you don’t want to use laptop based apps, you can always take advantage of Aviary’s Audio/Video/Image Editing tools, image editor, GoogleDocs, etc. No limits on a netbook.

Ben points out the following:

I believe the netbook can provide the educational opportunities with technology that we want our students engaging in…at a fraction of the cost with an open platform that affords students more opportunities than an iPad does. 

I don’t disagree with Ben. The iPad may be a game-changer, the question remains, do we really want to spend precious funds on iPads, keyboards, the requisite Apple TV  and all for what? What IS the instructional purpose we’re trying to achieve?

Or, put another way, how have schools re-aligned themselves so that powerful, easy to use technologies like the iPad and Linux-based netbooks impact the bottom-line of schools?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure