Whenever new technology emerges, it always takes a while for the cultural norms around the use of that tool to catch up to its facility. We are seeing that currently with the backlash against Google Glass use in public spaces. The technology emerges, and then society wrestles with what acceptable use looks like. Some of that is based on current norms. Some of it on (occasionally unwarranted) fears. Some of it on the unknown.

I remember when I first got a cell phone. Up until the emergence of the mobile phone, the telephone was a device that lived at home, and telephone conversations were things you did privately. Speaking on that device in public, beyond the privacy of a telephone booth, wasn’t an accepted cultural norm. Think about that telephone booth for a moment. A glass closet installed on street corners. That’s more privacy than we afford between urinals in a men’s room. Due to the fact that the mobile phone had emerged from being a phone installed in your car, to one that you could carry around (in a bag first, then eventually in your pocket) I remember initially treating it, even when it was portable enough, as a phone for the car. I would finish my conversations there and then put it away before I started walking. Walking and talking on the phone were not yet culturally acceptable.

“People don’t need to talk on the phone in public. It’s garish. It’s obnoxious. Who am I, Gordon Gecko?”

ClearnetTalking on the phone was a private exercise, and despite the emerging ability to take this private task into the public sphere, current notions of acceptable use of a “phone” had yet to catch up to the possibilities of the new form factor. Seeing someone walking around the mall with a phone on their face wasn’t yet an accepted cultural norm.

Fast-forward to today, where we have had time to re-evaluate when it is acceptable to use a phone, and still these negotiations are an organic process: Malls but not restaurants; Fast food but not fine dining; Not at cultural events; Outdoor concerts but not theatre.

Applying that notion to computers illustrates a similar struggle. Initially, computers were big, heavy things. They had multiple components and elaborate cabling systems. When the internet emerged, it was dependent on a tether. Even with the emergence of laptops, utilizing them for long periods of time was simpler on a desk. Within classrooms, the vast majority of our laptops sit permanently attached to power due to faulty batteries. They are traditionally installed as labs, or as stations; and it is only very recently that the idea that these labs should be dispersed into classrooms is gaining momentum.

“the computer lab is the new telephone booth”

Now we have tablets. I’m sitting on the couch right now “writing” this out on an iPad mini. There is a desktop computer over in the corner, but sitting on the couch puts me squarely between the stereo speakers, streaming my favorite songs from the internet, controlled by this small device in my hands. I prefer to write this way. I like how the tablet feels in my hands as I read back the words. Now that I read books on this device, reading on this small screen feels “right” somehow, in a way that reading a novel on a laptop never has. I can’t type as quickly on this device (thank you Grade 10 keyboarding class), although I could talk to it and it would transcribe what I say. I’m not in a rush though — I like to craft sentences carefully.

So now I can take my device anywhere, and still we run through the same 20140517-163607.jpgcultural hesitations. We grapple with what should be deemed acceptable. We scoff when people use it to take pictures out in public, rather than the more discreet camera we are accustomed to seeing. This is the cycle: first we laugh at how unnecessary the technology is, and then it becomes ubiquitous.

Prepare to look back on the present for an apology to your future self, from behind some form of wearable technology (like Google Glass) that today you dismiss as ridiculous.

In that same spirit we now postulate on the reasons why students **shouldn’t** take their tablets home. Tablets that we are going to provide them to support their learning, in the same way we provide textbooks and novels and pencils and notebooks. This device — that will substitute for the functionality of a number of those other items we let freely travel between the home and the classroom — should somehow be locked up at night within the school. We imagine theft. We imagine untethered access to the deep, inappropriate chasm of the interwebs (we are giving them a device, we aren’t taking away their parents). We fear for breakage, and for loss, and a host of other unknowns and unknown unknowns. Don’t we remember imagining a future where ever child has one of these? Have we not seen it already on the Jetsons and Star Trek? Are we not yet ready for this future we have imagined since the birth of science fiction? Because we need to be; because it is upon us, and we are still running a number of our classrooms as if not much has changed. As students become old enough to detect that disconnect, they grow further and further disengaged with the product we are pushing.

Yes, there will be hurdles. There will be mistakes made and there will be lessons learned; but that’s the point isn’t it: to learn. To be an institution that not only delivers learning but practices what it preaches. If we truly believe that technology can be a disruptive force in education: able to transform what is possible; able to connect us to a diverse, international community of co-learners; able to differentiate for various learning disabilities once thought unassailable; able to empower learners to ask hard questions, and access answers from different viewpoints and unconsidered biases; able to help develop critical skills that will guide future decisions; for all of those reasons and a host of others, we owe it to our students to ensure these imagined barriers don’t force us into half measures, when we should be making a full court press to ensure that this one chance we have with the students we have in our system right now, provides them with every opportunity to succeed.

