Do Away with Annual Performance Reviews

dilbert-com-strips-comic-2012-10-27In my last post I explained while annual reviews suck. It’s easy to criticize something that is as universally reviled as performance reviews; harder, perhaps, to suggest ways to improve them. But let me try…

  1. First off, managers need to change their attitudes about performance reviews. Providing feedback to your employees is not a burden, but among the most important aspects of your job. Never display a ‘tude about reviews as something to get over with, irrelevant, or bureaucratic nonsense. If you think reviews are important and helpful your employees will pick-up on this and approach them positively.
  2. Feedback is best when delivered at the appropriate time, closer to the specific behavior or event, rather than something put on the shelf and doled out weeks or months later.
  3. You may find it useful to distinguish between feedback and evaluation. (Feedback is designed to provide guidance to improve performance. Evaluation is placing a qualitative judgment on performance based on criteria. Feedback is formative; evaluation is summative. It has also been described this way: “When a chef tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment,” he said. “But when the customer tastes it, that’s summative.” )
  4. When documenting performance that may end in dismissal, err on the side of being transparent with the employee and, of course, following all of the procedures in your employee handbook and as required by employee contracts, or state or federal laws.1
  5. Assertiveness training may help some supervisors and employees avoid the tendency in schools to pull their punches when it comes to potential conflict due to honest feedback as well as reduce defensiveness and blaming. It’s been my experience that many IT managers get into their roles due to their technical competence with little preparation for managing people. If all you have to draw upon is your past personal experience with managers, they may prove to be insufficient in helping you understand the nuances of human relations.

I’ve saved the best advice for last. It may also be the most controversial.

The best way to improve annual performance reviews is to do away with them!

Consider this: If you are engaged in a regular program of formative feedback, what is the purpose of the annual review? Your job as an IT supervisor is to create a culture in which their is continuous improvement in people, systems, practices, procedures, and outcomes. You establish goals in these areas and continuously assess progress against goals. Yes, there is a seasonality and rhythm to the school year that impacts what IT departments do, but the same is true in businesses with sales cycles, holidays, and quarterly and annual earnings goals. Let the academic schedule and practices regarding teacher contracts inform, but not control, how you manage feedback in your tech department.

  1. I have never quite understood school’s  fascination with contracts for administrative employees.  I do understand the rhythm of the school year and the close interaction between staff and faculty, yet How these positions need to be married to the school year and not treated like at-will employees in any other business is beyond me.

Annual Reviews Suck


How can I put this delicately?

Annual performance reviews suck.

Annual performance reviews suck because:

  • they are designed for employers, not employees.
  • they are annual. In many organizations that really means every other year, or perhaps never.
  • they are often hurried and completed by a manager who has puts in little time in the process and who is only invested in the outcome if there’s a “problem” with the employee that requires some serious CYA action.
  • schools foster a climate on non-confrontation. Being indirect is valued above straightforward honesty. (See previous post)
  • they are disconnected from actual job responsibilities and performance. In the name of standardization, HR departments create forms that try to apply to entire classification of employees. “Timeliness” for example may mean being to work on time, finishing a task within a given standard operating procedure estimate of time required, or just getting something done before a deadline.
  • rating scales are subjective. “Exceeds expectations?” Please. I have pretty damn high expectations. No one’s that good. On the other hand, my expectations are that you are a screwup and in the wrong job, but you fooled me and actually did better than I had dared to hope.
  • they are usually linked in time to pay raises. Like student grades, performance reviews are summative and linked to everyone else in the organization (or class  in the case of students). Doesn’t matter if the employees has been with you for 3 months or a year, they all get reviewed at the same time. This practice puts undue time pressure on managers and HR departments alike to “get reviews over with.”
  • they are often linked to compensation decisions. Employees are understandably interested in whether or not they will be getting a raise in salary or additional benefits and simply want the manager to cut to the chase. Any feedback provided prior the manager giving the employee the bottom line  is simply background noise.
  • they create winners and losers. Assume that as a manager you are told that you have 3% in salary increases for your department for the coming year, and you have the authority to allocate this 3% across the department as you see fit. The easy, non-confrontational thing to go is give 3% across the board. This is often the practice in schools. Such a practice disregards historical pay inequities, outstanding performers (you know ‘em when you see ‘em), and turns sticks into carrots (or vice-versa).
  • they are not fun but in fact dreadfully boring and even demotivating. In my thirty years of management experience I have never heard anyone say “I’m so looking forward to my performance review today.” The best thing I can say about them is that I usually took employees off-site for lunch on such occasions, which was a nice respite from the office for both of us.

