Friday, October 01, 2010

My thoughts on the ipad craze

I'd like to weigh in on this discussion of using the ipads in the classroom. There's been a lot of talk about it,  but I'm just not sold. I'd like to tell you why.

I should state for the record that I don't (yet?) own one, and I think that fact allows me to be a little less emotional about them. I do own an ipod touch and (finally) an iphone, so I'm familiar and comfortable with apps and how cool they are, etc. That's just to say that I'm not totally unfamiliar with them.

Here's what I keep coming back to. We KNOW what we need to do in the classroom that will do all the things that we know to be good things to do. The research has been there for many years. There are volumes of textbooks that are written on the subject. But, I venture to say that nowhere is it ever stated that what we REALLY need is some device that has yet to be invented. Like the ipad. "What we need is an ipad!"

We know, for example, what the power of Inquiry Based learning (IBL) can do, and the power of either Problem or Project Based Learning, yet how often is it done? We know that with today's technology we can communicate and collaborate with students from around the world, yet how often is that done? We know that we want our students to be producers of content rather than consumers. We know that we need to get away from scantron sheets with true/false or multiple choice questions. We know that we need to move towards a more student-centered environment, with the students being in charge of their learning - to the extent possible. And, we know that none of those changes would cost a penny - aside from the current technology in the buildings. Yet, it's a HUGE struggle to make those ideas a natural part of classroom life.

We've got laptop carts and carts of mini laptops that can do everything the ipad can do - and MORE - but we're often not using them for anything more than just a research and typing tool. But now we're saying that if we could only get the ipad then everything will be different? How so? They can't do everything the mini laptop can do and we're not using it to its fullest. They may be a great personal learning tool, where we consume the information of others, but they are NOT a tool for personal expression or creativity. Yes, there are lots of examples of artists using the painting tools, or musicians playing tunes together using ipads. And there are lots of teacher-created wikis that do a wonderful job listing hundreds of applications that kids and teachers could use. But, check out those lists. They're all - or mostly - apps that let the user consume information.

There are a LOT of logistical issues with the ipads in the classrooms, as well. For one, when the kids don't have admin access they can't install apps. Using a netbook or laptop they can just go to another website that offers that applet or activity. Try using your ipad with no admin rights. And, add to the cost of the purchase of these ipads the cost of carts for a charging station. And some other device that will let us project them - a document camera, maybe? And, we'll have to install something to let them print. And, what about connecting to the network? Updates, etc?

The device may be cool, but I'll also be willing to bet that it will become obsolete in half the time of a laptop due to its limited functions. Imagine using this ipad three years from now. You can still be using the same laptop, but I'll bet you won't be using the ipad in three years. One, the thrill will be long gone when new technology leapfrogs this one. Two, let's face it - it's a fad. It's NOT the answer to education's persistent questions. (Anyone think that sounds familiar? Guy Noir-ish, maybe? :-) ) How many of us have traded - or wish we could afford to trade- our year old ipod touches since the new ones are so much better?

I may be completely wrong. It won't be the first time. But, for my money, I'll spend it on better professional development on using the existing tools and on creating professional learning networks, etc. Someone is going to have to prove to me that the ipad is worth the expense.


Cathy Nelson said...

Bingo--agree wholeheartedly. Far too many are all caught up in the "shiny new" rather than the potential or implications. Someone very close to me had their IB math kids presented with an iPAd recently, and the teacher and administrators were bumfuddled because the devices could not find the wifi. Believe it or not, it wasnt the iPAd, but rather that the school was not equipped for wifi. Seven P's: Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance (or in the case poor implementation.) (Sorry for being so crude, I dont really use that word but it is part of the saying.) The device is meant as a personalized device to be customized. I don't see that happening in most school settings. So how can it be the paradigm shift so many are making it out to be? My jury is in, and has told me I need to wait for another shiny new thing to come out.

Rob Chinn said...

I'm going to disagree on some of these arguments. First, you may have used an iPod Touch and iPhone, and although they seem the same as an iPad, there are so many things you can do that are not practical on the smaller devices I sugest you pick one up and spend some time with it before you dismiss it.

The iPad isn't going to be any more obsolete than a laptop after 3 years, and the cost of is more than likely going to be less, although it's probably too early to determine that at this point

Kids will react to things they find fun, and I think that is exactly why the iPad can and will succeed in the classroom early on. I've heard stories of kids not wanting to go to recess because they were having so much fun doing math problems... that's right, using an app on the iPad.

Jim Gates said...

For the sake of those who are buying the ipads, I hope you're right. I still don't think they're going to hold up in the long run. Yes, they're different than the ipod touches, but they are still less functional that a netbook or laptop, and we're not using those to their fullest, either.

But, I hope I'm wrong. I hope that someone does find a way of making them more functional that just being cool. There are plenty of sites online that will let kids play math games, too. Trouble is, many times they're blocked - can't have games, y' know. :(

Anyway, I hope you're right.