1:1 Programs and Substitution

I had the pleasure to visit with some music teachers today who come from a school that is looking to go 1:1 next year, and the intention of their school is to go with MacBook Air computers.  They were wondering about ways that the Airs could be used in the instruction in their music classrooms.  I should add that these are high school teachers, so their main focus is–and will continue to be–performance (as is the case in most high schools, including where I teach).

I had to be honest with them and share my thoughts, which I’ll share with you, too.  My personal belief is that every 1:1 initiative that focuses on a notebook/laptop computer is an initiative that is only focused on “core” subjects.  Yes, I’m aware that music is considered a “core” in some of the new curriculum initiatives, but you and I both know that philosophies and practice are two different things.

Walk into most high school music classrooms.  Is there are place for a notebook computer?  Music stands?  Probably not.  Even our little Wenger desktops (my room has these to facilitate the teaching of music theory and music history) are not ideal for a computer.

I believe in Ruben Puentedera’s SAMR approach to the integration of technology.  Granted, I’ve added extra steps to SAMR (Exposure, Procurement, Basic Skills), but the key to technology integration is the first step–SUBSTITUTION.  New technology has to be able to painlessly take the place of something else to help the transition along.  In music education–at the high school level–the point of substitution is sheet music.  Technology can take the place of sheet music.  But in the American high school music class, this cannot be done with notebook computers or laptop computers.  The only device that can truly do this is the tablet–and the iPad is still the best tablet.

Yes, you can absolutely use a notebook computer in music for a number of things, including SmartMusic, which is not yet on the iPad.  You can also use it for research, and there are programs coming, such as Chromatik, that can allow a student to work on music from home (and even submit recordings).  But all of these uses (including research, when you have no desk surfaces in a music room) are situations where you can use technology for music class–but not IN the class itself.  If administrators are going to be spending $900 per notebook computer, they are going to want–or demand–that you integrate the device directly into your teaching.  You just can’t do that in music without a tablet.

Music isn’t the only subject where a tablet makes more sense…I’d argue that they make sense in a number of other courses–all electives–where a notebook/laptop doesn’t make much sense.  Example: Physical Education.  Family and Consumer Science.  Visual Art.  And if you get a bluetooth keyboard for an iPad, the iPad can also serve quite well in Foreign Language, English, and Social Studies.

The “stickler” subjects remain math–which is resistant to most technologies other than teacher-driven tech or graphing calculators, and science, where there are curriculums that require specific software programs and equipment that simply do not run on iPads.

The teachers that visited mentioned that science was one of the topics that steered the discussion towards MacBook Airs because they had a specific program to run.  It is a clear indication that “core” subjects are driving 1:1.  Granted, the state tests are all “computer” based and cannot run on tablets…but doesn’t Guided Access change all that?  I’m still waiting for a large school district in the state to stand up to the State Department of Education and say, “We aren’t going to take tests on computers anymore.  Make your tests available for the iPad, or we aren’t taking them.”  Somebody has to force the issue.

I’m sold on the iPad, and we talked about the iPad’s potential for use in music ed–in any discipline.  But I encouraged them to find some anti-iPad voices to listen to as well.

My solution for their school would be to go 1:1 iPad, and with the money saved (over MacBook Airs) would be to buy a mobile lab of airs for those rare science teachers that need those specific machines with the specific software.

(Side note: this is a Mac School, and I know our PLTW program in BioMed does not allow for those programs to run on Mac…which is another debate for another time).


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