So what’s the alternative? That’s the subject of my next post.

K-12 Transgender Students Gain New Legal Rights in CA

transgenderBack in 2011 I blogged about how education is changing to better reflect the needs and rights of K-12 transgender students. On January 1, 2014 AB 1266 takes effect in California. AB1266 requires public schools to let children use sex-segregated facilities and participate in the gender-specific activities of their choice. It also prohibits guidance counselors and teachers from discouraging or encouraging certain vocational choices based on gender.Socially conservative groups are gathering signatures to launch a legal challenge to it.

California law allows for single gender public schools, and AB 1266 does not spell out what, if anything, should be done should a student who identifies with a gender other than their biological gender applies to such a school.

While the law does not apply to independent schools it should. Accreditation bodies, NAIS and their state bodies, the National Coalition of Girls Schools, and other thought leaders should review AB1266 and similar legislation and incorporate it into their best practices and, ultimately, their accreditation standards.

10 Things Tech Departments Hate to Do

Robert Scroggy, Age 10

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to work with a number of technology departments different schools in both public and private K-12 education, and I have found that many of them share certain shortcomings. There are certain tasks that seem to simply never get done adequately or which IT departments wish were not their responsibility. I recently had the opportunity to interview legendary IT icon Robert Scroggy to ask him about his pet peeves. You may find that they ring true for you as well.

  1. Write Documentation (especially Disaster Recovery Plans.)
    • Creating written instructions about internal systems such as database schemas, logical and physical maps of network layouts, maintaining an inventory of fixed assets, detailed steps for restarting systems and so on take time away from playing with my toys. The worst of these is the Disaster Recovery Plan which implies that all of my toys, and perhaps even me, have been blown up, burned, crushed, drowned, or hit by a bus and someone else has to recreate everything I ever did. In a week!
  2. AV Support
    • Why is it that if something has an on-off switch, blinky lights, and and may have a computer chip in it somewhere becomes my responsibility? Don’t you watch TV at home? Or at least listen to the radio? Your car is basically a computer on wheels. Do you expect me to fix it, too?
  3. AUP Surveillance
    • Bad behavior by kids using computers is not my problem. It’s a discipline problem, like passing notes in a classroom, or goofing around in the gym when you’re not supposed to be there, or putting up rabbit fingers behind the teacher’s head.
  4. Copiers and Printers
    • You can’t change an ink cartridge? Add paper? Follow diagrams written at a third grade level to clear a jam?
  5. Support stupid users
    • You deleted a file and you didn’t have a backup. How is this my fault or my job to get it back? You clicked on the flashy pop-up ad in the browser and now we have a rampant computer virus in our school. What the [blank] were you thinking? Oh, shall I replay the recording I have of the conversation when you asked me the same question 39 times before?
  6. Blackbaud RE
    • ‘Nuf said
  7. Legacy systems
    • Yep, I agree that Windows XP was awesome. In 2002! Yeah, I know every other Windows release since then has sucked, but get over it.
  8. Cable management
    • Geez this is really, really boring but I know it looks nice. Still doesn’t mean I have to like it.
  9. Throw stuff out
    • I’ve grown close to some of my toys. Throwing out that 3COM switch or 128K Mac is like throwing out my favorite teddy bear–which, by the way, I still have.
  10. Explain why I have to have the latest equipment
    • You’re not a nerd, are you?

