Reflections on the iPad… It’s the impact that really matters.

A few minutes ago, I was working with a group of 6th grade “wellnology” students.  Our topic was gossip.  When I originally structured the lesson, I was thinking about comments people post on Facebook, blogs, etc., and how rumors and such can get out of control.  With older kids, I’d used the video from Netsmartz – Feathers in the Wind.  I thought it might be a little too abstract for some of the kids, so I brought in a video from one of my favorites – The Andy Griffith Show – and an episode dealing with gossip.  As I was prepping the projector, I had a little issue and needed to reboot.  The kids were there and time was short, so we started talking about the Apple iPad.  I realized this was a good conversation starter about what happens when gossip and rumor get out of hand…

For the past couple of months, many of us have been waiting not-so-patiently for the rumored Apple tablet.  As someone who moved from an Apple 1-1 environment with over 1,000 machines, I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, I bathed in it.  I saw these incredible tools that helped to transform good teachers into fabulous teachers and made average kids into digital artists.  The impact was there, and I had no problem bragging about what I saw happening on a daily basis in dozens of classrooms.

When I moved to a PC 1-1, let’s just say that I was in a Kool-Aid free environment.  I saw pockets of innovation and good teachers too frustrated to use unreliable tools.  I’m in my 4th year at said school, and we’ve come a LOOOONG way.  The good teachers are still good (even better in my opinion) as they thoughtfully implement the technology where they know it will improve learning.  Sometimes it happens a little too slowly for my taste (ok, early adopter here and only a few I get to work with), but I really respect the teachers and understand their choices, so I do the best I can to support them.  We’re all in this for the kids, afterall.

Of course, while I’ve been at a PC implementation I’ve had my struggles.  First of all, I’ve never been thrilled with the operating system.  XP is like beige paint to me.  It’s there to cover the walls, so the walls are covered.  No one really looks at it.  No one goes out of their way to buy it.  It’s so institutional.  It’s not about the impact.  It just functions.  By the end of my first year, my inner voice was saying that if I was going to stay at the school I was at, we either had to move to Apple or start giving kids tablets – the only real benefit to me of having Windows machines.  While thinking this, I was really hoping for the best of both worlds – an Apple tablet.

Fast forward a bit.  We had a tablet pilot in place.  Things were going well, but the cost was more than we could support with existing funds or justify with parents in middle school when kids were first learning the tools.  I started looking for other options and found Intel’s ClassmatePC Convertible in development.  By the start of the following school year, we knew they were a cost-effective way to not only continue our 1-1 but expand it an additional grade so that all of our middle school kids had tablets.

By winter break, our implementation was well under way and I was pleased with the hardware we’d adopted to support the needs of our curriculum.  Over break, I started following the buzz about the rumored Apple device.  Something similar had happened the previous year to no avail, so I wasn’t letting myself get too excited.  I was hopeful, but I was also cautious.  Apple’s secrecy leads to a lot of conjecture about product; although there was consensus that some sort of device would be issued, no one knew anything with real certainty.

Of course, by the time break was over, my students had heard rumors as well.  In each of my six 7th grade tech classes, students asked me about it, hoping that I could somehow provide “inside info” they hadn’t discovered.  It was a nice surprise – seeing kids so curious about a potential classroom tool.  What they really wanted to hear was that there was a chance that by the time they were out of middle school and into our upper school 1-1 (when families currently purchase professional-grade tabletpcs) the Apple tablet would be an option.  For so many of our kids who already have iPods and iPhones, there’s a huge cool factor in play.  Anything Apple would inherently be cooler than anything not Apple, hence it would be better.

As you already know, Apple introduced its Apple iPad yesterday.  Millions were waiting and watching (or trying to) as Jobs introduced the fabled machine to the world.  I for one felt pretty let-down when it was over.  I was hoping that the new device would live up to the hype, not just for the consumer market but for the education market as well.  Instead, it’s essentially a larger, more expensive iPod.  The additional capability will come from what the consumers choose to do with it, not from additional capabilities it has over existing hardware.

Will I go out and buy an iPad for myself?  Not anytime soon.  I have a great phone, a professional laptop that meets my needs, and a netbook for portable computing when I don’t want to use my work machine.  I’ve never felt a pitter-patter for ebook readers, so I don’t expect to be cuddling up with an iPad at bedtime any time soon.

Will I request that my tech director purchase one for me to evaluate?  No. We already have hardware in the same pricepoint that currently does more. The features the iPad offers don’t meet the needs already being met with other hardware of a similar price.

I am hoping for more from Apple than just a big iPod…

  1. eBooks will become more interactive as publishers and authors begin to integrate multimedia content and hypertext.  This may push the evolution of literature, or at least of non-fiction content.
  2. Textbooks may be less paper dependent.  In the past, schools that wanted to adopt electronic textbooks didn’t realize much, if any, financial benefit when electronic versions were purchased.  Hopefully, this will be another step to authoring more interactive, constantly evolving texts for instructional use at realistic prices.
  3. Touch, multitouch, and hands-on interaction with technology will continue to grow and invite kids to take more control of their learning.
  4. Apple will push the evolution of their iPad (beginning with a name that doesn’t sound like a feminine hygiene product) to something that balances the needs of classrooms with the cool factor.  I know lots of schools are already using iPods effectively as instructional tools, but this device is neither meant to be nor is appropriate for replacement of laptops in a 1-1 environment.

What would I want in the next iTab?

  • Webcam (ideally one that flips/rotates)
  • A more robust operating system (something that runs Flash and browsers other than Safari) able to effectively run productivity tools (word processing, spreadsheets, presentation – like Office or at least Google Apps both on and offline)
  • Easier text entry (maybe a keyboard or keyboard input)
  • Something less fragile – something ruggedized and less likely to break in a 1-1 environment
  • A no-fault warranty
  • More off-line storage for content created – an 8GB hard drive isn’t enough for multimedia storage

Late last week, I heard rumors that the device launch would be delayed until early summer.  The features mentioned above would have b

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