Thursday, July 09, 2009

To (ipod) Touch or Not to (ipod) Touch

I am trying to get my thoughts around the issue of using the ipod touch with students. I know of a few people who have managed to get approval for a cart of ipod touches for next year, and I know of several others who are either trying to get one or who WISH they could get a cart full. But, I'm just not yet convinced of their value. I'm not trying to start a flame war; I'm just trying to get my mind around it.

Here's my thinking.
1) It appears that the 8gig model costs $229 from the Apple store. Educators can get a slight discount, maybe, so let's go with $200 as the comparison price. I'm seeing netbooks for around $300. With the education discount and bulk purchase price, let's figure on $300/machine. So, right away you can get 45 ipod touches for the price of 30 netbooks. Chalk up one for ipod touches
2) Applications. There are 35000 applications available for the iphone and most of them work on the ipod touch, as well. However, they're not all free. Even at $.99 each it'll be an expense to furnish them with some of the best applications. The netbooks, however, have access to all the applications and applets and sites on the web, and the vast majority are free. Many require flash, so although the Safari browser is on the ipod touch, you won't be able to use those applications. You're limited to those you can download. Chalk up one for the netbooks
3) Typing. Typing anything on the ipod touch is a slow process compared to even an 80% keyboard, so you're not going to be typing up homework on them. With the netbooks you're not limited that way. Chalk another one up for the netbooks.
4) Battery life. Maybe the battery in my ipod touch isn't as good as the one in yours, but I don't get a lot of time on mine. Listening to music is fine, but even then I don't get 3 hours from the battery. From what I was able to see, some netbook batteries last as long as 4.5, but most are around 3. Let's call that one a draw, then.
5) Cool factor. If a student had his or her own ipod touch and could put his own music on it and his own pictures then the cool factor would be huge. Similarly, if a student had his/her own netbook and could customize as desired, the cool factor would still be pretty good - not as good as the ipod touch, but not bad. But, they're NOT going to be able to put music or images on them. No advantage to either.
6) Versatility. With the ipod touch you can only do pretty much whatever applications you download. Yes, you can surf the Internet, but seeing it and doing anything with it is an issue. The netbooks, on the other hand, are simply much more versatile. Another one for the netbooks - unless this could be the same as the Applications category.

We were always told, decide on what you need and then look for the closest match. I'm just not seeing the ipod touch as being the closest match to what I want to do, even if I *can* get 50% more of them for the same amount of money.

What am I missing?


Ty Yost said...


I really think you have some strong points here. I see the Ipod Touches working brilliantly in Elementary Classrooms where typing for extended times is a non issue.

We had a cart of Aspire Ones ready to hit our elementary classrooms, and quite a few of the staff including myself are Ipod Touch user/lovers. You are right on with the Flash issue making many good classroom sites useless and that is unacceptable.

I also fear the theft factor of the Ipods, which are much harder to mark/asset tag, as well as easy(er) to "grow legs".

All in all, they with come out pretty even, but when netbooks that connect to the school network break the sub $200 zone they win hands down. Some say we will see netbooks break this price barrier by the holidays, and the release of Windows 7 and Google OS may make $150 realistic.

If it was my money, the teachers would get Ipod Touches, and the kids would get netbooks.

Tim said...

We're going back and forth with this in our district as we did a small experiment with the iPod Touch in six schools during the 4th quarter of this past year. I'm working on a "stuff we learned" post for my own blog but there are a couple of things insights I can offer in this space.

For one thing, comparing them to netbooks (or other laptops) is not a 1-1 relationship, especially considering they way that many people in our district see the role of laptops. Most see portable computers as "movable desktops" which are used by students, singly or in pairs, so that everyone can do the same assignment. They are often locked down so everyone sees the same desktop in the same way.

We found out very quickly that the Touch is a very personal learning device that is very difficult to lockdown. It's not easily configured for a uniform interface and there's no easy way to purchase and distribute apps, paid or not, to multiple devices.

However, I don't see that as bad. The kids very quickly took ownership of their Touches, not only changing the settings to fit their needs and personalities but also discovering ways of using them that we had never thought of. They frequently became the teachers, to each other and the teacher.

Another problem we had was that our experiment ran into conflicts with the "no cell phone" policies in our schools. Or rather with teachers being afraid of students using a portable device. As a result students in three of the four secondary schools were not allowed to use their Touch outside of the participating teacher's classroom unless the other teacher gave permission.

Anyway, I have a whole bunch more of our learning to relate and, since we're going to continue the experiment in the fall, more will be coming. Email me, Jim, if you want something more specific.