2013 Listening

This is an update of an earlier blog post about podcast episodes that I think are worth a listen. Since its publication in May of 2013, I have listened to dozens of other podcasts about schools, and these are my favorites – thus far.

As an avid listener to podcasts, especially those affiliated with National Public Radio, I have been captivated, enthralled, enraged, and engaged by these stories. Episode synopses come from the podcast’s respective websites.

1. The Story

The American Promise

When the elite, and mostly white, Dalton School in Manhattan wanted to diversify its student body, Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson enrolled their son in Kindergarten. The years at Dalton were not easy for Idris or his parents, who chronicled everything on film. Idris is now in college, and the film of his coming-of-age is called American Promise.

Did You Footnote?

Host Dick Gordon speaks to two college teachers who argue the rise of copy-and-paste plagiarism is a symptom that the traditional essay assignment is dated. Students in college today were “born digital” and have learned to read, write and organize information online. Kenneth Goldsmith, of the University of Pennsylvania, requires his students to plagiarize and to purchase an essay from a paper mill. Cathy Davidson, of Duke University, hasn’t assigned a traditional term paper in five years. She asks her students to write collectively – using the online Google Docs service – and question what they think they know about authorship and originality.

You Say College Loan, I Say No Debt

Host Dick Gordon speaks with two sisters, Briallen Hopper and Johanna Hopper, who have different thoughts about the value of a college education. Briallen has taken out substantial loans and owes tens of thousands of dollars – but she thinks it’s been worth it. Johanna decided not to go to college, and she’s proud to be debt-free.

Education By the Hour

They are called adjunct professors and only paid for their time in the classroom – not for meeting with students, grading papers or to preparing for class. Host Dick Gordon speaks with Adam Davis, an adjunct who taught eight science classes this semester at three different colleges in Pittsburgh. He met recently with the United Steelworkers to talk about unionizing.

Strike Debt

So easy to get, so hard to pay off. With the national average for student debt hovering around $23,000, a group of activists is purchasing student debt from collectors and simply “forgiving it.” The group, known as Rolling Jubilee, call their movement “a bailout of the people by the people.” Host Dick Gords speaks with Rolling Jubilee member Christopher Cassucio, who owes more than $100,000 in student loan debt.

A New Font for an Old Problem

As Christian Boer tried to adapt to his dyslexia, he knew he was seeing letters differently than other people. As he grew older, he began to experiment with the actual form and shapes of the letters, and recently created a font that is more readable for those with dyslexia. No more mixing up the h with the n.

2. TED Radio Hour

Why We Collaborate

Collaboration is an integral part of the so-called 21st Century Curriculum; an end in itself as well as a pathway to greater creativity, learning, and important leadership and followership skills. The episodes in this TED Radio hour explore several examples of extraordinary cooperation, including Wikipedia, how the technology you use every day on the web (Captcha) is helping to translate books, and asks the question is too much collaboration a bad thing.

Unstoppable Learning

Learning is an integral part of human nature. But why do we — as adults — assume learning must be taught, tested and reinforced? Why do we put so much effort into making kids think and act like us? In this hour, TED speakers explore the ways babies and children learn, from the womb to the playground to the Web.

Do We Need Humans?

We’ve been promised a future where robots will be our friends, and technology will make life’s daily chores as easy as flipping a switch. But are we ready for how those innovations will change us as humans? In this episode, TED speakers consider the promises and perils of our relationship with technology.

The Next Greatest Generation?

Whether you call them Millennials, Generation Y, or the Me Generation, one thing’s for certain: This generation of young people will change the world. But how different is this hyper-connected generation from its predecessors? And what will be its legacy?

3. On The Media

The Privacy Show

A special hour on privacy – license plate readers, national security letters, surveilling yourself so the government doesn’t have to, and OTM producer Sarah Abdurrahman on just how much we misunderstand our privacy online.

4. This American Life

Harper High School, Parts 1 and Part 2

The American Life spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29! They went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances.

5. NPR Radio Education Podcasts

Separate and Unequal

A new report suggests that minorities who are equally qualified to attend selective colleges are being denied admission at rates higher than those of white students. White privilege is alive and well in higher education.

