I’ll be in Philadelphia from June 26-30th for the annual ISTE (formerly NECC) Conference. I have presented at all but one of these conferences since 1987 (also in Philadelphia). Over those 24 conferences, I’ve presented somewhere between 50 and 75 presentations and workshops. Being part of the keynote event at the 2009 NECC remains one of the highlights of my career.

Many of you know that I have been critical of the ISTE Conference program over the years and find the exhibit hall to be a vulgar distraction, but I would not miss it for anything. Why? Because I have dedicated 29 years of my life to using computers in ways that amplify the human potential of each child and this conference is the largest event in the field I love

ISTE is always an exhausting whirlwind. Please stop by one of the following sessions and say, “hi!”

The 5th Annual Constructivist Celebration

June 26, 2011 – 8:30 – 3:30 PM

Maggiano’s Little Italy
For the fifth consecutive year, this day-long workshop combines fun, creativity and computing. For a very reasonable $60, you will receive free creativity software worth hundreds of dollars from the world’s best school software companies, breakfast, snacks and lunch, and a full-day workshop led by Gary Stager and other members of the Constructivist Consortium. It’s always a sell-out, but right now there are still a few spaces left to join in the fun, so register today – you won’t regret it!

At the end of the day, Sylvia Martinez of Generation YES moderate a conversation between Will Richardson (author and king of  the edubloggers) and Gary Stager on “Digging Deeper” which is sure to be fun and thought-provoking.

SPOTLIGHT:  The Best Educational Ideas in the World: High-Tech Learning Adventures

Tuesday, 6/28/2011, 2:00pm–3:00pm     PACC 103BC
Gary Stager, The Constructivist Consortium
Join us on a tour of the best education ideas in the world! Lessons learned en route create the productive knowledge construction contexts required for a rewarding life. This presentation is a sneak peek at a forthcoming book from Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

The Fix Is In: Social Mobilization and School Reform (Model lesson)

Wednesday, 6/29/2011, 10:15am–11:15am       PACC 119B
Carl Anderson, East Metro Integration District 6067 with Scott Schwister and Gary Stager
Citizen journalism is a growing phenomena empowered by Web 2.0 technologies. Learn how to use it in your classroom to empower students.

SPOTLIGHT:  LOL@ISTE: Unlocking Your Potential to Laugh

Wednesday, 6/29/2011, 11:45am–12:45pm   PACC 201BC
Saul Rockman, Michael Jay, Roger Wagner and Gary Stager
The usual collection of punsters, jokesters, storytellers, and really terrible singers strives to explain why technology is so important in education and life.  Recommended by ISTE’s SIGGS

SIGTC Forum: So You Want an iPad? K-20 Implications and Integration

Tuesday, 6/28/2011, 10:30am–12:30pm PACC 103A

Camilla Gagliolo, Arlington Public Schools, and Craig Nansen, Minot Public Schools and Gary Stager will speak. Recommended by ISTE’s SIGTC

This PDF contains a schedule of sessions addressing creativity and computing by friends of The Constructivist Consortium.

Summer 2010 marked the 20th anniversary of my work leading professional development in schools where every student has a personal laptop computer. One of the world’s first laptop schools was Methodist Ladies College (MLC) in Melbourne, Australia. The other was a long forgotten public school, the Coombabah State Primary School. The MLC story has been told in Bob Johnstone’s book, Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers and the Transformation of Learning, as well as elsewhere.

Back in 1990, when I began working in 1:1 schools, we had Toshiba T1000 laptops with monochrome displays, no hard drive and 512K of RAM. Brilliant work was done by children fortunate enough to have their own personal laptop at a time few adults could claim likewise. Despite my misgivings about their limits in education, an iPad has a great deal more power than what we used 20 years ago.

I just returned to Melbourne Australia for the third time as a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College, The University of Melbourne.

I recently spent some time helping Foundation Studies educators explore how iPads may be used to challenge some of the conventional pedagogies of an educational approach based on teacher-centered practices and skill development. Foundation Studies prepares overseas students for university admissions. The ubiquity of an iPad per student affords opportunities to re-examine the nature of teaching and learning in more authentic, constructive and open ways.

The goal is always to create productive contexts for learning based on my mantra, “Less Us, More Them.”

While I typically do not recommend iPads as the only computer provided for K-12 students, Trinity College’s Foundation Studies Department has already decided to give them to young-adult students.

Here is the article that appeared on the Trinity College web site.