So let’s stop talking about whether the students can take the tablets home. Let’s focus on ensuring we are brave in this new world we are guiding them to steward responsibly. Let’s give them their education “to go”.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

Join the conversation


  1. Jared, I’ve been thinking about this blog post of yours since I read it yesterday, and I think that I’m finally ready to reply. In many ways, I nodded along with what you wrote. I know that I’m forever on a device of my own, and in fact, can always find an iPad or laptop at home, but rarely a pen (no exaggeration here ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I see my students bringing in many of their own devices, and I know that they rely on them just as much. I also know that they use these devices for many wonderful learning opportunities in the classroom: if it’s to research for a current inquiry, reflect on what they learned, or apply their learning by creating any number of media texts. I’m always amazed at what they can do.

    I am a bit reluctant to send home school devices though. While I know how these devices are used at school (in an academic setting), I also know how some of these devices are used at home in a more social setting (and have even blogged about this before). It’s not that parents aren’t there to support, but if we’re sending devices home, I don’t think that we can do so without some PD first. For success, I’d think that parents, educators, administrators, and students need to be on the same page about how these devices should be used at home and how they should not be used. The school environment is different than the home one (even as an adult, I might send an email to a friend at home that I would not send at school). I think that we need all stakeholders to have voices in decisions regarding home use of devices and how problems will be handled if/when they do arise. Because yes, we can learn a lot from these problems, but when mistakes are made online they seem to be so much more public than when they’re made offline. I’ve read and heard many of the arguments on both sides of this issue, but these “public mistakes” are a reality as far as I can see. As an educator, I’d feel better knowing that we’ve looked at how to address them first, and that we have a plan for reducing the possibilities.

    Is home use of devices something that HWDSB is considering? How would you envision a “roll-out” so to speak (for lack of a better word)? I’m very curious to hear other thoughts on this topic. Thanks for starting the discussion!


    P.S. Sorry for such a long comment! This may have become a blog post of its own. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I should probably have added a bit of context around this post. When I talk about students taking home school devices, I am talking specifically in regards to the 1:1 initiative that we are launching in nine schools in Sept, with the intent of implementing this “instrumented learning environment” across all of the schools in HWDSB within the next five years. So when you ask if the ability to take home devices is something that HWDSB is considering: yes, more than considering, but moving forward with.

      I agree that work needs to be done in regards to ensuring that these tools are used appropriately within schools. I know that and I have faciliatated a number of “Raising Responsible Digital Citizens” seminars that address these issues, and help to educate parents on some of the issues to keep in mind when digitals tools are made available.

      I know that we will not be able to address all of the issues that may come up, before we distribute the devices; but I hope that through parent education seminars, and digital citizenship modules within the classroom, we can help to prepare students for this new digital world, and help engage the community to understand their role in ensuring that screen time is balanced with other activities,


      and that we all understand the dangers of unmoderated access to the internet.

      In regards to all of these (warranted) worries, I believe we should see them as a task-list for what we need to do, rather than a roadblock for why we shouldn’t.

  2. A great post, Jared, and one that is ripe with content. I’m not sure everyone will even fathom the depths of the conversation you are posing. I wholeheartedly agree with you, though! The devices we are on the cusp of providing to our students must go home with them (I think that sentence is awkward but I’m going to go with it). These devices will become their backpacks, their toolkits, their pencil cases, their calculators, their erasers, their pencil crayons, their glue sticks, their library books, their text books, their virtual classrooms, their…, their…., their….In terms of differentiation, some students may choose to keep the physical learning items I just mentioned, many will prefer them, but their provisioned device, no matter what, will be the tool through which they access and, at times, create content. These devices will transform the way our students learn. This way of learning will not be restricted to the brick and mortar classrooms they are a part but will extend outside of it, as the technology allows, enhancing and growing the learning environment to local, national, and local levels. What’s that old saying? “The world is your oyster!” Our student’s oyster is far more attainable than ours ever was. They need access to it 24/7/365 – that is today’s world. You are so right that, as educators, we tend to take a deficit lens when it comes to the children, our students, that we are entrusted with. How did you put it? “We imagine theft. We imagine untethered access to the deep, inappropriate chasm of the interwebs (we are giving them a device, we arenโ€™t taking away their parents). We fear for breakage, and for loss, and a host of other unknowns and unknown unknowns.” Every year I am questioned as to whether I am worried of theft during the Student Voice Forum when we lend out mobile devices and every year I say, “No”. Every year I am asked if I am worried they will get broken and every year I say, “No”. You and I handed out iPod Touch units like candy one year for students to use and they all came back! I have learned that we need to trust our students. When we trust our students they rise to the occasion every time; and, when I say every time, I mean each and every time! Today at system leaders we listened to this young lady, Adora Svitak, and she so eloquently summed up the dilemma (http://embed.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak.html). “When expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them!” What a powerful statement from a child. Using this mindset, if we expect that devices will break, be stolen, be abused, then trust me, they will. If we trust that our students will own these devices, grow with them, adapt to them, adjust to them, understand them, support them, and become one with them, then everything will be just fine. This isn’t the first time we have explored this path of learning in HWDSB. In 2011, I was proud, as you know, to lead a project that saw the institution of netbooks in a 1:1 installation at a local high school. This experience was exhilarating, challenging, and enormously educational. But, at the root of it all, the students carried their devices with them and used them in all classes throughout their school day. They took them home and accessed school / learning context with them while at home. They cared for them. No devices were stolen and, as I recall, only a few were broken from drops. Those are amazing statistics. When we trust our students, they will rise to the occasion. When we don’t trust them, they will show us why we shouldn’t. It’s all about perspective. It’s all about having an asset lens and it’s all about trust. Students and teachers are learning new ways to learn and to teach. These are exciting times. Trust the kids and they’ll trust in you. Now, I have to add to Aviva’s comment as well, if these devices go home then we need to help the parent’s understand what is in their child’s backpack. Every iPad mini (as an example) is a mini computer and if a computer is not allowed in the child’s room unsupervised (which I always recommend against anyway – unsupervised access = danger) then this device should not be allowed either. These devices are powerful learning tools and they are powerful connecting / texting / sharing tools as well. Parents will need to have workshops and sessions to help them understand what is coming home and how they can support learning with them in the home. We need to be cognizant that inviting these devices into our learning environments may create some discomfort, misunderstanding, and stress in the home. Many parents do not allow “screen time” at home or during certain hours. A cultural rethink may need to take place where “screen time” can be seen as learning time but, if the parent disagrees, then conversations between teacher and parent are a must. Compromises must be given and all partners in the learning need to be served. These are amazing times. Students, teachers, and parents are all going to thrive in this new learning mindset, but it will take time.

