Tired of Defense

I’m tired of playing defense about the iPad in education and the iPad in music education.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not giving up on the iPad. I still believe it is the best platform for music and music education (as a whole).

But the iPad (and Apple as a whole) is really under attack in education.

Price is absolutely a major factor–the iPad is an easy target because other solutions are cheaper. Certainly, the Chromebook is key in this argument. Chomebooks make a lot of sense until you walk into any room without traditional desks.

Keyboards continue to be a factor, with long time iPad supporter Tim Holt even writing a post asking Apple to create an iPad with a keyboard. I find the keyboard argument tiring, because typing papers is a very low level of technology integration–and I thought that the goal was to move education to new types of assignments and project-based-learning, not simply to type what was once written on paper.

And the very bugs of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite have been under attack by pro-Apple writers and enthusiasts, including Marco Arment and even the original voice of iPads in education, Fraser Speirs. Marco later regretted his words, but Fraser has been openly courting Chromebooks in place of iOS and Mac. I won’t defend bugs–ever–but it all certianly has the feeling of “piling on” Apple–as if none of theother operating systems have issues (I’ll save you some time…they all have issues).

The LAUSD iPad Debacle has been in the press again as well, with several summary reports hitting the news (offering little new information). The LAUSD iPad rollout wasn’t a good situation from the start, and it is often painted in such a way that intimates that all 1:1 iPad endeavors were cobbled together under the same dubious circumstances.

I’m not a fan of Chromebooks for music education–at least not yet–as the form factor continues to be an issue in schools, and there are issues with quality web apps and accessories for music and music education. Certainly, there are some good HTML 5 options on the market, such as Noteflight, but most schools aren’t willing to pay for the subscriptions that open the best features of those HTML 5 apps. When your school is buying Chromebooks in part due to price, they are going to be unlikely to spend more money to buy subscriptions to things that would only make the devices better for music education.

Added into this equation is that there are very exciting aspects of iOS 8 that make the iPad uniquely suited for music and music education. Not only does the iPad have the best selection of quality apps (overall) for music education on any platform (I do include Mac and Windows in that statement), but wireless MIDI via Bluetooth LE is going to change EVERYTHING for note entry. Wireless MIDI may eventually make it to Mac or Windows, but for now, this is a special area of growth for the iPad. I am expecting the arrival of my first such Bluetooth LE MIDI piano keyboard next week.

I fully understand that Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore have not entered the notation field on the iPad (all three have score readers). You might be surprised what you can do with Notion or Symphony Pro for a fraction of the cost of the “big boys” in the market. In fact, if ALL you did was buy a basic iPad and Notion for iPad, you would still spend less than the street price of Finale or Sibelius–and you might have better sounds to use at the same time.

Trust me–if a better device comes along for music education, I am open to that device. As much as I love Apple, good ideas come from all over the planet. I think that HTML 5 needs to continue to develop to the point where it can do most of what an operating system can do, and if the Chromebook is going to become a device that can impact all of education, we are going to need a “transformer” device that acts as both a tablet and a clamshell device with a better graphics solution that is on most devices. Also problematic is that not all Chromebooks are created equally–so you never quite know what capabilities each Chromebook will have.

Furthermore, with the exception of MuseScore, most developers aren’t going to work for free to provide high quality applications–and thus is especially true with HTML 5 Web apps. Developers will want to earn a living and companies will want to be profitable, which is why the iOS App Store is so attractive–but don’t think for a moment that all apps or developers are making a living wage on the App Store. Most earn a small salary that just barely justifies the time they spend updating their apps. Remember–musicians and music educators represent a very small part of the overall economy. This reminds me of SmartMusic–if the practice tools/assessment field was a gold mine, there would be more companies in the market.

The more I teach with my iPad, the more I am convinced that school budgets will continue to be the primary factor of technology choice, and that more and more music teachers will be left trying to integrate a device that was never truly intended for their classroom. That said, I think that music teachers can still use an iPad (just as individual musicians will) to help them teach, even if students do not have the devices themselves.

As I wrote a while ago, the Chromebook has won. But that doesn’t mean that you are relegated to only use that device (I own one, too). You can still benefit from the wonderful features of the iPad, and bring those features to your students–even if they are not able to directly use those features themselves.

In that same line of reasoning, I also am starting to believe that a classroom set of iPads in a music classroom is a better solution for music education versus 1:1 devices. I have to refine my thoughts a bit more before I’m willing to make a definitive statement on that subject–look for more on that topic in June!



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