Thursday 16 September

Gary Stager loves technology. His work in the use of computers and education has led him to visit Trinity in 2009 and again in 2010. Currently he is one of Trinity’s visiting scholars and recently held a staff conference regarding the TCFS Step Forward iPad program.

“It’s really exciting to be working with my colleagues here at Trinity Foundation Studies department to look at how the iPad can not only help them teach what they’ve always wanted to teach with greater efficiency…but how it creates opportunities for teachers and students to learn together in ways that were impossible otherwise.” says Gary.

Gary spoke to various Foundation Studies teachers and other staff regarding technology in education and ways in which they could utilise the medium to it’s maximum capabilities.

Gary Stager

I bought a couple of iPads last weekend. I’ve already shared with colleagues how although I think it will be wildly successful in K-12 for all of the wrong reasons*, I’d buy one anyway because:

1.    I like new gadgets
2.    I like Apple products (since 1985 – prior to that I preferred Commodore)
3.    It’s my job to keep up with emerging technology
4.    My best friend has one
5.    I’m an adult with disposable income

I didn’t wait for the 3G model because I don’t want yet another stinkin’ AT&T bill. Had they come up with a fair plan for multiple devices, I would have jumped at it. I won’t even complain about 3G costing an extra $130 making the 64gb iPad the same price as a MacBook.

I harbored no illusions that the iPad would change my life like my laptop, iPhone or even iPod have done. Yes, the iPad is beautiful. Yes, the battery life is great. Yes, I feel less neurotic about losing or breaking it, as I do with my laptop. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with the iPad.

Go ahead. Call me an old codger, but I’ve been around eBooks/interactive books since the late 1980s. I still own a bunch of the groundbreaking Voyager Expanded Books. The Society of Mind, MacBeth, Who Built America?, The Rite of Spring, Poetry in Motion, Beethoven’s Ninth and Dazzeloids represent few of the examples of true commercial digital art ever created. It’s hard to think of any digital media that is better since those Voyager titles from nearly twenty years ago.

In 1991-92, I led countless workshops for educators on how to create their own interactive books using the Voyager Expanded Book Toolkit. Digital books would soon be widespread, right?

That said, I did not buy a Kindle because the design is ugly and I expected Apple to produce something better, an iPad perhaps? I love books. My house is filled with them. Had Amazon offered me the option of paying $2 extra and getting a digital copy of the physical book I ordered, I would have bought a Kindle. I recognize the value of carrying lots of books around in one device and the power of personal digital annotation. Whispernet is brilliant too. Anyone can use it, anywhere.

So, now I own an iPad. Oh, how I would love to use it as my primary way to read, but alas – not so fast!

Here are some of the reasons why Apple iBooks currently disappoint. I hope they get better quickly.

Steve Jobs is contemptuous of print

Mr. Jobs can be like that when he assesses the competition.

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.” (1/15/08)

Further evidence of Jobs’ contempt for print is the fact that iPad owners have to wait for their iPad to ask them, “Would you like to download iBooks?” before the application is on the device. Why doesn’t the iBooks app come pre-installed?

I won’t even raise the specter of Jobs banning books from the iBooks Store because he disagrees with the content as he has done in the physical Apple Stores.

The iBooks catalog is pathetic
Although I hope that every book ever written will soon be available for download, the Apple iBooks store doesn’t even have relatively popular recent publications in it.

I know that I can (and did) download the Kindle App for iPad, but I didn’t buy an iPad to get a Kindle. Switching between two different book readers is a drag. Sheesh!

I eagerly await word from Apple that they are just as serious about publishing books for the iPad as they were in encoding YouTube videos for the iPhone.

Jobs must know how craptacular the iBooks Store is or otherwise he would have given Amazon the “Adobe-treatment” and forbidden a Kindle app for iPad.

Jobs hates Amazon.com so much that he’s letting publishers punish us
One of Steve Job’s greatest accomplishments was getting tough with the music and video companies and forcing them to charge a fair price for audio and video via iTunes. He single-handedly broke the cartel that was raising CD and DVD prices to absurd levels.

So, what’s the first thing Jobs does regarding written content? He tells publishers to go ahead and charge anything they want, not just the reasonable $9.99 per book pricing instituted by Amazon.

iBooks cannot be annotated
I hope this obvious omission will be rectified soon via a software update.  Surely, Apple would like to offer functionality customers came to expect from Hypercard 20+ years ago.

There are no magazines for subscription in the iBooks store
Surely, Apple knows that this is a potentially fertile revenue stream. I’d love to save some trees.

