Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why the iPads are NOT Ready for Schools

I keep reading about more and more schools that are giving all their students an ipad and the inevitable comments to the notion that they are cheaper replacements for laptops. I think there will be a LOT of folks who will be very disappointed if that's what they're thinking - the ipad replaces the laptop. It doesn't.

I sat down with my ipad recently and really tried to put it through its paces. Maybe my problems with it had more to do with my lack of skills than the ipad's missing functionalities. I wish that were the case. I WISH I could have made it work.

Here is a list of tasks that just don't work, or are so clunky as to be more trouble than they're worth. I hope that folks who are contemplating the purchase of ipads will read this carefully and weigh it against the other opinions. I hope they will think carefully about what it is they want to be able to do with them. I want them to think carefully about what they CAN do with them and whether or not that is good for Education and good for the kids. But it won't matter, will it? Those who are pushing for the ipads won't be swayed.

First, the ipad is NOT a replacement for the laptop, so if you're under that impression you REALLY MUST read further.

The Non-Starters (for me)
  • The ipad doesn't work with Google Docs! No, it does NOT. You get very basic line editing capabilities only. You cannot make a hyperlink, nor change styles, nor apply styles. Try to create a form. Some will argue, "It'll get better." Perhaps, but you're buying the ipads NOW, not later. We've been touting Google Docs as being a wonderful tool for collaboration, etc. It's not an option with the ipads. You can't even share a document. Is collaboration no longer important? Because you don't have that tool any longer, when using the ipads.
  • Shall we list all the websites that don't work due to lack of Flash? And don't pretend that this isn't an issue. It IS. Yes, yes, HTML5 blah blah, I know all about it. But, how many years are we away from a conversion to HTML5? This isn't going to happen overnight like a style change in gmail. This is a HUGE undertaking. Other tablets DO show Flash, but most do not even considering another brand?
  • The Safari browser doesn't work in Moodle. Supposedly it will in version 2.0 of Moodle, but it doesn't work now, and now is when you're buying it.What are you going to do with it NOW?
  • Multitasking is blind. Unlike on a computer where you can have many windows open, and even have a couple things open side by side, you cannot do that on the ipad. That is not likely to be a non-starter for many, but for me it's a serious drawback. It doesn't match how I work. Right now, for example, I've got this browser window open and shifted to one side while Tweetdeck and Skype run in the background next to it. You can't do that on the ipad. No Tweetdeck at all, in fact, as it crashes all the time. Yes, and I KNOW that we shouldn't compare ipads to laptops because they're not the same. But, isn't that the point? They're NOT the same and they can't do what we need them to be able to do.
  • Wikispaces opens in wikitext mode, not the WYSIWYG editing more. Yes, you can take the time to change it, but do you to make the kids do that every time they want to edit a page? This, of course, is NOT the fault of Wikispaces. Rather, it's the inadequacy of the device.
  • And, in wikispaces, try to make a hyperlink. Go ahead. I'll wait. Were you able to switch to the Visual Editor? Could you select a word that you wanted to turn into a hyperlink? Try to embed a youtube video. Try to embed a variety of objects from other sites. First, you're hard pressed to be able to create those objects while using the ipad anyway. But, try to embed something.
    • OK, so maybe a lot of states aren't into wikispaces like PA schools are, so this won't be a problem for you. But it IS a problem in PA. We DO use wikispaces a LOT and many districts have their own private label. Are we now saying that we don't think that wikis are a good tool for students to use to collaborate, partner, demonstrate knowledge?
  • Try doing anything in Google Earth besides fly-to's. Google Earth has the capability to allow users to create their own tour and add pushpins and embed video and SO much more. Not the ipad version.
  • Forget about making a screencast. Yes, you can take a screen shot, but you cannot record the screen. Why is this important? Using a laptop we're able to create and screencast and then embed it right into a Keynote. (Not so easily done in PowerPoint, however) When presenting those screencast videos are powerful tools. No can do on the ipad.
  • Excited about having Keynote, Pages, iMovie and garageband? (Aside from the cost factor?) Have you noticed how many significant features of those applications are missing? The lack of Dropbox integration means that students MUST have an email address to be able to create something and turn it in to the teacher.  Are you saying that NOW you're going to give them email? Oh... wait. you're going to use iTunes? So, the students are going to need a laptop, then, to sync to. OH! Sorry. I didn't know that you were going to give them a laptop, too. That aside, the simplest of tasks, like adding a simple text field to a keynote slide is not possible. (note: Turns out that it IS possible, just not via a menu of any kind. Still not enough to sway me differently.) WHATEVER you plan to have the kids doing with those apps will be very basic, at best.
