Sunday, 31 January 2010

Apple's iPad and educational uses

Apple's iPad has been one of those technology launches that seems to divide people into those who can't see what the addition of a larger iPod Touch or iPhone can bring to the table, those who just want it, and those, like me, who fall somewhere between the previous two categories.

I can see that with a ten hour battery and a month on standby (although given that startup is less than 15 seconds it's not really that relevant), there are certain practical advantages. It's multi touch screen and small footprint make it advantageous for students and teachers alike.

For me, the fact is I have a Mac laptop that enables me to edit photos, video and audio, work on MS Office for school related documents, use Apple's Keynote for presentations, and run Windows XP for the things in school that aren't Mac compatible.

Therefore, do I really need a tablet? Having held out for the last two years before getting an iPhone, on the basis that I wasn't going to pay for a tool I could get free from another manufacturer, and indeed wait for bugs to be ironed out, I find myself in a similar position with the iPad.

There are certain obvious school advantages - having a digital jotter with me as I trot between campuses, collecting emails and making bookings on a shared calendar with staff would be great, as I move around school and often end up chatting to colleagues in non-PC connected places. The fact I can add a VGA for showing information wherever I find myself in school is cool. Incidentally, all rooms have a projector, so finding the means by which to show and tell isn't an issue.

If we can get academic publishers making digital versions of text books then there are educational and environmental benefits too. Less could indeed become more.

I was pleased to read that Apple are intending to make the iPad enterprise friendly, adding Exchange and direct printing support.

And yet, part of me wonders if this is part of a bigger trend, and whether cheaper yet practical alternatives will appear off the back of the Apple innovation train? I've been quite happy with my Samsung Omnia phone for the last 18 months, even though having an iPhone would have made it a bit easier for me to sync my digital life.

Being an Apple fan doesn't make me a blindly loyal follower. Could the iPad be the driver to persuade me that Apple products are the best for our school? Possibly, but that sort of commitment shouldn't be made in a hurry.

We're planning to deploy an Apple server, initially to help me and my technician manage the vast amount of audio/visual and photographic data we ingest each year, and to do the same with our Art department, who are the other big Mac users. At a recent discussion meeting I was shown the benefits of Snow Leopard Server, and it is a great piece of kit. Prof Steve Molyneux, with whom I was conversing, made the practical suggestion of a mixed-economy approach. Roll out some Mac laptops and let staff incrementally see for themselves the advantages that a Mac can bring. If they want it, let them have it. That seems a sensible approach to me. Forcing teachers to use technology can lead to resentment and a poor return on investment, both academically and financially.

Do I think Apple is the best way forward in education, when it comes to content production, independent learning and collaborative activities? Put it this way - it's not the only way, but it is a powerful solution.

As has happened so often during the last decade, Apple are challenging our preconceptions about how we think and communicate. The iPad deserves serious attention, if not for what it does now, then for its potential to change the means by which we learn and evolve in schools.


Don said...

Peeking into your blog is like looking over the wall into the estate that borders a middle-class sub-division. You know stuff, have stuff, and communicate very nicely.


Always a fun read.

Sacha van Straten said...

Hi Don,

It's good to hear from you! Sorry I've been lax on writing - very busy month back at school, not helped by snow disrupting the start of term.

You're right - I'm in a privileged position and very conscious that I can do things that many colleagues in other high schools can't. However, if the work we do at Berkhamsted can help shed light on best practice then I suppose I can feel my conscience has been salved somewhat.

How's life on the West coast? Are you still writing? I was so sad that Laura Jayne stopped running Pictures, Poetry and Prose. I found it an inspirational place to visit. Hopefully, she'll be back on her feet this year.

Warm wishes,