Why the iPad is Different

Cross posted at TechLearning
EconBiz AppI’m not usually one to write about a tool or software but an interesting shift is occurring in the district where I work. The  iPad is generating more discussion about the role of technology in learning than any tool or event to date. In trying to understand the reason for this, I’m of the belief that the design and tactile experience of the iPad are the primary differences in this device that is enabling these conversations. The buzz is more than simply an interest in a cool tool but an inquisitive and curious attitude built around new possibilities. I’m not sure what it is but the simplicity of the apps seems to get people considering what apps might exist and what apps need to be created.  The other thing about these devices is that they are all about customization. Most desktops and laptops do not encourage people to do much beyond using the software outside of the default installation. The average user doesn’t seek to tweak and tinker. The iPad is all about tinkering.

While many would argue against it as purely a consumption device, the addition of a camera, creation software such as iMovie and Garageband, as well as keyboard enhancements means it offers some of the best creative applications for education.

This isn’t really about the iPad as much as it is making computing easier. Those pioneers of educational computing such as Seymour Papert and  Gary Stager argue for the transformational use of computers. Computers should be imagination machines. The conversations I’ve had recently with teachers and administrators suggest, they are beginning to see more possibilities. It’s making it very easy to advance the conversation to consider how technology might make learning different. Partly it’s due to the fact that everyone seems to be on a level playing field. There is no iPad curriculum, at least not yet, I hope never. Much like the Hole in the Wall experiment, everyone seems to sense, there’s something interesting here and are willing to explore and play. That exploration is naturally facilitating conversations I’ve not seen generating before.
Another reason there is increased conversations is because the form factor allows users to more easily manipulate and “own” the device. No longer are users dependent on a keyboard and mouse as the primary input device but can have a more intimate experience with content and ideas. The keyboard served as a prosthesis, the iPad and other touch devices eliminates the middle man. Teachers are asking about how to create content for the iPad. The epub format in particular has enormous potential. The development of homegrown textbooks is within grasp.

These possibilities have indeed existed for years. Open source software offered similar hope but for the most part, the learning curves were not overcome by the masses.  Those who have been the creators and makers using technology are generally the ones who have persevered and were willing to put in the time to be successful. Beauty and quality will still take time and sweat to create but I believe the iPad represents new hope more than ever before. At least I hoping so.

Creative Commons License photo credit: DieZBW
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