Listening to students

After only one week at the Amer­i­can Embassy School (AES) in Delhi, I’ve had the oppor­tu­nity to gain some great insight into the school from the per­spec­tives of stu­dents, teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tion.  I’ve con­ducted some class­room walk-throughs and met with mul­ti­ple groups.  One meet­ing in par­tic­u­lar stands out in regards to the use of tech­nol­ogy at AES.  On Fri­day, I met with a stu­dent group and lis­tened to them dis­cuss their thoughts as they pre­pare for the tran­si­tion to 1:1.  Part of that dis­cus­sion was around the device that their school will choose.  The school is debat­ing whether to move to 1:1 with iPads or the Mac Air.  Inter­est­ingly, although most stu­dents (80%) already have some type of lap­top, the large major­ity of stu­dents indi­cated they would pre­fer mov­ing to 1:1 with the Air laptops. I was sur­prised by this find­ing from the stu­dent survey. The school is also meet­ing with each depart­ment to assess which device will bet­ter meet the needs of their depart­ment. Although the con­ver­sa­tion around the device is cer­tainly inter­est­ing, I found other parts of the student’s dis­cus­sion much more inter­est­ing.  In par­tic­u­lar, stu­dents high­lighted two extremely impor­tant points for all 1:1 edu­ca­tors.  I must also say that I was blown away by the way stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in the dis­cus­sion.  Not only were they extremely artic­u­late, they also truly lis­tened to one another and were able to respect­fully debate with one another. 

The first major point stu­dents made was about the ways that com­put­ers were cur­rently being used.  They deliv­ered a mes­sage that I often try to deliver.  They described how tech­nol­ogy was often used in ways that didn’t really change what they were doing.  It helped them with their orga­ni­za­tion and may have increased their efficiency,  but it didn’t nec­es­sar­ily change the ways they learned.  That mes­sage aligns with the ways that I often see tech­nol­ogy used.  My chal­lenge to the admin­is­tra­tors at that meet­ing was to aggres­sively try to empower teach­ers to use the tech­nol­ogy in ways that will truly change the learn­ing expe­ri­ence of stu­dents.  Next week I’ll be work­ing with the entire admin­is­tra­tion team, and I hope to help them develop a walk-through tool that can assess the ways in which tech­nol­ogy is being used.

 The next major point stu­dents made was that they wanted to be able to per­son­al­ize their devices as much as pos­si­ble and make them their own. The stu­dents had ques­tions about the things they would be able to put on their devices as well as sum­mer use.  Obvi­ously, both of these issues present chal­lenges on school owned devices.  They do, how­ever, raise some ques­tions to con­sider.  Are there ways that stu­dents can keep their devices over extended breaks?  If not all stu­dents, can some stu­dents sub­mit “pro­pos­als” why they need their device?  Are there other ways that stu­dents can make the device more per­sonal so that they don’t need a sec­ond lap­top or desktop?

 When describ­ing the design process, my col­league ,John Nash, always high­lights the impor­tance of hear­ing from all stake­hold­ers.  AES fac­ulty were wise to meet with and lis­ten to their stu­dents.  The con­cerns, ques­tions, and opin­ions they shared should help the school as they tran­si­tion to 1:1. Sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tions with stu­dent focus groups could also be valu­able for any 1:1 school.

*On a per­sonal note, I’m excited to say that I wrote this on my way to the Taj Mahal! It was more spec­tac­u­lar than I imagined!


  1. I’m not sur­prised that the stu­dents stated a pref­er­ence for the Air over the iPad. I work at a 1:1 school sys­tem in Dubai, and when we started our 1:1 pro­gram, it was with Mac­Books. Recently the sys­tem tran­si­tioned to iPads for incom­ing stu­dents (Grade 9), and while the cost sav­ings are enor­mous (no more paper texts, and each iPad costs 1/6th what each Mac­Book with licensed soft­ware cost), the effect on stu­dent pro­duc­tiv­ity has not gen­er­ally been positive.

    Con­tent cre­ation on the iPad is dif­fi­cult. Yes you can cre­ate basic pre­sen­ta­tions with Keynote, and do some basic video edit­ing with iMovie for iPad, and apps like Ever­note, Nota­bil­ity, Near­Pod and oth­ers allow for some inter­est­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive learn­ing and teach­ing, there are yet seri­ous weak­nesses that pose seri­ous issues.

    The first, and most basic chal­lenge teach­ers face is dis­trib­ut­ing activ­i­ties, and get­ting them back for mark­ing. Google Docs Froms are fan­tas­tic for meet­ing this chal­lenge. Also, we found that by main­tain­ing sub­ject blogs where we can link to course mate­r­ial, we can use Goodreader to down­load con­tent and work with it. We can down­load .ZIPs con­tain­ing video or audio, in addi­tion to .PPTs or .PDFs, and Goodreader will open the .ZIPs, play the video or audio, dis­play the pre­sen­ta­tions, and allow us to anno­tate the .PDFs. Stu­dents can then e-mail assign­ments to the teacher directly from the app. Alter­na­tively, if the inter­net is an issue, Goodreader will con­nect to AFP and SMB servers that can be accessed on a local net­work, allow­ing stu­dents to grab con­tent that way also.

    So the basic chal­lenge of giv­ing and receiv­ing can be over­come. How­ever, when the net­work is slow (which is often), or down (also not infre­quent) there is not much you can do. With a Mac­book, you can trans­fer files straight to the teacher’s Drop Box inside their Pub­lic Folder, or man­u­ally via USB or or portable Hard Drive. In addi­tion, when work­ing on senior level sub­jects (our stu­dents take the Math, Physics, and Chem­istry SATs.. which is very rare in the Mid­dle East), where Eng­lish is a sec­ond lan­guage, the abil­ity to keep mul­ti­ple win­dows open for read­ing, writ­ing, and trans­lat­ing, is a must. Cur­rently, it is very dif­fi­cult to do this on an iPad.

    For aca­d­e­mic minded stu­dents, the lim­i­ta­tions of an iPad or more than cosmetic.

    Mind you, for teach­ers.… they are AWSOME. (But you still need a Laptop).

  2. The issue of per­son­al­iza­tion and “take home” priv­i­leges are an issue of who “owns” the com­put­ers. At HKIS, par­ents of stu­dents grades 5–12 pur­chase the com­put­ers but the school licenses the software.

    Hence, stu­dents are able to per­son­al­ize their com­put­ers with cov­ers and such. The school gives par­ents the admin pass­words, which are nec­es­sary to down­load or update pro­grams. When stu­dents leave, the soft­ware is wiped off the com­puter (but the com­puter goes with the student).

    AES is a fab­u­lous school with great lead­er­ship. I’m sure they’ll make it work beautifully.

  3. Jennifer Earl says:

    Would you be will­ing to share the walk through tool you men­tioned? Our dis­trict is in the process of revis­ing our teacher eval walk through tool and at present the only thing on it is whether or not they (teacher and/or stu­dents) are using tech­nol­ogy. I’m try­ing to get the mes­sage out that is not the goal…it’s the why, and what and how that really mat­ters. If I had an exam­ple to show them, admin might finally “get it.”

  4. Nick Sauers says:

    I’d be happy to share that tool and a cou­ple of oth­ers. Please shoot me an email, and I’ll get them to you (


  5. Nick Sauers says:

    Thanks for the com­ment Janet! It is great to hear how other schools are address­ing this.


  6. Nick Sauers says:


    This is great feed­back! I’d be really inter­ested to hear your thoughts in another six months. Your insight may be very help­ful to oth­ers strug­gling with the same decision.


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