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.
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.