LIS 568 Week 12–Ten Reasons Not to Institute a 1:1 iPad Program in Your School

Ten Reasons Not to Institute a 1:1 iPad Program in Your School: A Manifesto.

I find little redeeming value in letting schools go the 1:1 iPad route.  Will having an iPad magically let your students learn?  Has anyone stopped to think about whether this is a good idea?  Has anyone looked deeper into the implications of what an iPad means for your students and the world at large?

Take a look at this list, then.  Here are ten reasons why every student in your school does not need an iPad:

10.  They’re not kid-friendly.  There is nothing kid friendly about a highly sensitive electronic device faced in glass.  Putting an iPad in the hands of an elementary child is no different than handing them a bag of broken glass.  Which is what an iPad will become after a few months in a child’s hands.

9.  They’re not meant for multiple users.  This even was mentioned in this year’s NYLA conference: there is no way to currently register multiple users on one device.  Should the need arise to have more than one student working on an iPad (let’s say your building was 1:1.5), students are likely to delete each others’ work or cause mayhem with each other’s settings.

8.  They’re a logistical nightmare.  Putting an iPad in the hands of every child in a school of 500 is a nightmare: juggling iPad cards, chargers, iPads that have decided to be fussy.  More time is taken away from teaching and learning.  You know, the main reason children are in school.

7.  Like all technology, they fall prey to trends.  Here today, gone a few years from now?  Microsoft has already one-upped the short-comings of the iPad by releasing Surface, a tablet with a keyboard which doubles as a cover.  We have seen computing evolve from a desktop computer, to a laptop, to netbooks, to the tablet, and now to a tablet with attachable keyboard.  Eventually we will see a touch screen laptop from Apple.  What will happen once we’ve already invested thousands into buying iPads, only to discover we have moved on to something else?

6.  iPads are a band-aid for bad schools.  Administrators, parents, and some teachers love technology in school.  Why?  Because when a parent comes to open house or speaks with a principal, the answer to, “How many iPads do you have in the classroom?” can be answered by a simple number.  Technology is easy to quantify: “Our school has purchased this many SmartBoards through our grant.”  “We are seeking out ways to implement Elmo  projectors in the elementary school.”  “We just bought thirty tablets for our chemistry lab.”  Seeing numbers and plans and grants is one way to see a school as active, engaging, and looking to improve.  However, there is no easy way to quantify good teaching, solid pedagogy, or teachers with a passon for their subject coupled with deep content knowledge.  Tried-and-true teaching methods, or technologies that work, can easily been seen as passé or old-fashioned and can’t be easily defended by resorting to numbers or trends: “You still teach cursive?”  “Why waste my child’s time with grammar?”  “Why do you still have overhead projectors?”  It’s much easier to dangle an iPad in front of a parent’s face and watch their eyes glaze over in rapturous delight, assured that you are a school that cares enough about their child’s needs to make the radical leap to 1:1 iPads.

5.  The iPad’s potential is suprisingly limited.  But it’s a touch screen and it has a “retina” display, how can it be limited?  Most users probably aren’t aware of all the flack Apple took over not supporting Flash content, and while Apple stubbornly holds to its guns (and doesn’t want to place nice with Adobe,) millions of Android users are able to view Flash content on their phones and tablets.  Which platform will eventually win out?  Many games, animations, and interactive websites are displayed using Flash.  Without being able to view these, an app needs to be downloaded.  (Perhaps this is making more sense–an app that can be paid for, as opposed to free content.)

A second shortcoming is simply the lack of an integrated keyboard.  For older students who need to do a lot of word processing (upper middle school all the way to higher ed,) this would require buying a Bluetooth keyboard (not cheap) or struggling with the iPad’s touch screen keyboard.  And support for hefty applications like Photoshop Creative Suite just isn’t there.  Even Google Docs on the iPad is a sorry imiation of what is available on a computer.  Why buy a $500 touch screen toy that can’t do much?  (And don’t say “so you can read books on it.”  You could buy about 40 books for that price, and have 40:1 books for every student.)  If you want students to read e-books, get a Kindle.

4.  iPads are manufactured by wage slaves in unsafe factories.  There’s a downside to the shiny sterility of every Apple Store: Apple products are manufactured by some suppliers with unsafe working conditions, including explosions and workers forced to stand until their legs swell.  A 24-hour plant with 12 hours shifts, complete with nets installed on dormitory buildings to catch the falling bodies of workers who have chosen to commit suicide.  And Apple has known about this for years.  Although Apple is not the only company which receives assembled components from FoxConn (Amazon, Dell, HP, Nintendo, Nokia, and Samsung are also customers,) it might be wise for schools–teachers of the next generation of citizens–to be aware of the human cost of their shiny new iPads.