    • This brings me to my first challenge when folks want to talk about buying ipads for school. Make something - ANYthing in ANY app - and turn it in to me for a grade. Go ahead. Try it. And, if you manage to do that, do it again using a different application. I don't want you to hang your entire argument on one app. You've GOT to be able to MAKE things and SUBMIT them for a grade, don't you? And, if not, are you saying that the students will just be playing with apps? Read on.
  • So, you'll use OfficeHD instead of the iWork apps, eh? Nice. It does connect to dropbox so it is possible, although still QUITE difficult to manage, to have students turn a document in to the teacher.  But, you still can't make hyperlinks. You can't do much more than type and change styles. Is that no longer what we want our students to be able to do? The idea of those "wikified papers" that we've been talking about - forget about them. And the students STILL need an email account to create a dropbox account.
  • Are you going to give kids Admin rights to the ipad - along with that email address that heretofore was an ABSOLUTE impossibility? If not, tell me again why you think the ipad with no admin rights will hold ANY appeal to the students whatsoever once the novelty of the interface has waned. What if I loaded up an ipad with my favorite apps and gave it to you without admin rights. Would it have the same appeal to you? Heck no!  The fun of the ipad is in the exploration of the apps. Try one and decide if you want to keep it or not. Keep it a while and then later remove it. Exploration. Without admin rights they won't be able to do that. How long before they begin to forget to bring them to school?
  • Shall we talk about printing? There's no printing option in Pages, or Keynote, or Notes, or ANY app. Oh wait, you've heard about that AirPrint app, haven't you? So you have one of the airprint enabled printers? OK. Sorry. I didn't know you had purchased one of those printers. Of course, if you're doing this in a one-to-one situation, then you're going to have to buy LOTS of those printers. Oh, and you say you're going paperless so you won't need a printer? Well, if the students cant print something, and they can't submit it for a grade, then what ARE they going to do with it? Play with apps? The apps that YOU have installed?
  • What about Internet searching? That's what everyone always points to when talking about using the ipads, right? "The kids can research on it..." Really? Well, for years we've been pointing out that kids should be doing the Advanced Searches when searching, and not just the basic searches. In Google's Advanced search area, you can specify filetypes or date ranges or even that you wish to only see Creative Commons images. Sorry, ipad folks. The link for Advanced Searches is not present on the ipad. No advanced searching for YOU! Ooops - yes, you CAN do advanced searching if you type in the url manually. http://www.google.com/advanced_search OK. Nevermind that one.
  • What about typing on the ipad? Are we seriously saying that the kids can type as fast and as accurately as they can with a keyboard? Are we saying that the ipad keyboard will make the kids want to write more and edit more? And the girls with the long fingernails, they're going to be able to type on the ipads?  The auto-correct won't cause problems? Copying and pasting won't be an issue? Moving the cursor within a word, currently darned near impossible to do, won't be missed? Ever try to change @jgates513 to D jgates513 to send a direct message? Pft! Well, not to worry anyway. Unless you give the kids email addresses or buy new printers you can't get the work to the teacher anyway. And, without Google Docs the students won't be collaborating online, etc.
  • Or, are we now saying that "We're not buying the ipads so they can write. We're going to install apps so they can play... sorry, practice with the apps." If that's the case, STOP NOW! Apps? Sure. There are apps. There are LOTS of apps that kids can play with. Practice this skill or that. Is that what you're after? A device to deliver apps to practice? First, will YOU install them or allow the students to install them? Because what are you going to do when the apps must be upgraded? What about when you find another "must-have" app? Will you collect all the ipads, install the apps, and then give them back? Second, do we really want to invest all this money and time, etc on a device that just lets kids play/practice? And yes, I do know of an art app that lets them draw, and the music apps that let them play, and little apps that allow them to create objects with pictures. But that's not going to raise a single test score, it? Nor will it reach those "21st Century Skills" we've been talking about.
  • And the MUCH greater issue for me is, either it was important that we talk about "21st Century Skills" or it wasn't. If it was, I want to know how that ipad will facilitate that. And don't say that 21st Century Skills weren't about computers. I know the drill. You're right. They're about those other skills, too. Fine. I'll give you that one. But, so very many of the skills that we talked about on the computer cannot be done with the ipad. So, were they important or not? Google docs being able to facilitate real-time collaboration? Not with the ipads.
And don't say that I should wait because those issues will be fixed. Maybe. But, what are you going to do with them NOW? Play with apps? And only the apps that someone else puts on them? The kids aren't free to follow their interests to find apps?

