Hardware Review: Apple’s iPad

 

By Timothy Gard
Educator, Toronto District School Board
Find Tim on Twitter @soligard

 

There’s probably no  computer hardware  device more readily available today that  will illicit more opinions from educators then Apple’s iPad.  If you haven’t heard about this device, or even touched one then you’re either holed up in a cave somewhere or you’ve just returned from  a country that bans all form of communication.  The news and buzz about the iPad is everywhere and so  therefore, in  short, you probably have an opinion about whether Apple’s iPad is game changing technology, whether in everyday life, or in business, or more importantly I think, in the classroom.

And so I tread with complete  sensitivity – and perhaps with a bit of reluctance! – to offer some opinions of my own, especially to those who would state the iPad is game changing, or to those who would believe that it’s just another amazing marketing scheme manufactured by Apple to get people to buy things they really don’t need. Read on if you’re interested in finding out more about Apple’s iPad and the revolution it will bring to classrooms around the globe.I would argue that the whole philosophy behind computer design is changing, and that the iPad or pad-like, tablet-like devices are a means to an end and that in no way, shape or form will the final analysis be the  ‘device’ that is game changing.

We are changing our thinking about computers. They are more mobile, more powerful with smaller footprints and they’re becoming gateways to vast streams of information that will further require the user to be literate, intelligent, and critical thinkers of the form of the information that  he or she is receiving. Let me focus this more holistic discussion to the Apple iPad. I am not about to go over the iPads technical specs simply because they’re readily available on Apple’s web site, or to discuss in detail how the hardware works, or doesn’t work, whatever the case may be. I will however state that like anything Apple seems to make these days the iPad is just plain cool looking. As the first generation model it requires some upgrades to compete in

this new arena of competition. For example, more RAM, a faster processor, two-way cameras and perhaps a few more ports. I expect that the next generation will have some of these features and with RIM’s Playbook about to hit the market, they’ll have to ‘up the ante’ a bit to stay in competition, at least at the hardware level. The fundamental item about the tablet devices that we need to be  aware of is the finger control, and finger sensitivity required to manipulate, navigate and  communicate with these devices. It’s simple stuff. I’m aware of a kindergarten class that is using 5 of these devices and the teacher tells me that the students manipulate and control these devices with such fluidity that they’ve adapted to them with an exuberance that far exceeds what which she has seen with a traditional computer. This world is manageable to a child. But let’s face it, if it’s simple and powerful, the masses will  come regardless of whether you’re a 5 year old, or a 35 year old. Pedagogy still requires guidance and support but why not give a painting program to a child and then have them narrate their feelings about what they’ve painted onto the iPad and then have them share it with their peers? Or show their peers how they’ve learned something  new in phonics, or numeration?

Simple, powerful, and game changing. Why? Portable, powerful, and simple!  Location is no longer limiting, and portability takes on a whole new meaning in a world that is growing smaller by the minute.Why can the iPad or a tablet/pad device be a game changer in the classroom? Let me look at 4 different reasons  why I believe these devices will influence  the classroom. Make no mistake however; this will not happen in a vacuum. Students need teachers who are also engaged, excited and trained to use and manage this technology so that the students get the most benefit from this  new platform. Throwing a bunch of hardware at a lot of teachers won’t generate magical results. Students will find things to do with these devices but they may not garner the types of results that we  would hope to have happen if we don’t provide the sage guidance that comes from trained professionals.The iPad is meant to be a portable, connected device. And that’s the power for education. I love the idea of creating a 21stCentury classroom by allowing students to collaborate on ideas, projects, and problems using a device that is so easy to manage, and so powerful that it can easily connect ‘to the cloud’ that the learning is not hampered but enhanced, not narrowed but broadened. I just spent some time reviewing Prezi Meeting where students can collaborate on a project that they can then share as a presentation either locally or globally. Use this technology to generate ideas, raise awareness about issues, and ask more questions about this or that because the technology is fluid, manageable, portable and connected! Send some students to a pod and have them  use the technology to investigate or deconstruct a concept. Collaborate? You can work with this or that student ‘in the cloud’ virtually anywhere on anything. Have iPad, will travel!

The power of this technology is found in the touch screen manipulation, clear visual display,and fast connection speed. Not only is this technology portable and connected but it’s portableand connected with hardware that sports an amazingly clear display that plays video, showsgraphics and displays data in clear ways. I don’t require kilograms of hardware to generate fine, clear and high resolution images or media of any type. Further,  the students don’t need a special device to navigate; their fingers will do just fine and the sensitivity of the screen allows even those children who are  challenged differently to do things that they didn’t think they could do.
This leads to instant access, instant knowledge, and instant mind to  ‘paper’ work. It’s not so much about the instantaneous knowledge and information that makes the difference, thoughthis  is obviously very important, but it’s about having access to information to substantiate, support or extend a person’s understanding of this or that idea. Instant provides power to generate more complete and complex ideas and with an iPad or similar device you can do this quite easily. You can then share this  information in whatever format you wish including the web, or via a podcast, or movie, or via a connected presentation. Digital textbooks are easily accessed and read, though we’re waiting for this medium to evolve at a faster rate with better results.

Use the iPad or a similar device to connect to the broader world, to extend collaboration, to excite your students and to empower them to use their gifts, talents and strengths to enrich their immediate community. Again, this doesn’t happen  without a well-designed and coordinated plan. This involves spending time training teachers to think differently about how they teach, and  to make every effort to think about the 21st Century skills that will enable  students to be the valuable contributors to society that they will need to be, both for themselves and for our country. We need to encourage a new level of literacy and we have the tools – now – to help achieve this movement. TakingITGlobal then becomes an even easier way to connect globally around issues that matter to all of us, so that we might make our world a better place to live for everyone.
The iPad is a game changer.  It’s a game changer in the sense that it has brought computing down to a truly personal level, to a level where information flows at ones finger tips and with the appropriate framework in place, help to extend and transform learning contexts, whatever or wherever they might be, to become truly 21 st Century learning environments. Do I think it’s going to change education in its present format? Yes and no. Yes, because it’s started us off in a brave new direction that will take us into an even more connected world. But bring on the trained educators, the individuals trained in guiding students into a brave new world. No, because the technology, no doubt, will evolve and change.  Simply put, it will become  more powerful and will be more extendable. Thanks Apple! Keep causing us to ‘Think Different’!
Timothy.gard@tdsb.on.ca