Not much about “iPads” or “Learning” at yesterday’s “Workshop”

Yesterday afternoon, I went to an event sponsored by Apple Education Seminar thing featuring Apple-sponsored speakers and employees that was called an “iPad Learning Workshop.” I’m going to emphasize the positive aspects of it over on my slowly growing academiciPad site, but frankly, I thought it was pretty awful.

It began with an Apple-employed speaker/PR/marketing wonk whose talk was stuff anyone who had heard of the iPad would have been able to figure out and that was about it.  “You can install apps!  You can check your email!  You can watch movies!”  This and she showed not one but two short videos/commercials that were essentially animated text with Apple-like piano music and a few pictures of iPads.  At some point, someone interrupted and asked what I think is a completely reasonable question: given that our students are coming to classes with laptops, what’s the point of an iPad? What is unique about the iPad? And you know what? She didn’t really have an answer to this question.

Really. Really?

This was followed by one of Apple’s teaching experts.  He had some interesting things to say, but it was all about secondary school, not the target audience for this group even if most of the people there were in the College of Education.  Most of what he had to talk about had nothing to do with iPads in particular but more about technology in secondary schools– and specifically, this guy talked about private and religious secondary school he works at in Holland, Michigan, a school which, judging from the pictures, is a completely different world from any public school in the area, not to mention EMU.

It was really striking.  I left that thing thinking a) maybe there is an audience for my month (maybe longer) web site experiment about iPads, and b) I ought to try to go into the educational technology consulting business.

But the other take-away was about universal access.  To the extent that the Apple marketer had anything interesting to say about iPads in teaching, it all assumed that students had these devices in their hands.  The guy from the private school in Holland talked about the enormous initiative at his school to get laptops into the hands of all students and staff and to even remodel/rebuild the school building to provide spaces for folks to collaborate together with those laptops.

So it seems to me that the iPad initiative that I’m a part of this year is completely backwards in that we shouldn’t be giving these things to a few select faculty, but rather, we should be finding a way to get these things into the hands of as many students as possible.  And I am reminded once again that the smartest thing that EMU could do is to push into the late 20th century and require all students to have a laptop computer that meets certain basic benchmarks in terms of processing, software, etc.

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