3.  iPads are not green.  By a longshot.  Manufacturing an iPad releases 285 times its own weight in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.  Heavy metals, chemicals (it has a battery after all), and seventeen rare earth elements (used for magnets and displays) reside in the guts of your iPad.  China controls almost 100% of the rare earth elements in the world, and looser environmental regulations in China have led to fears of a rare earth element shortage.

Imagine a school with one iPad for every student.  A modest-sized school of about 400 students.  Imagine how much power 400 charging iPads would draw.

But iPads are green.  They’re paperless, after all.  Less trees being cut down, and less manufacturing.  It’s all digital.

Well, not quite: it takes “fifty times as much fossil fuel production to power an iPad for the hours it takes to read a book as it would take to read the same book on paper by electric light.

This is at odds with whatever aspect of environmentalism we are teaching our students.  The next time a school near you jumps on the iPad bandwagon for the sake of saving energy, remind them of this statistic.  If you want an environmentally-friendly way to present information to students give them a book, and turn off a few lights.

2.  Too much virtuality may have unintended consequences for children.  Part of the iPad’s charm is that it replicates real life: we interact with the world by touching objects.  An iPad, therefore, must be the perfect educational tool: you can touch objects.  Just like the real world.

Except that an iPad app offers nothing in the way of the tactile experiences that a child needs to grow and experience his or her world.  The iPad, despite its shiny display, is a very two-dimensional object.  It is a piece of glass, after all.

There is little research against the use of technology in the classroom.  (Why launch a study not to purchase something?)  Many studies call for more studies on the subject.  Should we be putting a device in the hands of students before we know how it will affect their development?  Because technology must always be the latest and greatest, the ramifications of its use are not even an afterthought: the mindset of administrators is to buy whatever is released as soon as possible, in order to keep up with every other school and stay on the “cutting” edge.  And to impress parents.

Anecdotally, I have seen evidence of what a lack of real world experiences can do to a child’s worldview.  My nephew (aged six, and avid iPad user) loves Legos, but a recent phone conversation was rather illuminating: he said he loved getting Legos, but he didn’t like putting them together.  I said the fun part of putting Legos together is getting to see what the object looks like.  His response:

I can see what it looks like on the box!

So he would rather his parents spend $120 for the giant Star Wars Millenium Falcon Lego set just so he can look at the picture on the box.  Being able to see an object in three dimensions, play with it, and pretend it was navigating the exhaust port on the Death Star at the end of Episode IV was worth nothing more to him than just looking at a picture of it.

1.  iPads are expensive.  This is their greatest downfall.  But don’t you get an education discount when you buy an iPad?  Why, yes, you do: you get an entire $20 off.  So is the actual cost $480?  That’s not too bad, is it?  But don’t forget there are other costs: carts, training, replacement adapters, and tech support.  In some districts, such as Hillsborough in Tampa Bay, this winds up making the actual cost $1,000 per iPad.  (Hillsborough also decided to purchase $14,800 in “classroom training” from Apple.)  The entire cost of going 1:1 for the Hillsborough district may be $903,000.  The sad part of this equation is that this money comes from Title I funding grants–federal dollars that can be used to support extra instruction, special education, after school, and summer programs.  Would more teachers or an iPad better prepare your student for the future?

Meanwhile, while your federal tax dollars are going towards the purchase of iPads all across the country, Apple is laughing all the way to the bank.  Thirty years ago they realized that selling their computers to schools would open up a niche market for them.  (And I say this as a diehard Mac user.)  Now they are doing the same with iPads–convincing more and more schools to jump on the iPad bandwagon because it enhances learning.  They started with the textbook publishers, and now it has reached the point where some wonder whether iPads will save U.S. education, automatically assuming that the iPad is a more efficient use of resources than a paper-killing inefficient uncool textbook, ignorant of the fact that the environmental downside of the iPad is quite clearly documented.

So, wake up, administrators!  Don’t be shamed into thinking your school needs an iPad for every student!  It may be fun to have a few around for your students to play with–yes, there are some great apps–but consider letting your students bring their own devices.  If they don’t have one, then don’t require its use or have a few available on loan.  But don’t go one-to-one.  It’s unncessary, it’s wasteful, and the only reason you think it’s a good idea is because Apple and every groupthink educator tells you so.  Find good teachers.  Find teachers who are passionate about their subject.  The ones who care about knowledge, the ones who want to pass on this excitement, like a flame jumping from match to match, to the next generation.  Find teachers who know their subject.  Find teachers who know how to teach.  The results will be staggeringly more effective than what a cold, glass touch screen can provide for a child.

A good teacher will outlive any trendy new technology.  A good teacher is more valuable than seventeen rare earth elements.  And, most imporantly, a good teacher can provide to a child what no technology can ever replicate: the ability to interact with a fellow human being.

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