I recently had the privilege of attending the first iPad Summit hosted by Ed Tech Teacher at Harvard Medical School. The conference brought together over 500 educators and experts from around the globe to consider one digital tool — the Apple iPad. The conference was one of the most innovative and exhilarating experiences I have had as an educator.

This conference was unique: It didn’t focus on pedagogy or broad tools or philosophy. Instead, participants gave all their attention to a single piece of technology and how it might be applied in the realm of education. Speakers came from a broad array of backgrounds and experiences: school administrators, educators from shared platform classrooms, educators from 1:1 programs, technology coordinators, educational consultants, and educational researchers. They shared their experiences, successes and failures, and visions for the future.

The keynote speaker was Tony Wagner, Ph.D., Harvard professor and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World. (The photo above is from the book cover.)

Wagner highlighted the themes of the conference: we must change the framework of education to reflect what our students need in the world today. Tools like the iPad allow educators and students to be creative, flexible, and innovative in ways never before seen. The same-old-same-old approach in education has only been driving the failure of the American educational system. If we want different results, we need to do something different.

Editor’s note: Jennifer Carey did live blogging from the conference on her website, IndianaJen.com, where you can read in more detail many of the goings-on at the 2012 summit. Jen’s live blogging was highlighted by conference organizers in their own round-up post of the conference.

I learned many things at the conference and it is impossible to simply highlight them all in a single post. Instead, I will discuss some of the most sticky themes for me.

Three take-aways

First and foremost, the iPad is simply a tool – it is not the magical, shiny object that will innovate education. The power of the tool lays in its users and, in education, the teachers. Pedagogy comes first, iPads follow. In fact, Ed Tech teacher has an excellent list of applications that you can use after you have decided what skills you want your students to do (consume, create, or innovate). You can find that list here. Content apps are not “where it’s at,” rather they are the means to the end. The end, is to make our students creative curators of their own learning. Will Richardon best highlighted this problem in his article: “My Kids are illiterate. Most Likely, Yours Are Too.” The conference highlighted that the iPad can be the tool that teachers use to achieve this end if they apply it effectively.

The other key message of the iPad Summit is that any integration of iPads in the classroom must come with professional development. You cannot simply “add iPads and stir.” Administrators must be prepared to fully support the faculty and students before any significant technology initiative is going to be successful. Simply handing out iPads to teachers and students (and going over the security protocols) isn’t going to accelerate learning in your school. Educators need to become skillful at using these tools and then think deeply about how to integrate them into the learning environment in powerful ways.

Even the greatest teachers do not innately know how to adapt technology effectively. They need training and the opportunity to collaborate with other educators.

My final take-away from the conference is that for iPad integration to be effective in any classroom, it must be more than a replacement program. You may be familiar with the SAMR model (substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition), an educational technology framework developed by Ruben R. Puentendura.

His research recognizes that implementing a “simple substation” (using an iPad as a word processor for example) is just substitution or replacement — the lowest form of integration. Swapping iPads for the old laptops will not, by itself, promote learning or critical thinking.

For technology to be truly innovative and impactful on students, Puentendura says, we must get to the stage of Redefinition, in which we use technology to create and perform tasks that — prior to the existence of the technology — were inconceivable (such as creating sophisticated digital stories on the go, using the iPad’s video camera). Unless we have plans to move up the ladder of the SAMR model, an iPad program is not worth the investment. That’s important information for whoever is paying the bill.

More to come

Overall, the conference was a powerful learning opportunity for educators — what started out as a discussion of the iPad quickly became a consideration of innovative teaching and how we make that happen every day in schools. To quote Justin Reich, one of the conference organizers, “This was not just an iPad conference, it was a conference about meaningful learning.”

To learn more about the November 2012 iPad Summit, visit this conference wrap-up post and this conference agenda page. The Summit was so successful that a second Summit has already been scheduled for April 2013 in Atlanta GA.

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