What I Mean When I Say the iPad Isn’t It.

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Fr...Image via Wikipedia

I have been looking at ebook readers and netbooks for the k-20 market. The iPad has been suggested as a solution to that in a few places. Those who know me know that I have been a big proponent of Apple in the past. I think a college really loses something when they do not support multiple platforms: they lose out on innovation, creativity, and ultimately, money. I have said in a couple of places that I can’t consider the iPad as a platform for elearning. I am saying this not just because I am an advocate for open source: I have always had an iMac at home, my jobs generally insist on PCs, and I am currently travelling with a netbook that uses Linux-based Jolicloud (which I enthusiastically recommend to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen to me rant). So I am basically trilingual. I try to make a difference where I can and I am currently working towards opening up education in an area with little infrastructure, virtually no money, with widely dispersed population of about 9000 students with a potential 3 or 4 thousand more.

The iPad is a great platform for consuming content. But if you define education as more than the consumption of content – the problems come in:

1. No Camera
The quality of web cams on netbooks is increasing and their prices are going down. Early in this decade, cameras cost a thousand dollars a megapixel. Now you can get a 12 megapixel camera for $200. Seeing someone’s face and making a human connection in distance learning is an important consideration.

2. Connectivity
As of my last look, the iPad does not support 3G Skype calls “due to contractual obligations with ATT.” The platform of choice can’t be tied to a phone contract. It has to work well with any VOIP program and Google Voice. This really ties in with the first one: computers should be essentially tools for connecting with others, interacting with content, remixing, and sharing. This is much easier to do on a netbook.

3. Censorship in the App Store
I read a story last week about an artist who altered his work (a comic book based on James Joyce’s Ulysses) so it would be acceptable to the app store. It was cartoon nudity!

4. No Flash

Many web 2.0 sites rely (for good or ill) on Flash. I am not saying that every site out there that uses Flash is great, I just don’t want anyone to be limited right out of the box with content they can’t access.

5. The Price
What I really want for our students is a $100 netbook. We are almost there. I want the students to be able to connect with one another, subject matter experts, their instructors, course content, and access ANY etext or content (unfiltered by commercial interests). On top of that, I want them to be able to use Open Office or any other open source tool to create and share content. I want all of this in one machine for under $200. And yes, I will get it. I have already bought a used netbook for that price and the On Laptop Per Child program has inspired others such as the Marvell Moby.

I am sure all of this will change in the future, but until then, in a time of economic hardship, another closed platform, expensive tablet is not an answer to for students and educators.

 

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