Thoughts on the iPad


It’s not green and covered in a layer of cholorphyll so that it recharges in the presence of sunlight, and it’s not a infinite in saecula saeculorum kind of tool — I won’t be passing this device over to my great-great-great-grandchildren.

Do I want one anyway? Yes.

I’ve seen people complain that it’s not a multimedia tool.  I agree that it may not be that.  I agree that the lack of a camera is upsetting.

Is it future shock?  Yes. Yes, it is.

I have a gradebook program on my iPhone.  It’s clunky, it doesn’t handle enough students, and the interface is lousy.  Will this change with a device this lovely? Yes.  I’ll be unshackled from my desk in the classroom.

I can carry it through the halls and make notes on student behavior, and record their doings (this is why a camera would be so useful).  I don’t have to carry books anywhere again; with that much memory, I could get rid of almost every paper book I own, and never have to worry about losing the card-catalog again.  I would watch more movies and TV, maybe, but I wouldn’t worry about losing data with this, because I’d do most everything in Google Apps or iWork.

With a screen this big, my Brushes paintings will be much better. My painting kit may well go out the window, eventually, except that I like painting with actual brushes.  I’ll do more on-the-fly diagrams with my students, especially if this computer will work with a projector, which I think it will.  The BENQ projector has a similar input port.  I hope it does work.

I can store my recipes by photographing cards, and building a related Bento database, and use the iPad as my recipe book.  Then I can compile the family cookbook I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Apparently I still need a desktop machine for multimedia purposes.  Oh, well.  This will change in time; it looks like they broke through a couple of technical barriers to build this thing anyway.

Students still need a multimedia classroom, sure.  But OK, that’s fine.  They can still do things with network folders and cloud computing.  In the meantime, let’s see… my students no longer carry a 20-pound World History book.  My writing videos will be legible enough on this device for students to read them; they can switch back and forth easily between an e-mail or wiki program, and the videos.

The lack of Flash operability is still a problem.

The vast amounts of data you can store on this…  you could give kids a plaintext archive of every single book from ancient history in English from Project Gutenberg on the first day of school, and it would barely make a dent. The library of Alexandria in an SD chip, and a tablet that is to all intents and purposes a scroll — all of classical literature in a single scroll, forever.  You wouldn’t have to ask students to look up Biblical citations; they would have the Bible and the Quran and all of sacred literature on their machines, all the time. A dictionary of symbols, too. A periodic table of elements, too. A library of images of art history, categorized and tagged.

With this 10″ screen, you could create a Laboratory book program to keep a lab book for a science class in… design it to share with other students, so that data is automatically transferred… what happens in one experiment is trasmitted to all involved experimenters.  They still have to learn to be good record-keepers, but they learn.  Wikilabs, maybe.  Similar programs for other subjects, too.

The price.  $499 for the base machine, almost $900 for the top of the line.  I want TotL, myself, but may have to settle for mid-range.  We’ll see (Mom and Dad, what I’d like for Christmas is….)  But the Kindle, it’s not.  I’ve used a Kindle, and they’re clunky and awkward.  Just what you’d expect from some slapdash engineering squadthat didn’t think big picture.

My one serious complaint?  No chlorophyll.  And no hover generators, so I can hang it in the air to follow me around school, and be solid in the air when I want to type with two hands.

Maybe next year.

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  1. Andrew,

    I agree with how the efficacy of software developers will shape this platform, as with the iPhone. I’m also a huge supporter of the potential for learning not to be tethered to any home or institution, but be free to roam.

    There will most certainly be successors, but I’m worried that the market will react the same way it did to the iPhone. Most “smartphones” have not innovated at an expontential rate, but rather mimicked the iPhone’s functionality to compete with apple. Tablets have largely ran on conventional operating systems up to this point. A app based user interface like the iPhone or iPad OS sacrifices a lot for customization and non conventional use–it limits our perspective of what our devices are capable of. Instead, we rely on software developers to create the next game changing app. We wait for the device to conform to us, and not for us to conform the device to our needs and interests.