6. NPR  Your Health

Why Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning Differently

For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in school children is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated, it is often used to measure emotional strength.

7. NPR Planet Money

What’s Your Major?

Some college degrees lead to higher paying jobs than others. But what’s shocking is just how big the gap can be. The most lucrative majors typically lead to jobs with salaries over $100,000 a year. The least lucrative lead to salaries of around $30,000.


Review: Common Sense E-Rate and CIPA Course

If your school receives e-rate funding you know that it comes with a lot of paperwork and some strings attached, including compliance with CIPA, the Children’s Internet Protection Act. CIPA requires that schools receiving E-Rate funding “provide for the education of students regarding appropriate online behavior including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and regarding cyberbullying awareness and response.”

Most schools will find that instruction in these three areas are consistent with their existing goals in teaching digital citizenship. But  the burden on is on schools to document compliance, which means keeping files on lesson plans, assuring sure that teachers are adequately trained, and of course actually delivering the required material to students.

Common Sense Media, well known for its digital citizenship curriculum materials, guidance for parents on media and technology, and educational software reviews has teamed with Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS) to create an online training courses and compliance tracking system for K-12 educators and schools.

Four courses are offered, three for teachers (elementary, middle school, and high school) and one course for school administrators.

The teachers courses follow a common format with 4 units of instruction with each unit containing several lessons and assessments: (1) Introduction to CIPA and E-Rate, (2) Overview of Children’s Media Landscape, (3) Teaching Digital Citizenship with Common Sense MEdia’s Toolkit on CIPA and E-Rate and (4) Reflection and Verification. During the course there are periodic formative assessments to help check your retention of key ideas. Teachers can’t complete Unit 4 until they verify have actually taught the Common Core Digital Citizenship lessons to students.

The course for school administrators has a similar outline and content,but rather than verifying that students have had the instruction required by CIPA and E-Rate, they are verifying that the faculty teaching the courses have taken the required professional development and delivered the content to students. The data they collect can be downloaded from the KDS web site as proof of their compliance should the Feds ever choose to audit the district for compliance with the rules.

I reviewed the elementary teachers and school administrators courses. The lessons are comprised of talking head videos, downloadable lesson plans and reference materials. A transcript of the audio is available. Throughout the course an online notepad is there for your jottings, and participants are encouraged to reflect on what they have learned at the end of each unit.

The KDS website ran flawlessly over WiFi within my MacBook Air’s Chrome browser. As with all Common Sense media the content of the lessons strikes the right note between allowing students freedom to explore the Internet while teaching them to be safe and responsible. Testimonials and narratives from classroom teachers and administrators add credibility to the lesson plans, assurance that they have shown to be effective tools in the classroom.

Few teachers and administrators are likely to find that courses on CIPA and E-Rate will rate high on their list of great ways to spend free time. That  said, you’d be hard pressed to find an easier or more effective than Common Sense Media way to gain these skills and demonstrate that you’re playing by the rules.

The Things We Ask Students to Do

Educators ask a lot of students. Results may vary in terms of what students actually do when asked, and it may be that some teachers actually have rather low expectations for their charges. But by and large in the independent school community teachers are blessed with motivated, high achieving students.

I have sometimes wondered if we educators are willing to ask the same of ourselves as we ask of our students. I would like to say that we do, but I can think of some teachers, those who may operate more on cruise control than passion, may no longer be as rigorous about their own learning as they are about that of their students.

