Thursday, February 4, 2010

The iPad: So Easy to Use Even a Technologically Illiterate Teacher Can Use It

My friends and fellow Twitters, Bill Chamberlain and Russ Georend, were Tweeting fast and furiously about the iPad the day after its unveiling a week ago. Informed only with a few details and no experience, we nevertheless offered our pronouncements about the iPad and its future use in our hands and by our schools and students. I suggested that we should have a debate and offer it as a podcast, but then I got busy and did not follow up with my suggestion. Russ and Bill did, however, each posting on his blog. Russ went first with Please don’t buy your students iPads and, of course became the target for Bill and me. With a podcast, there would have been more debate, and we might have changed each others minds, or at least changed sides from time to time just to enliven the debate. But stuck with print (well, electronic print), our debate is much more serial in nature. Bill went second with Why iPads Are a Good Choice for Students and I get to take dead aim at both of them in The iPad: So Easy to Use Even a Technologically Illiterate Teacher Can Use It which follows below. After we all have the iPad in our hands I will try and arrange a real debate and record it for posterity as a podcast. Until then, you are stuck reading these three commentaries.

Here is the Strange commentary:

It's rather early, I think, to make pronouncements and comparisons when I haven't seen an iPad, much less held one in my hand or used it. But here are a few Strange thoughts on the subject.

1. Several commentators, including Scott Bourne, Andy Ihnatko and Steven Frank suggest that the iPad is a new instrument, not a phone, not a computer, but a new device that could revolutionize the way we consume, and perhaps produce, information. If this is true, and I am convinced enough by the arguments put forth to consider it quite likely to be correct, then comparisons are out at the moment and may be completely inappropriate after the iPad has seen the light of day among the people. And I am speaking of the masses here, not the geeks. If it is a new device then it is certainly for the masses, not the geeks!

2. Whether or not it is a new instrument of information, it will certainly have a place in our pantheon of teaching and learning tools. Anything that will move us from our unfortunate addiction to “sage on the stage” and “burp back” education will be a welcome addition to our tool set.

3. There are already debates about whether the iPad will be “useful”, “appropriate” or “good” for students to have. How absurd. Anything that connects our students to the cloud of information known as the Internet is useful, appropriate and good for our students.

4. The most important impact may be on teachers. The vast majority of teachers currently practicing their profession are not geeks, not even “technologically literate” in the sense that I would use that term. All of the pundits that have written about the iPad, after even a brief time with it, make two points: it is lightning fast in what it does and it is drop dead easy to use. This is fantastic news. The easier it is to use, the more likely current teachers who are not "technologically literate" are to use it and to connect to the information cloud. If that is correct, then maybe we can see teachers move from a memorize and "burp-back" approach to hands on, project based, problem solving teaching. So the most important impact could on teachers rather than its impact on students.

5. Russ Goerend complains that the iPad is not a full fledged computer. It is missing a multi tasking operating system, will not display Flash “videos”, and does not have a camera for video input. Again, reports are that people who know what a “multi tasking operating system” is will say, when they use the iPad, that it is barely noticeable that it is not actually multi-tasking because of the speed of the device (Andy Ihnatko). All of trusted experts on web 2.0 celebrate the fact that Apple has drawn a line in the sand about Flash and has said html 5 or nothing. On the iPhone and iPod Touch there is no Flash and the millions who use them and have bought them do not care. Only Adobe cares. Flash is power hungry, open to exploitation by hackers, and an inappropriate tool for the next generation of the net. Now the camera part. I wish it had a camera. But that is just a desire on my part with no direct knowledge of the instrument itself. I think it inappropriate of me to make a judgement about the device, even if it does not meet my idealized specs, until I have seen it and tried it in the real world.

7. I consider Russ Goerend my friend, but to start a debate between iPads and tablet computers (if you had money to buy a lot) seems ludicrous to me! Where are schools spending money these days? Not on tools which can be put into the hands of students, but on smartboards and the like. That is the real argument we should have. I would be overjoyed with the ability to put any tool in the hands of a user, iPad or tablet. If I had the choice I might make a uniform choice, I might leave it up to the student, or I might make different choices for different age groups and different curricula. What a wonderful day that would be to actually put real tools in the hands of learners!


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  2. I think we can use our experiences with the iPhone/iTouch to get a pretty good idea at the starting capabilities of the iPad. If all it does is have a bigger screen it still becomes a much more useful tool. I can't wait until I get mine!

  3. Hi, John,
    Thanks for continuing the friendly debate :)

    I tried to frame my argument around the idea that schools had a set amount of money to have: either enough to buy an iPad for every student or enough to buy a classroom set of iPads.

    At it's foundation, my argument was how that amount of money should be spent. As I said in my post, if that's the kind of money we're looking at, I'd much rather spend that money wisely instead of throwing it at a first generation device.

    The two conclusions I came to were that 1) a netbook and an iPod Touch for every student were smarter investment than just an iPad and 2) 75 iPod Touches are a better investment for schools than 30 iPads.

    We are in complete agreement on your point #5. The fact that we're 1:1 in our school with each teacher having a laptop but only in the initial stages of talking 1:1 with students is mind boggling and shows how backwards the priorities of school spending are.