Only 6 Reasons Why Tablets Are Ready for the Classroom?

I caught this guest-posted blog entry in Mashable last night, as I was taking one last look at my Flipboard on my way to bed. ..and I typed a reply to a comment that was rather more terse than it should have been and that typically is my nature. But the issues are so important to me, that I thought I would post a longer response here.

The guest author was…

Vineet Madan is Vice President of McGraw-Hill Higher Education eLabs, which works with colleges and universities, professors and students along with technology partners to develop innovative, cutting-edge digital educational tools to improve the way instructors teach and students learn.

After citing an Apple oriented blog post on the success of Reed College’s iPad pilot (here is a link to the FastCompany article), Madan posed the question, “As we wrap up the first post-iPad school year, do we know enough to make the “fad, fail, magical” call? ..and gave six reasons why his answer is, “I think so.”

“1. Tablets Are the Best Way to Show Textbooks.”

Flickr (cc) photos from the Stanford EdTech

My initial response to this “reason” is, “Well yeah!” From a textbook publisher’s point of view, computers are far superior in their delivery of content when you factor in audio, video, and the ability to digitally highlight, annotate, and directly access a dictionary. This all looks great on the exhibit hall and works well in the classroom. But the mere delivery of content is an extraordinarily and dangerously limiting lens through which to seek the ideal learning device.

“2. Classrooms Are Ready for Tablets”

In my opinion, Madan did not make an effective case here, as evidenced by this comment on the Mashable blog post

..everyone knows that people will do inappropriate and not school related things on the tablet.

From the author’s argument, the reason should have read, “Tablets are ready for the classroom,” and I couldn’t agree more. But a classroom filled with curious minds and practically unrestricted access to a web of content and connections to each other is an entirely different place from what most instructors are accustomed — and restricting access to content and conversation are the antithesis of modern learning.  So I would say that many, if not most, classrooms are not ready — and this is something that we need to fix very quickly.

“3. Tablets Fit Students’ Lifestyles”

The argument here seems to be that students are lazy, weak, don’t like to pay attention, and shouldn’t rely on classmates to support their learning. But that said, I agree with the reason. Our learners in, while outside the classroom, are accustomed to rich, responsive, provocative, rewarding, and forgiving information experiences that practically define pedagogy. Learners should be engaged in similar experiences in their more formal learning environments.

4. Tablets Have the Software to Be Competitive

The more bristly part of me wants to dissect the meaning of <em>competitive</em>.  But instead, I will admit that I am not nearly knowledgeable enough about the vast array of apps available for iOS and Android devices.  My sense is that we still have a long way to go, and simply acknowledging that an iPad will work with Blackboard misses the far more interesting question.

Can Blackboard adapt to and leverage the potentials of a mobile learning landscape?

5. Tablets Integrate With Education IT Trends

It is true that tablet computers operate well within the cloud computing environment that seems to be emerging on many college campuses and increasing in the K-12 arena. But the question remains, are those cloud environment empowering learning and merely facilitating teaching? This may seem like a senseless question, but it isn’t.

6. Tablets Are Becoming More Available

This is probably true, if the iPad is the fastest selling gadget of all times. I must admit some surprise at the number of iPads I see at conferences, especially events for school and district administrators, and the device is barely a year old. But this is a non-issue to me. It isn’t education’s job to wait for availability. If mobile information and communication technologies are the most appropriate platform for preparing the next generation for their future, then it is education’s job, and the job of the society that employs it, to assure that those ICT’s are there — regardless of budget constraints.

I was too harsh in my comment last night. I seemed to completely dismiss the textbook industry, and that was unfair and unfortunate. I believe that we need their expertise and even their incentive to help reshape teaching and learning. But our efforts must not be limited to trying to make textbooks digital. Instead, we need to learn how a digital learning environment redefines and completely reshapes the textbook in a way that reflects how today’s environment is redefining what it means to be educated.