Consider what we typically ask of students:

  • To accept a schedule of four to seven different courses (preparations) each day.
  • To be open to new experiences, take chances, and not be afraid to fail.
  • To collaborate with each other, even those they don’t like.
  • To be continuously evaluated, judged, and graded and then asked to graciously accept this feedback.
  • To build upon their knowledge year after year and embark on a path of lifetime learning, un-learning, and re-learning.
  • To commit to a regular regime of physical fitness or athletics.
  • To commit clubs and other extracurricular activities in addition to academics.
  • To be happy, cheerful, optimistic,and uncomplaining.
  • To be prepared for every class (read material ahead of time, think about it, practice skills). Woe be to students who come to meetings ill-prepared.
  • To be polite at and not gossip about others.
  • To be conscientious and safe digital citizens
  • To accept the decisions of those in authority and always assume good will.
  • To regularly reflect on their learning and build a portfolio of practice.
  • To keep their desks. work areas, personal storage areas clean and tidy.
  • To wait to go to the bathroom.
  • To eat their lunch in 20 minutes.
  • To always be on time.
  • To always tell the truth.
  • To not steal school supplies for their personal use.
  • To stretch yourself by taking challenging classes.

Every adult has had a “do as I say, not as I do” moment. It may have been with your own children, your students, or perhaps both. Hopefully such moments are as instructive for us as we hope that they are for the child. Children will screw up, make mistakes and need forgiveness. Adults will, too. But we fail them if we don’t hold ourselves to higher standards. We are the grownups, they are the kids. Let’s be sure we act like the models we want them to aspire to.

K-12 IT Management: Making the Hiring Decision

Ricky Gervais demonstrates how not to make an offer in the above clip from the British version of The Office.

This is the ninth in a series of posts on IT management for K-12 schools.

Your interview team has seen several candidates, you have gathered feedback from them, and you’re ready for the next step: making an offer. Here are the important considerations:

  1. You don’t have to make an offer. Is there anyone in the group who you really want to hire? It’s better to NOT hire someone you are not sure about and continue the search. Not matter the time of year or how desperate you may feel don’t make an offer you are not sure about. Trust your informed intuition, a.k.a. gut feeling. If the person doesn’t feel right for position, don’t make the offer.
  2. Bad hires cost a lot of money and emotional capital. Making a bad hiring decision is expensive financially and emotionally. Estimates of the financial costs of bad hiring decisions to organizations range from 30% of the new person’s salary to 5 times that salary.
  3. It’s your decision. As the hiring manager, it is your decision, but some people in the organization my possess veto power, such as the principal, superintendent, or head of school. They can say “no” but they should not be able to say “yes” over your objections. If they do this more than once, look for another job for yourself.
  4. Avoid analysis paralysis. Don’t let fear of making a mistake put you into analysis paralysis. Be chronically understaffed when you have unfilled positions puts your entire department at risk from overwork and under-performance. And if you are somehow able to maintain high quality standards while being understaffed for an extended period of time, some may conclude that you don’t need the headcount and take it away from you.
  5. Make a verbal offer. Call the candidate on the phone or meet with them to make a verbal offer. Convey your enthusiasm and eagerness for them to join your team. Some managers like to use a language common amongst sales agents called “the presumptive close,” but I find such language to be off-putting, pushy, and disrespectful. I prefer to listen carefully to the candidate’s response.
  6. Be prepared to wait, but not long. Many candidates will ask for some time to make a decision. This is reasonable. You have (presumably) taken time to reach your decision and so the candidate must be allowed some time, at least 24 hours, to reach a decision as well.  You will be eager for the candidate to commit and even minor delays may lead you to start re-thinking your decision. Be patient, but firm. Give the candidate a deadline and stick to it.
  7. Negotiate. Be ready to negotiate with the candidate. If negotiations is not your strong suit, find someone in your organization who can help you without undermining your authority. Don’t play the game that so many people identify as the car salesman tactic of needing to always “run this past my manager.” Know ahead of time the maximum salary you can offer and other negotiable benefits. Money is not the only thing you can negotiate about. Remember, you are hiring techies and educators. Access to the latest technology and the ability to to join professional associations and attend conferences may be worth more than cash to many candidates.
  8. Make a written offer. After verbal negotiations have concluded and you have a vernal acceptance from the candidate, it’s time to get a formal offer letter and, if required by your school, a contract to them. The offer materials should be generated by your HR department with your input. These are legal documents, and you need to make sure that everything is in order. In many schools, only authorized personnel can enter into contracts, so don’t be surprised if someone else needs to sign the offer letter. I suggest sending the offer by a means that will guarantee a quickly delivery and signature of receipt. Instruct the candidate to schedule a conference call with you and HR to review the materials to make sure that everything you have negotiated with them is accounted for. (Remember, you may have other finalists who are “hanging in the wind” that you have not officially rejected. If you have a strong #2 candidate, you don’t want the #1 candidate to take too long in officially accepting the offer.”
  9. Notify rejected candidates. When, and only when, you have a written acceptance in hand, notify the rejected candidates. I have sometimes  found this to be an awkward phase. You have probably invested time and energy into cultivating a group of finalists and they, in turn, have an investment in your school and perhaps even an expectation of an offer. You want these people to remain positive about your school despite the news that you are about to deliver to them. Here are some other thoughts about this phase in the process:
    • Candidates may press who as to why they were not chosen. Tread carefully here as you do not want to say anything verbally or in writing that could come back to haunt you should there be a dispute about any sort of discriminatory behavior on your part of anyone in the school.
    • Mention something positive, if you can, about their resume or interview that you especially liked. Everyone likes to hear something positive even within the context of disappointing  news.
    • Do not promise to keep their credentials on file if, in fact, your school does not have a system for doing so.
    • If you believe that the candidate was a good fit for the organization if not for this particular job (see previous post on organizational fit) let them know that and encourage them to remain in contact with the school.