Yes, I KNOW that they are instant on, and your laptops (CFF'ers - especially some of those year one Lenovos that took ten minutes to boot) are too slow to be practical. Nobody can afford to waste 10 minutes waiting for a laptop to boot - or not. And I KNOW that the battery life is VERY nice - lasting almost all day. (Now, anyway. With fresh batteries.) But, none of that matters if we can't do anything but play. Yes, yes... there are a few apps that really do make the kids think. Right. And someone tried to make the case that Angry Birds could be used to teach physics, too. When did we all forget our Education training? Without the sexy interface and attractive instant-on and battery life - who would say that playing with single purpose games or using single purpose tools would constitute quality education? How did we get here? Brought down by a slick interface?

But, as I said, none of this will matter. There are other brand devices out there that DO do some of what I listed above as being impossible on the ipads. But, most folks won't even buy one to try; their minds are made up. They want ipads. Fine. Get them. Just plan now to change what and how you teach, because when the students can't do work and turn it in to you, everything changes.


Anonymous said...

"The ipad doesn't work with Google Docs! No, it does NOT. You get very basic line editing capabilities only."

Not so fast Jimmy, try Puffin
works great with Google Docs and Google sites. It intended purpose is to work with flash videos, but works great with Google products.

Graeme said...

Those are certainly valid points. I disagree with most of them, and I’d like to address that point by point, but before I begin, please watch this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYLirypK_Yo&feature=feedf

I didn’t create it, nor do I have any connection to the teacher or the classroom, but it is, in my opinion, a fantastic example of what you CAN do with an iPad, and how it CAN change learning experiences.

Now, the points.

Point 1:

I agree, it could certainly be more useful, but I’d like to address the fantastic things it CAN do.

First - you CAN share documents - select the document and you can press Share in the bottom left corner - the same sharing options as the regular docs webpage are available.

I always tell my students that content is king - formatting can come later, on a device designed for it. It would be nice to be able to format, and hyperlink, but that’s secondary to getting good information down on paper. Most of what students do is creation, and it does that pretty well - a bluetooth keyboard and you’re all set. Multiple students editing a story, writing a lab, creating group notes, etc. Or a single person getting their ideas down on paper for their group while they’re “out in the field” are all valid, useful tools.

Point 2:

Fair and valid point. I’d like to look at specifics - which websites do you need? As a physics teacher I certainly miss the flash apps with respect to the interactive manipulatives and the like. That’s why I have a computer with a projector, and access to a lab when required. I’ve also found, however, that almost 90% of the things that the flash websites do, “there’s an app for that”. What websites, with flash, do you need to be able to use? I could probably find a reasonable substitute.

Point 3:

There are a number of browsers, such as the Diigo Browser, that allow you to pretend that you’re a desktop browser, and get full functionality.

Point 4: You can only use one program at once. Fair point, it’s nice to be able to look at twitter feeds while working, but Skype? Why would I need that in a window? iPad’s can receive notifications, including Skype calls, in the background. It’s a double tap away from opening, and if I am tweeted or called it alerts me.

Point 5,6&7: Fair point, it doesn’t work nearly well enough. There are either workarounds (ie, type what you want and edit the content later) or simply book a lab, or a mobile laptop cart, or do it from home. This single program isn’t a reason to kill a fantastic device.

Point 9: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bDtS_PgijU - instead of Camtasia, use iMovie either on the iPad, or on the computer. Or any other video editor, like Windows Movie Maker. The power of this is that it’s totally mobile, much more so than a laptop, so I could easily be out with kids, have them snap a picture of, say, a playground area, and have them annotate and record their observations about living and non living things. Then, return to class, upload, and stick it all together. Or the possibilities are endless. AND there will obviously be more like this soon.

Point 10: I’ll break this one down.

a) What features are you looking for? Specifics?
b) Give it a month - I don’t think it’s enough to kill the iPad to wait a month and a bit for iOS 5 and iCloud.
c) Like in the video, a single google account can save you all the trouble in the world. AND, since you appear to already have either Google accounts (you talked about how it wouldn’t work above), and a need for a wikispace account, the kids most likely already have access to an email. And finally, it’s part of a good digital citizenship plan to teach about email use.
d) Wait for iOS 5 - it really won’t be that long, no synching with a laptop required.
e) To add a text field, click on the content button (mountain with a sun), then over to the Shapes tab - it’s the first shape that is a simple text field.

Graeme said...

Point 11: Nearly every educational app that I use to create has an “email” feature. Many synch with dropbox. In fact, find me an app that DOESN’T have a way to get the content out and there are no better ones that do and I’ll be surprised.

Point 12: You’re making the assumption we’re going to lock it down :) Of course not - like in the movie, the kids can change a couple things and it’s their pad. They’re free to download any free apps they want with the email address we’ve already proven they have, or should have, or the class email account. You could argue they could “break” something, or “do something bad”. 1, you can’t break anything on the iPad permanently - it’s a simple restore from backup from fixed (iOS 5 over the air, too). Furthermore, you should be circulating enough to know what kids are doing, and they really shouldn’t have more than a couple minutes unsupervised in a good classroom.

