Building a Case for a Tablet PC School

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Educators may build a case to justify use of a Tablet PC in school. Use in school of a Tablet PC or another ink-enabled device seems reasonable today for several reasons. A caveat: Tablet PC is a means to some other end; it is inadequate just to want Tablet PCs in schools.

I use answers to five generic questions to formulate a case statement. I then adapt and expand these answers to address specific questions requiring answers for a particular proposal. I have also used these questions to outline talking points during oral presentations of an idea to others.

Suggestion: Use your own Tablet PC (or whatever tool you propose someone to fund or introduce into your school) to assemble a proposal and to guide discussions as you present your good idea to school officials. This will show professional commitment while demonstrating the power of the tool.

Here’s an unevenly annotated example of the five questions to answer. You may adjust the answers to fit someone’s proposal.

What do you want to do?
XYZ School District proposes to decrease the time it takes for first grade students to learn to calculate basic mathematical functions.

Potential Reviewer Interpretation. This local education agency (LEA) says it will reduce resource use to produce standard achievement among all first grade students. That’s unusual. Using school standards as a measure, they propose to increase achievement scores. I wonder how they think they can do that?

Logic: Start a new good idea with a group of students where introduction of a Tablet PC is most likely to have teacher support and show the most achievement gains. Generally, younger students and some special education students will show the most immediate measurable academic gains from use of new technologies. Also, more electronic media are available for novices than for advanced learners. In addition, you may be able to show over time that some students who would have ended up in special education classes gain sufficient academic skills to remain in mainstream classes with less support. It has happened repeatedly in public schools, although not generally acknowledged publicly.

Tip: The only (and I use that word in a traditional way about schooling) agreed upon outcome for changing anything in a school must result in increased student achievement. Whatever the project, the school should demonstrate decreased resource use while gaining improvements in student achievement.

This sounds crass and opinionated, as well as out of step with conventional talk among educators. A superintendent can point out to board members that student achievement is the single agreed upon unique attribute of schooling, not baby sitting, not meals, not socialization, etc. Separate social welfare institutions address other parts of schooling (such as meals, socialization, family income, health, etc.) the same way student achievement justifies the existence of schooling. (These words need refining to strengthen the point.)

Conclusion: Figure out a way to increase student achievement and decrease resource use to accomplish academic performance gains, and your proposal will win influential support.

What evidence do you offer to show you can do it?
(Summarize empirical evidence from observations, experience, and literature.)

What will you do?
Selected first grade teachers will use Tablet PCs and other personalized electronic learning media (PELM – I made this up; maybe you have a better set of words) to increase student achievement as part of an emerging plan for district wide updating to meet dynamic globalized, commoditized life-long learning expectations. The district pledges to maintain this plan institutionally and with existing resources starting in the third year of the transition to PELM. Key LEA personnel participate in ___, an informal group of educators, philanthropists, and personal computer industry representatives committed to using Tablet PCs and other PELM in schools. LEA personnel also work with New Technologies Foundation and High Schools, as well as the National Institute of Education in Singapore to adapt many of their procedures for large-scale use of Tablet PCs and other PELM in schools.

Potential Reviewer Interpretation: The district commits to an electronic facilitated, learning centered, instructional program. They have the right words. They’re starting small; that’s smart. This puts them on the front end of several tidal waves about changes in schooling. Do they have the insight, moxey and personnel to pull off the technical as well as the political support necessary for success?

PELM Components include
Use Tablet PCs (say how many: one for each student; one for a teacher for group presentations, etc.)
Use Tablet PC software (some available for free on TabletPCPost)
Use direct learning, direct instruction, and directed learning.
Use small units of measure to show achievement, such as trial blocks, minutes, etc. borrowed from learning literature.

Give priority to principles of learning when evaluating software and other instructional media for student use. (For example, hierarchy of dimensions of learning task as identified by David Zeaman and Betty House in two choice visual discrimination analysis; precision teaching of Og Lindsley; content and process task analyses of Marc Gold in Try Another Way; facilitated communication for learners with communication limitations such as autism demonstrated by Doug Biklin; S-R technology, etc.)

Tip: Give priority to building a learner-centered project. This increases the likelihood of exceeding expected minimum measurable achievement gains on required standardized tests.

Logic: Use PELM to emphasize learning-centered instruction, giving priority to raising achievement rates for less cost per unit of learning. This emphasis seems self-evident as it adjusts conventional school operations and educator rhetoric to match public policy expectations for school accountability. The emphasis implicitly addresses competition in globalized life.

Potential Reviewer Interpretation: A smart, sophisticated, necessary world-class approach. Gives priority to smaller activities a teacher can handle without waiting for and relying on “IT systems” and other expensive infrastructures. Good to see a measurable learning-centered commitment. These educators demonstrate leadership. Unusual for a LEA to make such a bold move. Great precedent, using long-standing generic peer reviewed scientific procedures about learning to analyze the instructional task. The project is doable if personnel will cooperate. Do they understand that this takes them onto a path few schools anywhere use, or has a consultant sold them an idea they can’t handle alone? What will the teachers’ union say? Will parents accept these changes?

How will anyone know you did it? Or What evidence will you offer that you did it?

Insert evaluation design, probably classic four cells.
Micro and larger measures of academic increases.
Measures of time and other resources prorated to achieve these increases.

So what? If you do it, what difference will it make?

Increases rate of student achievement by 50(75, 10?) percent.
Provides individualized electronic records of achievement.
Decreases expenditures for …

Tip: Use a fly-to-honey strategy to attract new funding and to gain interest of personnel.

Logic: Honey attracts more flies than vinegar. Over one hundred schools in the U.S., plus programs in other countries use a similar case.

Potential Reviewer Interpretation: It is unclear how much of this project they can complete in the proposed timeline. They can probably succeed with enough to make the investment worthwhile.

Conclusion: Make sure they commit to the learning-centered focus. That alone is worthy, although not sufficient to justify external funding. They should have this focus already to justify existing expenditures from any source. Let’s fund it, requiring monthly progress reports on unit costs of academic achievement. Let’s also recommend they conduct this project in a charter school.

NOTE: I see some editing I’ll do later. Use this draft as it’s helpful to you. Go for it. You may help a student learn more faster, and that’s good.

1 COMMENT

  1. Yes, ISTE has good templates, boilerplates and market segmented frames to assemble a case statement. As a teacher, I prefer to argue from the reason a school is not another welfare agency: intended student achievement. A LEA superintendent can stand out from the herd by giving priority to raising student achievement rates and lowering costs as the primary dependent variables for successful changes in schools. It’s doable, with or without a Tablet PC for any educator or student. But, let’s include Tablet PCs.