Wednesday, April 10, 2013

iPads in school

Sunnyvale elementary schools are adding technology to the classroom. The principal is excited about these tablets taking the place of colored pencils and textbooks. Yet, the most concrete example given is of it taking the place of the teacher (by allowing students to record and playback their voice.)

What is wrong with this?

First is the cost. Why is the school paying $329 and up for Apple devices when lesser alternatives can be had for less. Google was offering chromebooks for $99 for use in classrooms. Android tablets can also be had for a fraction of the cost of the similar equipped Apple tablet. Cupertino and Mountain View both border Sunnyvale, so either one would be supporting the "local" company. (And everything is made in China anyway.)

So the school is wasting precious money on tech. Oh well, the district did just approve a parcel tax, so they have money to burn.

The bigger concern is the use of technology. Does it really help in the classroom?

This is Silicon Valley. Many of the kids (even the low-income language learners) have parents that work in the technology industry. Even those that don't are likely to have smart phones or tablets at home. These aren't $1000 "educational" devices. They are $100 entertainment and communication gadgets. Many kids probably know how to use the devices better than the teachers do.

There may be some students that don't have access to devices at home. Simply exposing them to the technology will be helpful, right? Well, no. One of the selling points of touch devices is that they are supposed to be intuitive. (Have you seen the iPad manual. Yeah.) There is not much to "learn" to use the devices. And even if there were, the applicability in college or the workforce is next to nill. A second grader wont finish school for 10 years. By then, technology will be drastically different from today. Ten years ago, a smart-phone would have been more likely to be running Palm-OS with a stylus. Apple was just ramping up its iPod business (with click wheels!)

Well, maybe they are doing something useful with the devices. Perhaps they can spend some time "learning" with some app. (They will need to, because the teacher will be spending time with the technology and wont have as much time to spend teaching.)

Maybe, just maybe, some kids will figure out how to hack the iPads to jailbreak them and load them with games. This would show advanced reasoning and technology skills that could be applicable to the future. This would also be the most likely activity to be punished.

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