iPad2, Xoom, Playbook, iPod Touch, netbook, iPhone, Chromebook, the list never stops. Everyday a new device is hyped, overhyped and pushed into our consciousness by a barrage of media and market glam. In the past 6 months I’ve fielded countless question from school leaders and teachers about the new world order of computing devices.

  • “Which is better?”
  • “Which runs faster?”
  • “Which has the best apps?”
  • “Which is cheapest?”
  • “How do we go 1:1?”

Aside from the constant questions, I also hear some horrifying statements.

  • “We’ve got $30,000 to spend and we’re going to buy every teacher in the district an iPad.”
  • “The teachers want iPads for teaching so we’re going to get them some.”

It’s got to stop. Enough already because I’m about to go EDTECHHULK on somebody.

But I won’t.

Instead, I’m going to go all Mr. T up in hurr.

I pity the fool who thinks it’s about the devices.

This all really blew to a head last weekend. My youngest son was turning 4. I was driving down from Akron, OH to Holmesville, OH to pick up my dad for the birthday party. It was just Aiden and I in the car. The plan was to pick up dad and then meet Kim and the twins at the park where the party was being held. Aiden was in the back, riding in his car seat and playing with the iPad, as he often does. I was driving, the radio on, but I was not really listening, but rather thinking. Actually, more like stewing, over an email I had received that basically said, “companies are out there offering an iPad and “training” for $1000 a device. Schools are spending 10, 20, 30 thousand dollars on iPads this year. If we don’t offer something, then we are going to loose business. Can you help us?”

At first, I was thinking, great, a little consulting never hurt. But, after a few more minutes of thinking, I was steaming. I’m thinking, WHY?

Why, in these fiscally challenging times, are these schools spending thousands of dollars on a whim, because of a device? I just don’t get it.

As I continued to drive in quiet contemplation, I caught a good glimpse of what Aiden was up to in the back seat. There he was, sitting quietly in the back seat, still totally engaged in an activity on his iPad. Talking quietly to himself and figuring out whatever it was that he needed to figure out how to navigate the experience. I snapped a quick picture to capture the moment and help preserve it in my memory.

What was he doing that was so engaging, I wondered? I had to know, so I interrupted him and asked.

“The button man book, dad,” he replied.

A reference to Bartleby’s Book of Buttons, an interactive story I had put on the iPad a couple months ago. We’ve read this story many times together and he loves it. The book requires the reader to solve various puzzles to help the main character, Mr. Bartleby, in his search for beautiful buttons to add to his collection. The first time I played this app, it blew me away. Aiden loved it too. But what I really loved about this app was the discussions it fostered between Aiden and I as we ready the book. We talked about different modes of transportation, what a “collection” is, what type of items members of our family collect, and on and on.

That’s when I got it.

It’s not about the devices. iPad, iPad2, iPod Touch, iPhone, Chromebook, netbook, whatever it will be next, they are 1) a given in our kids lives, and 2) irrelevent. See, it’s about the learning. It’s about how we engage with our children (and students) beyond the app. As a parent, it’s easy to fall into the trap of handing a kid a device to babysit them or to keep them busy for a minute or two. As a teacher, it’s easy to do the same thing. But really, the most valuable part of the app learning experience is the conversation that should be occurring between parent and child BDA (before, during, after) the child/app interaction. Instead of talking about the devices, parents need to be asking questions like:

  • “What is quality time with my child?”
  • “What ways can I leverage educational apps to enrich my child’s life?”
  • “What role does dramatic play play in the development of my child?”
  • “How do parents engage in dramatic play with their child using mobile devices and apps?”
  • “How should parents engage dramatic play with their child using mobile devices and apps?”
  • “How often should this occur?”
  • “What are the most effective ways to support our children’s learning using mobile devices and apps?”

You see, it’s not about the devices. It’s about how we, as parents (and teachers) leverage everyday life experiences to encourage, nurture and engage our kids in valuable learning experiences. It’s about how we model compassion and understanding and show them how a device can help them express these complex feelings in a variety of ways. That’s what I’m trying to do when I hand an iPod Touch, iPad or Android phone over to Aiden. I want him to understand that we can create videos to reach out to people who are far away and tell them that we love them, but the most important part is that we love our family and we tell them that often, not that we have a cool device for movie making. I want him to understand that he can learn anytime, anyplace. I want him to begin to grasp the significance of the vast amount of information he has access to at his fingertips. I want him to be able to discern between good information and questionable information.


We have any number of modern technological devices that put us in touch with a global community. Rather than debating which device is the best, why aren’t we instead debating what we want our kids to learn? Until we know that as a community, as a country, as a family, the device is insignificant. In 2011, the device is a given. I pity the fool that thinks it’s about the device. It’s about learning.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t really think anyone reading this post is a fool and pity may be the wrong word here, but I think you get my drift. Plus, you’ve got to admit, it makes for a catchy title.