I’d really like to hear from readers about other ideas in this area. Comments?

Other posts in this series:
Space: The First Frontier
Writing Job Descriptions
Using Technology to Manage Hiring
Where to Post Jobs
What to Say in Job Postings
Screening Resumes and Letters of Application
Phone Screening Applicants
Behavioral Interview Questions
Who’s on the Interview Team? 

1 Password 4: A Review

While the threat of malware targeting computers and mobile devices and spending on security measures to counter them accelerates, one aspect of computer security, the use of weak and overused passwords, remains as firmly entrenched as ever. In a 2010 post  (Passéwords) I criticized the lack of decent alternatives to passwords. Four months later, I the password manager, LastPass, a program I continued to use until about six months ago when I switched to Agile Solution’s 1Password.

My switch to 1Password not the result of dissatisfaction with LastPass but the result of my needing to support a family member who needed a password manager in a really friendly UI, which in my view gave the edge to 1Password. I did not want to support two password managers, and thus the switch. Here’s my experience with 1Password to date.

  • 1Password has a means for importing passwords from a variety of sources but alas, LastPass is not among them. You can, however, export LastPass as a CSV file and import these files into 1Password, but my results work not encouraging and I simply ended up creating new entries. Perhaps this was not such a bad thing as I used the opportunity to delete accounts of sites I no longer frequented and to change the passwords of those that I do.
  • The stand-alone 1Password application (Macintosh) has worked flawlessly: it has never crashed or lost any data. You can add web sites, generate secure passwords, create profiles for your commonly used data in forms (name, address, and so on), create secure notes and add credit card information (don’t use these myself), catalog software licenses and other data, and tag entries.
  • 1Password offers a built-in means to store all of your passwords in a Dropbox account (also iCloud; Google Drive and SkyDrive under development) allowing you to sync passwords across multiple computers and supported mobile devices.
  • Browser extension are available cross-platform for Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and IE. This makes using 1Password enormously helpful with websites. It gives you the same benefits as the fill-blown app: enter user-names and passwords, add new sites, generate unique and secure passwords, and fill-in forms.
  • iOS support (and presumably Android, I don’t hava device to confirm this) for 1Password is not available as a browser plug-in. Instead, you open the 1Password app, navigate to your saved site, and launch the site from within the application, using it’s built-in browser. I find this less than optimal, but perhaps I simply need to learn new habits of browsing. Should you want to open the same 1Password page in another browser you will need to use copy and paste.
  • Though they are frequently asked about it, Agile’s 1Password does not offer multi-factor  authentication. It seems to boil down to a rather nerdish disagreement about whether or not multi-factor is inherently more secure and worth the trade0ffs for user convenience. For those who may be interested in looking in the weeds, there’s a particularly good exchange about the pros and cons of multi-factor authentication in this blog posting on Agile’s Web site.
  • Disappointingly, 1Password can’t interact directly with either Macintosh or Windows system to manage local application passwords, such as those for iTunes or secure documents. 1Password can store any sort of password but can automatically enter passwords only for web sites. Bummer.