Amazon’s Kindle Store offers too few magazine currently. That’s still better than zero magazines available  from iBooks.

Are the books I purchased backed-up in the cloud?
Unless I’ve missed it, Apple has not indicated where my purchased books reside in case something goes awry with my iPad.

Why can’t I subscribe to a podcast on my iPad?
For a super-dooper mobile media device, I would expect that I could download audio and video podcasts directly to my iPad without requiring syncing with my laptop. Why can’t I do so? Shouldn’t the iPad make me less dependent on an old-school computer?

One more funny iPad observation… Apple is a company famous for protecting its intellectual property. Therefore, it seems peculiar that iTunes automatically copies my iPhone apps for use on my iPad as well. I know that I MAY have the legal right to maintain the software of two computers as long as I’m only using it on one, but how did Apple miss the opportunity to make me buy the same software twice?

Recommended reading: Ken Auletta’s 4/26/10 New Yorker article, Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?

* I will write an article on why the iPad is a bad choice for K-12 education at a later time.

Come to CMK 2010!

I was excited a few years back when Texas legislators suggested using textbook funds to purchase student laptops. I languagepolicewas less thrilled with the subsequent announcement that the laptops would act as digital textbooks. It is a profoundly bad idea for powerful technology to provide life-support for such a deeply flawed invention as the textbook. Textbook euthanasia is in order.

Textbooks were created before the knowledge economy, and they are based on a distrust of teachers, watered-down standards and a Shock and Awe approach to pedagogy. They are written by anonymous committees and designed for incompetent teachers to use as a script. Literature is bowdlerized, history is sanitized, mathematics is stripped of meaning and science is presented as a bunch of facts. Surely, schools committed to the future can do better.

Textbooks are designed for incompetent teachers to use as a script.

Don’t agree with me? Take a peak inside conservative education critic Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003):

Textbooks are very important in American schools, especially in history. In most history classes, they are the curriculum…

Today’s literature textbooks are motivated by a spirit of miscellany. … Even when the entries are well chosen and enjoyable, the textbook pokes the reader in the eye with pedagogical strategies. … They are puffed up with instructions and activities that belong in the teacher’s edition. The people who prepare these textbooks don’t seem to have much faith in teachers. The books strive to be “teacher-proof.” They leave nothing to the teacher’s initiative or ingenuity.

Ravitch’s book offers a detailed exposition of the high-stakes world of textbook adoption replete with outrageous censorship, political correctness and dumbed-down, lifeless content. The book is as hilarious as it is horrific.

We can stop censorship. We must recognize that the censorship that is now so widespread in education represents a systematic breakdown of our ability to educate the next generation and to transmit to them a full and open range of ideas about important issues in the world. By avoiding controversy, we teach them to avoid dealing with reality. By expurgating literature, we teach them that words are meaningless and fungible.

… As they advance in school, children recognize that what they see on television is far more realistic and thought-provoking than the sanitized world of their textbooks.

Isn’t it ironic that American taxpayers will pay for new Iraqi school textbooks in order to replace one set of simplistic propaganda with another?

Read a good textbook lately?
Ask yourself if a reasonable person would read a school textbook if not compelled to do so. Then go to your local bookstore and marvel at the wonderful selection of books written with passion and clarity by experts on the topic of your choice. How about building a course around a great book on mathematics rather than a math book?

In the information age, students have unprecedented access to primary materials, including low-tech gadgets like great books and Web sites containing up-to-the-minute information. Any kid worth his or her diploma should be able to find a variety of reliable perspectives and data points online, in the library and at their local bookstore.

The Web offers amazing access to primary sources, yet online textbooks diminish both the Internet and the noble textbook. Every attempt at online textbooks I’ve seen are terrible, and I do not expect they will get much better. McGuffey’s digital brethren tend to offer random links to factoids available on a bunch of pages unintended to connect in any narrative form. Online curriculum publishers often sell content readily available and owned by uncompensated authors. These “texts” manage to be less thoughtful than print textbooks and that is an awfully big concession on my part.

The obsession with textbooks is another indicator of even the most enlightened schools’ preoccupation with information rather than the construction of knowledge. The most noble and effective use of computers is for computing–not looking stuff up. This will require rethinking the nature of learning and teaching, not just adopting a new textbook.

Yes. This will require courage and even more creativity. Breaking textbook addiction with primary sources and activities that engage every learner is cheaper, lighter and pays much higher dividends.

Originally published in the June 2003 issue of District Administration Magazine