Education, as we most often see it, is designed to teach students how to be taught.  Today, being educated means having a broad and effective sense of the world, how it works, and its heritage.  But perhaps even more importantly, being educated requires the learning literacy skills involved in living a learning lifestyle — having been taught how to teach yourself.  Textbooks need to be platforms for generating curiosity, passion, and habitual learning.

The Perfect Conference Attire?

X-Ray View of the Scottevest.

One of the most continuous and vexing conversations that I have with myself is about how I am going to pack for this trip? I learned many years ago not to check luggage. It introduces an uncontrolled variable into the success of my work and an unnecessary addition to the stress of navigating my way from home to job and back.

But what I end out with is an airline compliant roller-board that is so densely packed and heavy that I’m constantly deal with strained elbow from whipping it up onto the conveyor belt at security, and a continuous (and person) quest for the perfect computer bag — one that facilitates the necessities of work and connectedness, yet prevents me from packing the erroneous and weighty devices that I want to take but never get around to using.

I may have found the solution, the ScotteVest. Those who’ve seen me present may have seen my poking fun at wearable computing — the clear plastic computer jacket from MIT and cell phone that you wear on your fingers. But this may actually be practical, a 22 pocket vest that will carry — well watch the first video.

What’s more, it’s iPad compatible.

Here are some videos that illustrate the many features of the Scottevest:

So what might we see as the definitive fashion statement at ISTE this year?

Added later: Evidently, Scott Jordan, of ScotteVest is fairly social media-concious. I started following some of the video links, clicked back to the web site, and found a fairly rich web of social connections, including Facebook, a Blog with associated vlog, a YouTube channel, twitter, LinkedIn, a Flickr site, and MySpace.

What was especially interesting was a video conversation he had with Apple. Jordan upload a video to YouTube demonstrating some of the problems he was having with his iPad. Shortly after he posted it and received a number of comments from viewers who were having the same problem, he was contacted by a tech person at Apple who walked through a few things, and then excused himself saying that he would have to schedule a time to get back and go through the issues in more detail — and would Jordan mind making his video private.  He did did, thanking the tech and praising Apple for its responsiveness. He got an email back from the tech guy saying he was having difficulty in scheduling a time and to be patient — and then nothing. Jordan put the video back up along with a followup video bringing us put to date.

I did not follow the thread any further, but it’s simply another example of the drama of social media and customer relations that are (and I don’t use the term very often) transparent.

In Line at the Apple Store

Waiting in line for the iPad 3G

I’m multitasking big time, sitting on the tiled floor of Crabtree Mall, number 5 in line for an iPad 3G. I’m monitoring twitter a bit, eying folks walking by, and chatting with the young man next to me, who stood in line for a WiFi, only to take it back because he wasn’t satisfied with the apparent network deficiencies. He said it wouldn’t pick up WiFi in places he knew it was available. So 3G hopefully will be the answer.

I’m also going through my new book, newly back from the editors. She delete about 200 commas in the first 18 pages. Sheesh! Plus, she’s deleted about 29 extra Gs in Gary Stagger’s name… We might get this thing down to less than a hundred pages after all.

I have to admit that I’m not sure why I’m buying this iPad thing. People are actually gawking at us. I suspect, if pushed, that I can come up with two reasons — besides the obvious geek-cool factor.

First of all, the iPad (and the many ‘Pads that are on the way) is remarkably similar to an information device that I described in the first edition of “Redefining Literacy.” That particular chapter was re-written and published in Library Media Connection. You can read it here. It was a personal device, used by teachers and learners, that could be connected to keyboards and larger displays for group work. You could also listen to podcasts, audio books, watch movies, and collaborate with learning teams.

The second reason has more to do with practicality — admitting fully that I do not yet know how practical this thing will be. I’ve gotten enormous use out of my netbook (Acer running Linux), mostly using it for writing at Starbucks, note-taking at conferences, and putting final touches on my online handouts when my MacBook Pro is already set up for a presentation.

