ipads vs netbooks

This post has been a long time coming but I think it is time to set the record straight…

I was fortunate to be asked to take part in a debate via Skype recently with the Edtech Crew. The debate was on netbooks vs ipads as an educational device. Darrel and Tony from the Edtech Crew had invited 4 participants from a range of backgrounds/settings to discuss their view on the topic. I was the netbook representative; there was also a laptop rep, an ipad rep and a mac book rep.

Being lucky enough to have (and use) a netbook, laptop(s) and an ipad myself I felt qualified to argue my point on the topic- my point that overall, given the opportunity (and endless budget), I would choose Windows laptops as my preferred classroom device. Having said that, I need to be realistic about school budget constraints and say that I would certainly be happy with netbooks as my chosen classroom device. At any rate, I would ALWAYS choose a netbook over an ipad.

I thought about this for a few days before the debate and pondered my dislike for ipads (as an educational device.) Why am I so against them? What has brought me to this decision? Am I being closed minded?

I would like to state here that I am not a Mac basher of any description. I certainly appreciate the fantastic software such as iMovie and Garageband that Macs offer. I am also not anti-ipads in any way.  I own and use one myself regularly. I AM however anti ipads in educational settings IF they are used as replacements for ‘real’ computers such as netbooks.

Sure people argue that ipads don’t have USB ports and cameras and it’s annoying that they don’t have keyboards. I ‘get’ that and I agree with it and I also realise that a few of these issues will be fixed with the latest release of the ipad 2. The thing that concerns me about ipads in education is the constraints they place on kids creativity. I know there are apps for just about everything but I just have not experienced the freedom and multitasking on my ipad that I have on my netbook or laptop. I taught in a netbook classroom and I’m now an elearning coach working with 21 different schools. The things I have had students do on netbooks is amazing. It is nothing short of exciting being in a classroom when kids are engaged in the creativity offered by the many programs on the netbooks and seeing the magic happening. Having students browsing ebay ‘purchasing’ items of furniture for the house they are creating in Google Sketchup while keeping a budget for everything they are doing in a Google Spreadsheet is just one example of the opportunities the netbooks offer. I am tired of people saying that not being able to multi task on ipads is “actually good for students because it makes them focus in on one thing at a time”….”kids of today need to learn to focus on one thing at a time…blah blah blah”. Sorry, but in my job I need to be able to talk on Skype to a teacher in one school while emailing support to a principal in another school while completing a spreadsheet to be handed out at the Network meeting in 2 days time. I need to multitask. It was one of the questions when I applied for the job! I ‘get’ that students need to learn to develop their attention span, I myself have a self confessed low attention span. My point is that when I want to focus on one thing I can- I just turn Skype off and close Outlook. By giving students ipads as their only device in a classroom we are making that choice for them and therefore taking away their freedom. We are saying that kids need 21st Century skills and literacies but taking away one of the highly important ones- the ability to multitask.

My other gripe with ipads in schools in the control factor. I am not a person who likes to have unnecessary restrictions and controls placed on me and I feel that is exactly what the iTunes mothership does to me. I can see this mothership has its advantages but I am also a huge advocate for the idea of open free for all sharing. (A whole other blog post coming on right there…)

In the end I firmly believe that ipads in classrooms are a direct result of the ingenious FOMO (fear of missing out) factor created by Apple’s marketing department. It appears that the ipad catch cry in our schools (and in many business too) is “find a reason to use these ipads”. In the same way interactive whiteboards were installed en masse across our schools, ipads are being purchased first and then thought about second.

If I had a dollar for every teacher that contacted me and said ‘we have been given ipads to use with our kids and I have no idea what to do with them’ I would be as rich as Steve Jobs himself!

I am not denying that I don’t enjoy using my own ipad and that I don’t miss it when I go away and forget to bring it. My argument and frustration however, lies in the restrictions and limitations placed on students who are only given an ipad as their primary device. Why are our schools wasting precious resource dollars on something that has little documented educational value? It is time educators started to realise there are much better devices available that can have a far greater impact on enhancing student learning.  Yes it is slim, yes it is shiny and yes it is lightweight, but HOW does it improve student learning?

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