    1. I agree that we need to ensure that we are aware of the “norms” set out within the home. As a parent who limits his son’s screen time quite judiciously — especially when I know he would sit for hours if his use were not governed by the importance we place on balancing “screens” with board games, and drawing, and reading, and digging for worms and a host of other activities we know will help our son build the self-regulation skills necessary to thrive later in life — I recognize the value of learning when using a device makes sense, and when it’s more appropriate to put it away.

      Despite the fact that we will be providing the tool to support learning within class, and allowing the students to take those devices home to extend their learning beyond the school day, I fully expect (and hope) that parents will establish rules around the use of that tool at home. That it will be put away when it isn’t appropriate to have it out (at the dinner table, when it’s time for bed, etc.). I also expect (and hope) that parents will monitor the use of that device. That they will be establish spaces in the home where the student can use device in full view, and that they will have conversations with their children about what responsible use looks like.

      These are all facets of raising responsible digital citizens. As parents, and as teachers, we all need to recognize that the model we have in our heads of how our parents raised us, is not sufficient in a world where bullying extends beyond the playground fences, and access to inappropriate content isn’t relegated to high store shelves, and pay-per-view.

  3. You make some really interesting points about the 1:1 technology going home. I do agree that taking the iPads home could facilitate further learning and engagment, not to mention studnet responsibility for their own education.

    But, I am still not sold on this idea, and my concern is one of equity. I am a teacher at Cathy Wever, a school part of the initiative. I know that many of my students live in poverty, unable to afford food for a healthy lunch let alone the wifi connection at home that would make the iPad useful. What ideas are in place for these kids that don’t have the wifi to do their iPad work? What can we put in place to ensure that these students get the opportunity to take their learning home?

    Stephanie Bass

    1. The 1:1 deployment is very different than our shared classroom set model of implementation. We are well aware of the need for offline access. We have identified a variety of apps that either don’t require wifi at all, or allow students to save and create on their device, to then share online later. Explain Everything, Garageband, iMovie, are all examples of apps that can be used without internet.

      There are also ways to take a website and save it for offline viewing. Check out Pocket for a way to save text to be able to read it offline later.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Jared. While I realized that the iPad can be used offline with certain apps, this is quite limiting for students. And this doesn’t really address the issue of equity.

        If the 1:1 initiative is something that could give our inner-city students a “leg up” in their education, then shouldn’t we be finding the ways to make this device the most useful? Internet connection is one of these ways, but not something all my student have access to. Wouldn’t sending an iPad home without internet ability be like sending a glorified text book?

        I’m not trying to be pedantic, or difficult, but this plan for the 1:1 roll out seems to have been created through a middle-class lens. Assuming that parents are available to watch their children do homework is unfair to the working parents we have in our community. Suggesting that students sit in a coffee shop for free wifi, may not be feasible for our junior students. But students having access to the World Wide Web is important for our students education in this technological world. I am totally in favor of the 1:1 intiiative. I love that the HWDSB is supporting student learning and embedding technology in our school. But, with the lived reality of our school here in the inner city, we need to think through the cultural lived experience of poverty, and problem solve around these issues. Let’s make this work for them.

        1. I’m not sure I agree that providing an iPad without wifi is like sending home a glorified textbook. The apps I mentioned (Explain Everything, iMovie, GarageBand for example) don’t rely on wifi at all, and are fully functional offline.

          I believe I could run a very robust program using apps like this; knowing that internet access will be available at school. Note that within the HWDSB there are a number of schools that don’t yet have wifi, and we continue to suggest the iPad as a tool to enhance the types of tasks students perform to share their thinking.

          It is only when the iPad is used strictly as a device to consume information that a lack of internet might pose some difficulty. It will be incumbent upon the teachers to be mindful of this, to ensure that the assignments that they give — particularly homework — do not create the inequity you are referring to.

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