The problem with the netbook is the boot up time, uncertainty about WiFi (though my AT&T broadband card works flawlessly on it), the occasional need to work it while standing up, and the inevitable frustrations of fixing things on Linux when you do updates (mostly due to the WiFi card in this particular ACER).

In addition, I’ve found myself using my iPhone as an information device (text entry and web research) a whole lot more than I’d thought I would, becoming something of a nimble thumb’er. More gawking!

I wish I’d brought a lounge chair, like the guy next to me. Hey, I’m number five in line. I’m not complaining.

Apple store just closed. One more hour to wait…

On iPad, Education, & Technology

engaget photo of Steve Jobs & his iPad ((Attias, Cyril. “Apple iPad Keynote.” Flickr. 27 Jan 2010. Engaget, Web. 28 Jan 2010. <>.

I was riding back from Salisbury, yesterday, while Steve Jobs was announcing Apple’s new iPad. The best I could do was read a live blog, updating with the features and peppered with the writers skepticism and acknowledgement of the Jobs mystique. I left it a bit underwhelmed, hoping for something a little more earthshaking.

However, upon getting home and doing a Google search for iPad and video, I found a link to this Mashable blog post (Official Apple iPad Demo [VIDEO]) with an embedded Apple promotional video about the device — and “I’m sold,” as I announced on Twitter just after viewing piece.

I’ve been thinking about the device since — and why I am so sold on it now, despite my admitted disappointment over not being rocked by something really “Amazing.” A core question I’ll be asking myself as time goes on is the iPad’s suitability as an institutional learning tool. But, quite frankly, we have bigger problems than that.

Today, I am writing about a viewpoint article published in The Daily Gamecock, University of South Carolina’s student newspaper. Written by freshman literature student, Michael Lambert, the article (Education, Technology Share Weak Connection), at first, affirms what we already know, that technology is changing and it is changing us. Lambert writes,

Life before text messaging feels harder to imagine than life before the wheel.

Then he writes something striking to me, especially as I am reading Jaon Lanier’s You are Not a Gadget (see Another Great Tilting). He says,

I neither glorify nor decry the digital age. Technology does change us and how we act, but so does every minute of the day: every handshake, every look skyward, every farewell.

Continuing on to answer the question that haunts us all, new technology impacting teaching and learning?

I have never understood how technology enhances learning. The only digital age staple I see nowadays is PowerPoint, a tool that has become more of a crutch for teachers than a study guide for students. And we all have our experiences with Blackboard (and its pandemic lack of use by professors). From what I see, little has changed in education, given all the technology that has been imposed on it.

Although there are many valid reasons why formal education has resisted the transformations indicated by technology, and more importantly, by a new information landscape. There’s no excuse. But we all know about the barriers.

What truly disturbs me about Michael’s piece is that he seems so indoctrinated to a teacher-, textbook-, standards-directed education experience that information and communication technologies seem to have little impact on his vision of himself as a learner.

To illustrate his dismissal of digital technology as a learning tool, he shares an anecdote.

A film historian once asked my high school media class what we thought films were stored on. He answered: old 35mm. DVDs, Blu-rays, even VHS — he wouldn’t touch the stuff, he said. It takes advanced technology to play those. But 35mm takes light, a wheel and something with which to turn it — nothing else.

It is an interesting observation, and one I might use some time. But it makes sense only within the narrow context of one who studies film. Michael believes that

We aren’t quick to embrace technology in our learning because the old lecture-and-notebook way of doing things works (and has always worked). Most of the time this technology requires experts to work it correctly and the right generation to receive it. We aren’t that generation.

It’s a perspective that is narrow, institutional, and wholly out of date — and it percists.

Perhaps Michael will become an academic; reading, write, and submitting for publication — and teaching college students comparative literature. If so, I sincerely hope that he discovers, somehow, that finding ways to help students learn, by making them knowledge workers, will better prepare his students for a lifestyle of learning better than helping them learn to “Be taught.”