Given the inherent poor security of practices of most users I highly recommend that they use a password manager. Schools with 1-1 programs of any sort should include the use of password managers in all of their professional development programs and student boot-camps. If your school is multi-platform, including iOS and Android Devices, 1Password is a great choice. Site license are available, but discount pricing modest. If you’re on a budget, like most schools are, LastPass or similar programs that offer free (but less flexible) options may be the way to go. I am hesitant to recommend a product that does not have a paid version as paying customers can and do demand the highest quality from developers, especially in the area of security.

It would be great if Apple was to build-in this kind of functionality into iOS and Mac OS, but don’t hold your breath. Apple is a consumer company and provides lip-service only to enterprise customers.

There are several open-source password management programs, including KeePass, Clipperz, and Password Gorilla, but I have not used them. Experimentation with open-source security is something I’m a bit leery about trying on my own, but readers may be more adventurous or better qualified to give this a go.

Using a password manager? Please pass along your experiences!

2-1 is new 1-1

Back in 2011( previous post: Apple 2, Education) I ventured that the adoption of iPads by schools represented a new phase in Apple’s plans for the education market:

If schools think that having an iPad program will be sufficient to meet any 1-1 goals they may hold for themselves, they are sadly mistaken. Instead, they represent the vanguard of a new 2-1 movement, in which students will have two devices: a touch-screen device that has wonderful e-reading capabilities, Internet connectivity, and a wide array of tools, AND a laptop computer.

The widespread adoption of iPads in schools that have never had a laptop or BYOD program of any type suggests that I may be wrong, but I stand by my prediction. While a huge amount of development has gone into creating iPad applications for schools, there are a number of immutable facts about the iPad that make it an incomplete solution:

  1. the iPad is, and will continue to be, a highly personal device. It is not meant for long-term sharing with others.
  2. the iPad is a consumer device, and education is a secondary market for Apple. Discounts on Apple products are small for all except the largest players in the education market, and Apple’s continual re-organization and downsizing of their education division suggests that the situation is not going to improve.
  3. the result of this is that iPad using educators are continually discussing “work-arounds;” strategies for managing devices that are not designed for enterprise control, and purchasing and deploying applications through an e-commerce system that focuses on individual and not corporate accounts.
  4. form factor. Anyone who is serious about word processing on an iPad adds an external keyboard to it. Need a larger screen? Additional expense for dual monitors. iPad is great for reading and applications that benefit from touch interface, but it’s terrible at jobs that require different means of input or more screen size.
  5. walled garden. Apple’s ecosystem of iOS applications is much more constrained than that of Macintosh. Applications must be purchased through iTunes, where they are first subjected to Apple’s terms and conditions. Don’t like that? Jailbreak your iPad and void your warranty.

I know few adult iPad users that do not also have a computer. Why is that? Because computers can do things that iPads can’t do and sometimes, they can do the same things that iPads can do only better. But why then do they have an iPad at all? Because the iPad can do some things better than a computer. In short, to have a more complete set of tools you need more than one device.

iPads have a place in all of K-12 education, and can serve as a great introductory device for elementary school students and as a complementary tool for middle and high school students. But schools who plan on an iPad (or any other tablet) as a sole device for all of K-12 are mistaken. Few adults in a school use it as their only device and we should not expect students to either.

The same reasoning that led schools to decide that they wanted to go 1-1 with an iPad program (accessibility, communication, problem solving, collaboration, and so forth) hold true for laptops. So forward-looking administrators should set expectations within their school communities that the new model is 2-1, perhaps even 3-1 if you count smartphones. 1-1 is the start, not the destination.