Selling out to a specific platform

I haven’t attempted to hide it; I’ve been sold on the iPad for most of the past two years. Many educators are in agreement with me, and others will be. But it is healthy to be “all in” on a specific technology?

It depends.

As I think about other educational technology in terms of being “sold out” to a specific platform, I can only think of two examples, and both are Interactive White Boards. In the world of IWBs, you are either a SMART educator, or a Promethean educator. There are subtle differences between the two boards and how they work, but in the big scheme of things, they are both IWBs requiring proprietary software, and offer a number of online resources and various accessories (student response systems, wireless slates, document cameras). Many schools, including my own (built in 2009) sold out to one IWB manufacturer or the other.

But here’s the big question: what was paradigm changing about IWBs? The immediate response is “interactive lessons.” But I ask you honestly: after a year, or a few years, how many teachers are making those interactive lessons? My guess is that you will find that most teachers use them as glorified white boards with internet access. IWBs are a solid way to deliver content (and lectures) in the educational environment, but do they stay relevant with newer technologies like the iPad?

How about Document Cameras? Document Cameras are a great way to transition from overheads to digital content. You can use a document camera in conjunction with an IWB. They can be great for filming a hands-on demonstration (think of a frog dissection). But is there any paradigm change through the use of a Document Camera?

In contrast, the iPad is changing paradigms for me. It can be used as a transitional device (as a document camera, as an IWB, as a sheet music reader). As a device, it is limited only by the apps that are written for the device (and there are a few of those…up to 170,000 in January of 2012). The iPad, although not ideal for typing for people in my generation (funny, most students are not bothered by this at all), is highly adaptable for nearly every academic subject. Yes, it can be used in physical education, music, art, and home economics. There are specific uses for which the iPad cannot–at the current time–be used for, particularly computer programming classes, and in the world of music, for the generation and management of SmartMusic files–or for SmartMusic itself. But with each passing year, iPads become more useful with refined hardware and evolutionary updates–not to mention new apps.

The biggest “block” for many potential iPad owners is going to soon disappear–Office is coming to the iPad. As I mentioned earlier this week (and several others had the same idea), I expect Office to be introduced as an iPad app on March 7th. Some people are wondering why Microsoft would release Office for the iPad before releasing it for Windows 8 later this year. The answer is simple: Microsoft is a software company that sells software, and there are more than 50 million iPads in the world, with an unknown number of iPads to be added later this year. Microsoft’s motto (at one point) was, “A computer in every house running Microsoft software.” Doesn’t Office for the iPad fulfill that motto?

For the record, Pages for the iPad is nice, but there are things I cannot do with it that I can do with Office (Although I’d actually take Keynote for the iPad over any other presentation app, particularly if annotation was added) to that app–here’s hoping!). Yes, there are free options for Office-like suites (e.g. OpenOffice), but Word is a quality app. I’d use it if it were on my iPad. And it will be on my iPad (I’m a buyer as soon as it is available).

I do tire of anti-iPad rhetoric…no matter what you do, someone will be unhappy. Is Flash really that important to you? Why do you want to cede all web audio-visual standards to one company (Adobe)? And is there anything Flash can do that HTML 5 cannot? If you need a keyboard, aren’t there plenty of options for you–including traditional wired keyboards through the camera connection kit?

What about the competitors of the iPad? Is a seven inch Kindle Fire where you want to go with your school? Is that device truly useful in all subjects? I wouldn’t want my students (a few do) to read music with a seven inch screen. Would an art teacher want their kids creating Art on such a small surface? And since The Kindle Fire is a “forked” derivative of Android 2.2, will it be able to run apps created for the latest version of Android tablets? What about Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablets (4.0)? I just installed ICS on my HP TouchPad, and it is nice…but Android still lacks the polish and overall usability of iOS devices. Maybe Android will get there…but I promise you…put ICS tablets in the hands of a student body, and all those settings and ways to navigate the screen are going to get in your way.

Yes, State tests are still computer-lab based. Some strong (large) school districts need to stand up and say, “We’re not taking these tests until they are available on other platforms like the iPad. We’re not going to maintain computer labs solely for the purpose of research and testing when we could put tablets in the hands of students to do the same thing.”

Something better than the iPad is going to come out (For example, the iPad 3 is weeks away), but if you continue to hold to an old way of doing things (for example, holding to an all-Microsoft school district because of a parent survey that said that 95% of all home computers in the district were Microsoft PCs in 1995) just because it is what you have always done, you’re in trouble. That said, if something better than the iPad does come out–it should be investigated. Schools should be ready to change technological directions as needed.

With continually improving apps and new interactive textbooks, many parents are going to buy iPads for their students even if districts do not. I don’t support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in the purest sense, as it causes a nightmare for teachers. One example: we’re a PC district, and many of our students use Macs. Every time a student creates a presentation for a class with a Mac, or has a Mac issue, they show up at my office door needing a mini display port adapter or needing help with a program that is Mac-based. You can SAY that you won’t support devices, but when that student is weeping because their project is due (NOW) and they don’t have their adapter–are you going to be able to say, “Sorry, we don’t support that device?” I know that–in that situation–I can’t turn that student away.

So in summary, I completely believe that the iPad is the best answer for education (K-12, at least) today. Let me re-emphasize that last word: TODAY. I’ll go out on a limb and say that it is for the foreseeable future, too. Because of the app market, it is an unbelievably flexible device that can be used in every subject. Have you seen the interactive textbooks? Instant-on is a feature I desperately wish that my school PC had (as it takes seven minutes to cold boot). It is wonderful to be able to use the iPad all day on a battery charge. I like that the iPad is so portable that I can have it with me at all times, as the computer with me is the best computer I have. Wireless mirroring makes it a wonderful IWB alternative, and should you need a document camera, there is a camera on the back of the iPad (2 and above). Clickers? Who needs clickers when you have iPads in the hands of all students? I’m all in.



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