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. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/newyork/4309048745/>.

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.”