Wednesday, April 7, 2010

iPad Is The Future Of Edtech, Not The Present (And That's Okay)

Everybody's talking about the iPad, and for good reason: like the iPod and iPhone before it, Apple has created a device that represents a paradigm shift.  Tablet computing is the future, but we have a long way to go before this technology will be ready for schools--and vice versa.

First, and most importantly, anyone who's followed Apple's product history knows that the first iPad won't be half as functional or powerful as it will after it goes through several generations of upgrades and adjustments.  My fourth-generation iPod, for example, is much improved from the first one that came out: it has a click wheel, color screen, video playback, and a much greater capacity than its parent.  You've likely already heard some of the most basic complaints about this first iPad: it weighs a lot, there are issues with charging, and you can't multitask.  It's not a stretch to consider it merely a large screen, severely limited iPod Touch at this early stage of development.

In terms of educational use, the iPhone, iPod Touch and smartphones are still easier to use, manage, are more advanced, and have far more apps ready for the classroom.  If money and time is to be invested in new technology, it certainly should go towards items like these, even considering that our profession is still learning to except (let alone how to use) powerful devices like these.  Of course, in many areas of the country, school districts are just getting around to updating decade old desktops and legacy software systems, so it's a stretch to imagine that we're anywhere near harnessing the power of a revolutionary technology.

That being said, forward-thinking school district should certainly experiment with the iPad and deluge of other tablets that are sure to follow, and start figuring out how they could be used.  This technology will be bigger and more beneficial to students then even the devices I already mentioned, or even commonly used devices like smartboards and LCD projectors.  We just aren't ready now, and neither is the technology.

Schools must also realize that the iPad signals what should be the death of the netbook.  The netbook was supposed to be the bridge between handheld devices and full-size PCs, but tablets are that bridge.  Spending money on them because they're cheaper and smaller than regular laptops is foolish and short-sighted.  Save your tech dollars for better tablet computers in the not-so-distant future.

Besides the long term shift to tablet computing, there's a couple of less-obvious changes I think will take place in the short term: Texas Instruments, Casio and other calculator makers are going to have to stop pushing obsolete technology on schools unless they want to get run out of the education business.  It's hard to be impressed by the bells and whistles of the TI-Nspire, for example, when teachers and students are carrying more powerful and cheaper devices in their pockets.

Video game companies don't face as dire a scenario, but they have to be aware of what the iPad represents in terms of competition.  Hopefully this will mean that Nintendo, Sony and their competitors will continue to work on making their existing devices into more than just game consoles.  They certainly have their act together better than the calculator guys, but everybody has to act fast.

In short, we should be a little excited.  But don't panic.