    We’re moving towards cloud based, limited hardware, and completely locked proprietary devices. I think in the short term this is not a huge problem, but could be a detriment to where we want the physical and intellectual context behind learning to go.

    But your Ender’s game reference gives me something to think about, and it’s a dilemma for me. Interaction with environments and devices is the upshot of mobile learning. No more “field trips”, but rather learning could take place anywhere and anytime with a device like the iPad unlocking a world of knowledge about the place the person is learning in or about.

    However, with a device like the iPad, we might be sacrificing some potential for the specific things kids might be interested in just for the sake of mobile learning. And even if we think mobile learning is real cool, what happens if our kids want to still work in a software lab with programs not compatible with such a device?

    Another thing, for students in wealthy areas, mobile learning is great! Their environments are healthy and cultivating. Parks, museums, art expos, botanical gardens, etc. would be the ideal venues for such learning to take place.

    The communities where my students live are not that cultivating, and without guidance from creative teachers (i.e., that abandoned factory would be really cool to visit, let’s mash up an old map of the city with some postcards and vintage photos of factory life. Or, hey let’s create a google map of graffiti in the neighborhood and tag with flickr photos.) mobile learning might not have the same impact as it could for my really smart, really capable kids. I run a 1:1 in my classroom within a school that is decidedly the opposite. My kids have been desocialized from lecture based classrooms through loads of motivation and deliberately designed engagement opportunities. This has been a long process, but is starting to pay off.

    My students are ideal candidates for mobile learning, but I doubt such successive devices will be used as a platform for workshop learning in the future urban schools. Instead, even if adopted, they will probably be used to improve the efficiency of factory learning.

    • I think and hope eventually that there will be an open-source hardware movement that will develop a standardized, brandless case and general-purpose computer chip for a device that is powered by the sun, and provides access to the universal library. In my ideal world vision, this universal library is powered my some combination of the technologies that run the 10,000 year clock. (

      My students are still boggled by the idea that a maxed-out SD chip can hold the equivalent in paper books of our school’s library, or a refrigerator’s worth of 3.5″ floppy disks, or that a coffee cup’s worth of SD chips could whole the entire iTunes music catalog. So am I.

      But until we can produce a non-proprietary device that anyone can own cheaply, that records video and audio, and can share around the world or add to the universal library, well… We won’t really be at the point of having computers be ubiquitous tools until that point.

    • The other issue you raise is one of community differentials. In nice communities, the environment can be highly enriching. Maybe that is less so in your environment, but you propose an interesting project to learn about graffiti in their neighborhood, and connect the ruined factories of today with their former selves as thriving businesses.

      I wonder what it would take to have both environments open to both kinds of students. I know that I would not feel safe bringing my students into certain kinds of neighborhoods because of my real-or-perceived preconceptions about the risks involved, both to me and my students. Your students might not feel safe here, in rural Connecticut, because it is so unlike what they know.

      But the truth is, if we’re going to make mobile learning possible, we should be mixing it up. More of your students should come out here for a term and do home-stays, and live in a rural area, and walk in the woods. And my students, who dress ‘ghetto’ and listen to hip-hop, should stay in your neighborhood for a term, and learn what social injustice is, and what it looks like.

      But that has nothing to do with machinery or technology. That’s politics, and radical stuff at that.

  2. I think those hover generators are coming with the next firmware update, but chlorophyll looks to wait until iPad OS 2. Sorry. I did hear there is going to be a lightsabre app, but I think the form factor will be too unwieldy for anything more than just casual use.

    I’ll post a link to my blog entry today as a response, even though I think it could come across as shameless self promotion:

    • I think the school model the iPad is built for is still a factory model, Greg.

      But the ability of these devices to untether from a school — to function like the desks in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card — has the potential in the long haul to be a game changer that brings us back toward a workshop model.

      A lot depends on how the development suite of tools creates applications, and how those applications push the envelope of what the iPad and its successors can do.

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