Once in a while, just for fun, I like to bait the Apple-Zombies in the Twittersphere about their enchantment to the iPad.
From the outset I should admit that I’ve been an Apple-ista since ’86: my first classroom computer was Elsie – an LCII; my laptops have all been Macs, and I followed the iPhone’s progress closely through development, and was one of the first to get one. So you’d think I’d be a fan of the iPad, right? Wrong!
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for technology in the classroom: and students should certainly be using it when it’s appropriate. The thing is, I don’t think that tablets are a technology fit for the classroom, either in terms of the hardware or software.
The limitation of the iPad’s connectivity:
Connectivity of input
I’ve nothing against a keyboard on a display – except the size of the window you’re inputting to becomes ridiculously small – but the physicality of a real keyboard is better. Best make it a wireless one though, as the iPad doesn’t have any ports. But what if you want to make a stereo recording, using good quality mics? Or you want to use data logging equipment. Sorry, an iPad really doesn’t cut it. Just run a simulation then? However good a simulation is, it’s an impoverished educational experience compared to actually setting up and doing an experiment yourself. And none of the undoubtedly very good art apps will give you any real sense of how to apply paint to canvas.
Connectivity of Output
Similarly if you want to print a document, you have to transfer the file or use a wifi printer, just because Apple refuses to incorporate any sort of useful port! And the Heath Robinson lengths one has to go to to be able to use it as a white board. Well, why bother, when a laptop just plugs in?
I guess we’re all supposed to move over to the Cloud – not that proprietary cloud services providers co-operate with one another to make that easy for the user. But – wifi availability issues aside – why should I trust it to continue to be there, offering apps freely for use? And who else gets access to the information?
Another bugbear is having to enter the quagmire of iTunes – possibly the worst piece of software Apple’s ever written – ON ANOTHER DEVICE, just to transfer files. Thank goodness Dropbox came along!
Other practitioners suggest we use web-apps like Padlet, ThingLink and Mural.ly, but there’s actually something to be said for the common experience of looking at (and responding to) the same thing in the same place, rather than the solitude of students peering into individual screens. And anyway, Chromebooks would still be better technology for this.
It’s true that there are an increasing number of very good educational apps – and it’s a pity they don’t run on desk/laptops. To be really honest though, most of the time all that students use is Office and a web browser. So Ubuntu‘s a better OS choice.
Not that the classroom is all about note-taking, but since we’re on the subject, I think the teacher still has an important role as disseminator, and note-taking is better done by writing rather than typing (or worse still, taking a picture of what’s been written on the board, even with OCR), since research shows that the student is more likely to retain the knowledge through elaborative encoding.
But technology facilitates creativity!
Not in my experience it doesn’t – it gets in the way! My recent practice has been to separate the creative act from technology altogether – and the results are far more natural.
And anybody that starts talking to you about SAMR, hasn’t realised that the very act of Substitution changes the process, and it’s often the processes that students need to practise.
Too many apps – too many distractions
I’m not prepared to accept the retort that students found playing games, updating their Facebook status, texting or sharing photos when they’re supposed to be working is down to poor classroom management. They’re only a click away, so the temptation is there, and the best student in the world is going to be distracted. Look at how teachers behave in staff meetings when they’ve got their iPad out. Do you think they’re taking notes on what the head’s saying? No! They’re playing Sudoku, writing an email, or at best they’re editing some to-do list. Just how well are they listening?
So what about the tablet competition?
Well, many of the none-Apple tablets appear to come with more connective potential and memory card slots. I hope Microsoft begins to give Apple a run for their money (actually, I’d like Ubuntu to do that even more, but that’s still a way off.) And as much as I don’t like supporting Rupert Murdoch, I have to admit that one of his subsidiaries, Amplify, has a ‘skin’ over the Android platform that might be more appropriate for educational use.
However, if we’re choosing the best technology for the classroom, my preference would be laptops – ideally their own! Because they’re portable, laptops still have the flexibility of an iPad over a desktop. They have a keyboard Input (and a separate screen Output). They have numerous, useful, physical ports. They’re equipped with software that doesn’t need the network (which doesn’t always work, work quickly enough, or gets blocked by systems administrators). And the students keep their work on their own machine (hopefully regularly saved and backed-up). [Plus there's less capital outlay for the school, and there's a chance the young person might look after their own property better than they do the school's.]