Why the iPad is Different
5/1/2011 1:00:00 AM
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By Dean Shareski
An interesting shift is occurring in my district. 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’ve come to believe that the
design and tactile experience of the iPad are primarily what
make this device different and enable these conversations.
The buzz is more than simply an interest in a cool tool; it’s
an inquisitive and curious attitude about new possibilities.
The simplicity of the apps seems to get people considering
which apps may already exist and which have still to be created.
Also, these devices are all about customization. Most
desktops and laptops do not encourage people to do much
beyond use the software outside the default installation.
The average user doesn’t seek to tweak or tinker. The iPad
is all about tinkering. While many would argue against the
iPad on the grounds that it is purely a consumption device,
the addition of a camera, creation software such as iMovie
and GarageBand, and keyboard enhancements allow it to
offer some of the best creative applications for education.
This new buzz isn’t really about the iPad as much as it is
about computing being made easier. Computers should be
imagination machines. The conversations I’ve had recently
with teachers and administrators suggest that they are
beginning to see more possibilities. The iPad is making it
easy to advance the discussion to considering how technology
might make learning different. Partly that’s because
with this device, there seems to be a level playing field.
There is no iPad curriculum—at least not yet, and I hope
there never will be. Much as in the Hole in the Wall experiment,
everyone seems to sense that there’s something
interesting here and are willing to explore and play. That
exploration is naturally facilitating conversations I’ve not
seen being generated before.
Another reason for the iPad buzz is that the device’s
form factor allows users to easily manipulate and “own” it.
No longer are they dependent on a keyboard and mouse
as the primary input device; now they can have a more
intimate experience with content and ideas. The keyboard
served as prosthesis, whereas the iPad and other touch
devices eliminate the middleman. Teachers are asking how
to create content for the iPad. The epub format in particular
has enormous potential. The development of homegrown
textbooks is within our grasp.
These possibilities have existed for years. Open-source
software similarly offered hope, but for the most part the
learning curve was not overcome by the masses. Those who
created the technology have generally been the ones who
persevered and were willing to put in the time to
succeed with it. It will still take time and sweat to
create beauty and quality, but I believe that the
iPad represents a new possibility. I’ll keep my