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Should iPads be encouraged in schools?

July 21, 2011

Student iPad (Brad Flickinger cc-by)

TVNZ reports that “from next year, all year nine students at Orewa College must have their own notebook or laptop, and the school is strongly recommending it be a top of the range iPad 2, which sells for around $800”. The school principal, Kate Shevland, wrote to parents of year 9 students, explaining that “what we want is one to one access to technology, access to the internet as needed, when needed,” and that the school couldn’t afford to provide that without help from parents. Shevland believes that most schools will require the purchase of an iPad or similar device in five years time. The story has also been covered by TV3 NewsCampbell Live, and Stuff.co.nz.

This morning, Kathryn Ryan interviewed Dr David Parsons, a senior lecturer in information technology at Massey University, about the issue on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon. He is largely supportive of the development, noting that it is about supporting learning and not about the technology. Although he acknowledges that cost is an issue, he argues that the tablet devices are a sensible option because of their robust construction, long battery life, and the lack of a vertical screen, which can be a barrier in the classroom. He believes the iPad is a good choice because of its ease of use, seamless integration, and variety of educational applications. Kathryn Ryan made some good points, and she questioned the wisdom of jumping on the Apple bandwagon. One issue is the control that Apple maintains in its easy-to-use but restricted approach to the software that can be run on its iPad and other mobile devices. Some refer to this as the “Walled Garden Problem,” which has been discussed in recent blog posts by Douglas McLennanMike Schramm and Mathew Ingram

A related story by the Associated Press reports that South Korea is moving to replace paper books with digital texts in their schools, with a US$2 billion investment in a digital scholastic network. South Korea hopes to take advantage of its position as one of the most wired countries in the world with fast wireless speeds, a high uptake of broadband connections, and a generation of young, technology savvy students.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2011 8:29 am

    I have to admit, my FIRST reaction was a gasp (at your blog title) and the answer was a an emphatic “no!” Don’t get me wrong, I am a geek, and I am a member of what is termed the “digital natives” (BS as that term might be) but the first thing I considered was the price tag! It is expensive to get the top of the line iPad + whatever that 3G connection costs you.

    Then I thought back to my days in school (high school to be exact) when I did have a computer at home, in my own room, and I was able to use it unfettered and to experiment with it as I wanted. I broke it and fixed it countless times, and guess what – I learned a lot! I learned not only about computers, but about problem solving. I think that students *should* have access to a computer or a tablet, unfettered, because that’s how they will learn. They will also need some adult guidance, but they need to have access to that technology without (unnecessary) limits.

    I still have a hard time swallowing the price tag though…

    • Mark Mcguire permalink
      September 30, 2011 11:37 am

      Hi AK

      I, too, have problems with the price of the iPads and data plans. One of my (3rd year university) students bought one, and he loves it. He takes it into all his classes (during a recent lecture I gave on information graphics, he was able to contribute some valuable links). However, he’s not very happy that he had to pay about NZ$1,000. for the iPad and NZ$50/month for a data plan! I haven’t bought one myself yet, although I do have an iPhone (with the most basic data plan). I struggle with the cost barrier issue, while remaining excited about the potential of these mobile devices. My family does have two Kindle eBook readers (we have two boys who are avid readers – 9 and 12 years old). Last night, I logged on to Amazon and saw that they are releasing new devices in late November (in America), including a colour “Kindle Fire” for US$199. (http://amzn.to/nTdvZ5). Eventually, the cost of these devices will come down and their capabilities will continue to improve. They will make sense if we rethink the entire information ecology. For example, if we can provide “books”, articles, and other (formerly printed) material as (hopefully free) downloads, then staff, students, and institutions could all have a better experience and save money in the process.

      Thanks for your considered comment. I’ll go off and look at your blog now . . .

      Mark

  2. Jennie permalink
    September 30, 2011 9:07 am

    This story created a furore here in NZ when it first came out, mostly because it was misreported in the first instance. There was no forcing of the iPad, and no suggestion that it had to be top if the range. The original letter to parents merely suggested that an iPad would be a cheaper option than a notebook/laptop.

    • Mark Mcguire permalink
      September 30, 2011 11:51 am

      Hi Jenny

      It sounds like you know more of the background of this story than I do (I searched for the article after hearing about this on the radio one morning). The stories that I found while searching highlighted the cost, and the growing private school/public school divide. As a Flexible Learning Advisor, you would know more than I do about the advantages of these various mobile devices and technologies. What I think we need are strategies that address issues of cost, proprietary devices/spaces/content, and student (and staff) needs all at the same time. In Design, these problems (or opportunities) fall under the category of User-Centred Design, Strategic Design, and Experience Design. This looks like a great research project with the promise of useful, tangible outcomes. I’m sure there are many people and institutions who are leading the way. Now, to find them . . .

      Thank you for commenting on this post. I’ll look for you in my Twitter stream.

      Mark

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