Thursday, June 3, 2010

Buying Stuff Won't Fix Your or My Problems

Reminder: This blog does not represent the official position of my employer or any other organization with which I'm affiliated. And for the record I like and use Apple products everyday. This isn't a rant against Apple.

A couple of days ago I finally got a chance to handle an iPad. As I shared on Twitter, I left the experience feeling underwhelmed. Posting that comment sparked one of the best Twitter conversations I've been a part of in the last few weeks. The conversation revolved around the idea that while the iPad may be a "magical" device for some consumers, it probably is not a good purchase for most schools. On the heels of that Twitter conversation I came into school today and was asked by a colleague if I had heard about another district in our area that is purchasing iPads for its students and faculty. My colleague thought that purchasing iPads for students and faculty is a wonderful idea while I replied with something to the effect of, "they'd be a waste of money for our school."

There's really no denying that the iPad offers some fantastic applications. In fact, if I had a spare $500 (which I don't) I'd be very tempted to buy an iPad because I think it would be a wonderful way to consume information while sitting on my couch or while on a plane (even my netbook doesn't open all the way in most coach seats). And if my school had money to burn (which it doesn't, does any school?) I'd probably recommend purchasing them, as a secondary device, too.

We've just completed our first glitch-filled year of being truly 1:1 school-wide. (I piloted various other laptop and 1:1 systems during the previous two years in my classroom). This year has seen some of our teachers take great strides toward integrating the use of netbooks into their instruction. At the same time, other teachers didn't change a thing other than having students type their lecture notes rather than write in a notebook. Putting an iPad into those teachers' hands isn't going to change that. More time working with me and some of my other colleagues will change that.

What really makes me cringe is hearing about schools that aren't 1:1 plunking-down thouands of dollars for iPads instead of netbooks or consumer-grade laptops. The limitations of the iPad when it comes to creating content makes it a poor purchase if that's the school's attempt to improve their students' learning experiences. Furthermore, if you still have faculty that struggles with fundamental skills like creating presentations or searching the web, how's an iPad going to change that?

Bottom line: I think the iPad is a neat device, but I won't be buying one anytime soon. Nor will I be recommending that schools buy them instead of netbooks or laptops. That said, I think I do understand why schools would buy them as secondary devices for students. What I'm curious about is schools that are buying iPads to be the primary device in a 1:1 environment. If your school is doing that, please leave a comment. Why are schools purchasing iPads instead of netbooks or laptops for 1:1? What am I missing in this picture?