Last week, during an education-focused session held in Chicago, Apple released its new iteration of the iPad. Since it was first released in 2010, the iPad has struggled to find its niche in education. With the release of the 6th generation, Apple is taking another stab at trying to figure out how to stem the Chrome revolution in education and explain the relevance of the iPad to a market that, after an initial overdone enthusiasm, has cooled significantly towards Apple’s offerings. Partly, Apple has suffered from the economic downturn, with many school districts cutting technology budgets and looking for less expensive solutions, and partly Apple has suffered from a lack of understanding of how to best integrate the iPad in education.
One of the main problems with technology in education is down to technology selection issues. Too often the tool wags the dog and not vice-versa. We decide on the tool and then try to fit our educational goals around the technology. Once we bought the tool, we have to use it because we spent all that money on the tool, so we end up contriving uses for it. That may work in the short term, but it’s not a good long term strategy. We need to start with the educational goals and then identify the tool that supports those goals.
When the iPad first came out, schools were excited. Educators contrived uses for it, but it did not lead to any educational strides. When budgets became tight, it became harder to justify the iPad since we weren’t seeing results. Chromebooks were the perfect tool to step into that gap: they were cheap, they had a keyboard, and we could easily use them as a substitute for previously used methods: typing rather than handwriting, PowerPoint rather than writing on the blackboard, etc. That’s not to say that this is not important. Add a marketplace of apps that can approximate other activities and you have a solution that’s easy to understand. However, that’s not the niche that the iPad fills.
The iPad has the potential of being a transformative tool. Unfortunately, Apple has not done a good job of explaining that. While they have the ability to be technology substitution tools, they are too expensive to only fill that role. With the release of the new iPad, Apple has added the pencil to a device that’s moderately expensive. It changes the way we can interact with the devices and provides a full complement to the touch and keyboard that already existed. Beyond the variety of access methods the new iPad can bring in transformative activities using alternative reality, it can creatively engage the students on a level that is hard to do with a traditional screen&keyboard device, and it can open the imagination of students and teachers alike. Now only if Apple can match the device with the learning goals and do a better job of explaining how the iPad can be a revolutionary device.