Archive for January, 2010

i-pad, u-pad, we-pad….or do Wii?

My ten bobs worth about the i-pad. Yes, Graham, getting sucked in…to the debate at least.

So, I find myself getting sucked in to the debate about the i-pad. This is unusual for me because, to be honest I have certainly been on the fringes of what Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad calls the ‘nay sayers and sceptics’ in respect of the i-phone and i-pod touch et al.

In my defence, though, I have never said that the development of the Apple mobile device armoury is not extremely well conceived, beautifully designed, and skilfully executed, or that Apple have not led where others have followed.

But, neither do I believe that the sun shines from Steve Jobs posterior. There is something about the evangelism surrounding all things Apple that disturbs me. Perhaps it’s the blinding light shining from you know where that restricts our peripheral vision preventing us from properly seeing the full picture.

Where it comes to the i-pad, and indeed i-phone, i-pod touch etc. context is important, I think. At least it is in the world I occupy which professionally and personally revolves around education, specifically primary and secondary education. Even more specifically a large slice of my life is taken up with the exciting opportunities offered to education through digital technology which, as Lord Putnam said at the recent Learning Technologies show at Olympia, has changed the way people interact, engage and make sense of the world’.

The i-pad, in all it’s glory (and I do not doubt its gloriousness) will open up all sorts of exciting opportunities to do some remarkable things in some schools and educational institutions around the globe. But, fantastic as that is, this effort will be restricted to a minority for three very good reasons that have nothing to do with design or functionality. These reasons are that the i-pad is too expensive, too nickable, and too fragile.

Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad refers to the ‘shockingly low price’ of $499 (£310) for the basic model. Shockingly low for someone of his means, for sure, affordable for someone of my means, completely out of the question for the hundreds of  thousands on a low income. Will the ‘Home access’ scheme (which already restricts provision of access to broadband to one year only)  be extended to the provision of this device, even the basic model. I suspect not. In any case the ‘Home access’ scheme doesn’t by any means reach all the people who need it.

Where the ‘Home access’ scheme is meant to narrow the digital divide, the aggressive pricing policy of Apple (when did you last see a discounted i-phone or i-pod touch), I’m afraid, only serves to widen it. This does play into Apples hands, of course, because their enormous 15.9 billion revenue is made mainly from the haves and the perception that their beautiful products are made for the beautiful people who, of course, can afford them.

I know that Steve Jobs has made a point of saying that he wants to keep the price low, but there is low and there is low.

In a tweet today Graham Brown-Martin (of Handheld Learning fame) said ‘as I walk thru the Elephant & Castle favela I wonder if I’d really whip out an #iPad to read the news…’ Now extend that thought to all the pupils in all the schools.

We recently had a burglary at our offices. Someone had got hold of the key and came in at their leisure when no-one was around. From everything we have in the office, dozens of systems, Macs and Pc’s and all sorts of other equipment, the burglar took just our i-pod touch (my freebie from the Handheld Learning conference) and our Mac mini. Small enough to conceal and very sellable, just like the i-pad. No doubt the good Apple folk would puff out their chests in pride that their products are so eminently nickable so not likely to be much change there.

And as for robustness, I have no idea how much rough handling the i-pad can take (because of its elegance it does seem rather fragile, but this may well not be the case), but it would have to be very robust indeed to survive the ravages of my 12 year old sons treatment. Clothes, books, bottles, lunchboxes, nothing survives the daily onslaught. His mobile phone just about survives, because it is small enough to go in his pocket, and has a case to protect it. Even so it looks pretty sorry for itself, although just about intact.

It might be argued that other devices may be equally susceptible to damage, but that isn’t the point. Someone will have to address the issue of rough treatment, and I don’t suppose it will be Apple. They are just not in that space.

You may feel that I am simply being something of a killjoy about all this, but I think I am just being practical and pragmatic. I don’t doubt, or deride, Apples achievements as innovators. But, in the world I occupy, I cannot see a ubiquitous place, per se, of the i-pad, i-phone, i-pod et al despite all the potential on offer.

In this respect, though, Apples great achievement, and it is a great achievement, is to set the standards for others to follow and I applaud them for that. But I expect to see a greater use of other devices for education, netbooks for a while, making way for smartphones that can be had free on very low tariffs, gaming consoles like PS3 and x-Box, others like the DS and of course the brilliantly conceived Wii.

January 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm 9 comments

andwriting and spelchekin

I had a really interesting discussion with my kids last night about how appropriate the school tasks they are given are to the requirements of the 21st century. The kids are 15 and 12 and the discussion centred round my daughters (15 year old) creative writing homework.

More specifically it centred around the fact that she was not allowed to present this as a printout (or even in an electronic form – a Word document, for example) but it had to be hand written and the quality of handwriting would be subject to a mark, in addition to marks for other attributes of the work. Furthermore, it seems that whilst the mark for other attributes of the work contributed to the general grading for the piece of work, the marks for the handwriting were disregarded in this respect.

My question to the kids was that in a world of word processing and spell checking was the requirement to hand write this piece not a little archaic?

Their view was that, given that the bulk of other written assignments they had to perform were word processed, there was some value in keeping the, let’s face it, dying art of handwriting alive. And I would admit that it does seem appropriate somehow that this should be done in the context of a creative writing piece.

On the question of spell checking they argued that they had to look at their spelling in a different way if they did not have the luxury of a spell checker to utilise. This meant, in their view, that their spelling would improve.

My argument was that even if the good intentions of the school were to keep handwriting alive, assigning a mark to it, which was then for all intents and purposes ignored, was rather pointless. Give feedback, yes, but not mark.

I get the kids point about spellchecking, that somehow without the benefit of this they had to work harder to get their spellings right. Presumably the teacher, when marking the work, will point out misspellings. If so, why not have the misspellings identified by a spell checker prior to the piece of work being handed in. Makes no difference, as far as I can see, how or when misspellings are identified, as long as they are done so at some point. And allowing this to be picked up early could save valuable teacher time.

In the event, my daughter constructed the piece on her laptop, spell checked it, and then transposed it into her own handwriting.  Wouldn’t any half thinking person do the same?

Overall I can see the sense on insisting that kids do some handwriting, particularly if it does at least delay the complete demise of the noble art. But the issue around spell checking does, it seem to me, highlight the confusion that exists as we see the much greater use of technology in our schools. It is a transitory time. It is important that we embrace the changes that we are presented with, and not let them confuse the issues.

January 25, 2010 at 4:25 pm Leave a comment

Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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