Don’t send them home - they’re classroom devices. If they’re personal devices, fine, that just requires different management. For a good look at personal iPad’s, take a look at Think Global School - every kid had a personal iPad, and it worked great from what I heard. http://thinkglobalschool.org/

Point 13: Pages is fantastic, and give it a month and it’s cloud ready. Kids have an email, or your class should. Content is king - if you want them to make it look good, have them do it in 10 minutes during a lab period.

Point 14: For AirPrint - http://osxdaily.com/2010/12/01/make-any-printer-airprint-compatible/

That works on both PC and Mac, and allows any printer.

Why not go paperless? I did, for two years in a classroom - not a single print. The kids emailed it to me (they have an account, or a class account, remember) and I commented and emailed it back. Better yet, share the doc with me and I’ll happily just comment on it and you can read it. OR you can use iAnnotate and mark it up with a pen.

Point 15: I’ll assume you’ve taken this point back, but it’s easy to even set that as the homepage for kids to pop into.

Point 16: A wireless keyboard is cheap, or at least a lot cheaper than the laptop these would be replacing.

Point 17: Give the kids the control. Have them install the apps they want, if they’re free, or make a case for the paid ones. Give them both practice apps and creator apps. When it needs an update, tell them to hit the app store and update the darn thing! If you’re worried about them purchasing apps, don’t put in a CC to your shared iTunes account.

Regarding Angry Birds - it’s not just physics, but it’s a DAMN good physics teacher. I listed a few uses on my blog - http://learnteachlead.blogspot.com/2011/08/many-uses-of-angry-birds.html

Looking forward to hearing a response!

michele said...

Thank you for your courage in shouting "The emperor has no clothes!" I have been trying to tell my colleagues about the shortfalls of the ipad, but my pleas fall on deaf ears. Ipads make wonderful secondary devices, I suppose, but in schools with limited funds and a low PC to student ratio, their purchase is misguided.

Anonymous said...

Don't you know that this is the 21st Century? You don't find the right tool for the job, you change the job to match the tool! ;)

Andi Sibley said...

Thank you thank you thank you. Thank you.

stevevoisey said...

Thanks for an insightful, well-informed, no-holds-barred piece. Very refreshing. Most work on this subject is by fanbois who don't know what they're talking about or #haters who don't know what they're talking about.

I'm blogging this comment too. Find it here: http://wp.me/pPkXd-2i

Some of your thoughts I agree with, but I've decided to go through them one-by-one. It's clear your teaching environment is very different to mine but I do face an lot of the same problems as you.
Here goes:

The ipad doesn't work with Google Docs!
No. It doesn't. Point taken.

Shall we list all the websites that don't work due to lack of Flash?
Well, actually, yes. We should make a list. I bump into maybe one a day. The main thing that gets delivered by flash in my world is ads. And I don't miss them.

The Safari browser doesn't work in Moodle.
Doesn't apply to me. We have 2.0 at my school.

Hmm. I'm a music teacher. The multitasking works fine for me.

Never use it.

Google Earth
Point taken, but what about those astronomy apps or layar? Much more dynamic. I get it though - you're getting at content creation.

Hadn't occurred to me until now. I've used a vga cable, though. Very effective.

Keynote, Pages, iMovie and garageband - document submission
Do you have an issue with student email addresses? Not an issue around here.

Admin rights
By this I take it you mean access to an apple account. I've now realised that you're talking about little kids. They've got to have admin rights.

What is this? The nineties?

Thanks again. Refreshing.

Anonymous said...

The only reason you're finding SO much lacking in this device is you seem to be trying to do things the old way with this new device! "Turn in an assignment?" Really?

You just sound old. (and really cranky)

Jim Gates said...

LOL! Well, perhaps I am. A LITTLE of both, maybe. LOL!

But, if students aren't going to be asked to DO something with it and share it, either with the teacher as an assignment, or with other students as part of a larger collaborative work, then all they're going to do is play with apps. Can you argue that? If we can't create and share, then the device will be used for personal research and personal review and exploration.

However, come report card time they're going to need a grade - unless THAT changes, too. And what will we have to base a grade upon?

I FULLY understand that I stand (almost totally) alone with this position. But, I keep hearing folks say, "We just got some ipads. What are some good apps?" Do they mean to say that they had no idea what they could or could not do with it prior to the purchase and now they're looking for help finding their purpose?

I think they will be SORELY disappointed.

Now, what's YOUR position? Aside from me being old and cranky, that is. :)

Graeme said...

I thought we worked out the "getting it out of the device" problem - either use AirPrint Hacktivator or email it to an account. In a local district they have even set up an email to only be able to receive, not send - very simple in the IMAP settings. Or students could use dropbox. Or any of the other cloud apps.