Thursday, July 12, 2012

Banishing the Winter of Digital Discontent - #iPad vs Computer Labs

Adapted from

In response to Embrace Heresy, drphil shares the following 6 objections to iPads replacing computer labs as the dominant digital device available to students:

Imagine a school where students don't learn programming.Imagine a school where no desktop publishing occurs.Imagine a school where advanced image editing is not taught.Imagine a school where video editing, manipulation, remixing has no place.Imagine a school where student digital products are limited to what an iPad can do.Imagine a school incapable of taking the STAAR or other test online. 
I'm a fan of BYOD and a fairly enthusiastic iPad user, but I don't want to lose the power of the desktop or laptop. We might go to portable labs if we can't afford 1:1, but don't take power computing out of the mix for students.
Note that computers won't disappear, only that they won't be the primary tool available to students. Computers will still be available to complement iPad use; they have to be a few to facilitate synching, etc.

A few months ago, I might have gone along with this perspective of iPads as tools that limit students imagination because the devices are NOT desktop or laptop replacements. The question is, are they more than what we imagined? I'm not sure, but come along with me as I write this blog entry, and let's find out! 

Here's what I propose...I'm going to work my way through the Imagine statements above that suggest that students equipped with iPads CANNOT learn programming, engage in desktop publishing, do "advanced" image editing, etc. Of course, this will most likely end up as a list of apps under each of those objections...but I wish it could be more, don't you? 

Now, some might argue that we're just not trying to pour new wine into old wineskins, so to speak...we're trying to use ipads in a way that doesn't re-imagine classrooms and how students learn. And, yes, that's true. 
Quick Aside: In a conversation earlier this week, I shared with a team of folks that SAMR Model appeared to be making some headway among iPad users. Even though the Levels of Teaching Innovation (LOTI) is well-established, it may be worthwhile to "pour new wine into a new wineskin" so that it won't burst. Of course, SAMR is from the 1990s, but comparatively speaking, it does appear to be gaining greater traction among iPad initiatives. Why is that I wonder?
How would you flesh out the ideas for using apps to expand our collective imaginations of what is possible? 

#1 - Imagine a school where students don't learn programming.

Ok, so the implication in this statement is that in a school full of iPads--and few or no computer labs--programming skills will be scarce. This argument reminds me of the one about HTML coding or CSS coding vs using a GUI editor. That aside, there are many reasons why we need to know how to code, how to program. After reviewing the apps available for iPad, I'm convinced that it's only a matter of time before more programming opportunities become available. Finally, if you want kids to learn how to program, why not just turn them on to programming on GNU/Linux operating systems? Of course, those Linux OSs and tools aren't necessarily available in schools today anyways, even though they should be given that iPads, Windows, Mac computing devices break the bank, while Linux OS lets you reinvest in teaching and learning.

As I shared in earlier blog entries, there are ample opportunities for programming on the iPad. At first, I thought there were not but those have changed over time. MIT's Scratch program remains a great introductory tool for youngsters, and it's finally found its way onto the iPad only to be dropped for being in violation of Apple's rules. Sigh.
His foundation’s philosophy is to teach young people the power of creative exploration using 21st century tools. The class he teaches uses the iPad (a 21st century digital tool that’s far cheaper than anything most schools can afford of similar capability, he says) and an app called Codea. The app enables the creation of games and projects right on the device using the Lua programming language. (See video below for example.) Alvelda (who has no affiliation with Codea) calls it “a completely powerful and self-contained programming environment” that he says is great for teaching simple programming, something he considers essential for them when they eventually become working adults.
One of my main complaints about the iPad was that it didn't offer support for Scratch programming from MIT...however, there are other solutions out there, such as the ones outlined in this blog entry--6 Awesome Code Editors for iPad. Of course, you can also consider the following:
  • iLogo for iPad
  • Codify iOS developers TwoLivesLeft have just released an interesting new app called Codify, which brings touch based programming to the iPad. The app allows users to create their own programs using the Lua programming language by typing code directly on your iPad. Also included are various assets and programming examples to be used in your creations.
  • Basic! from miSoft 
  • xCode and iOS SDK - This is from Apple and you're supposed to use it to develop apps.

Will this satisfy the expectation that students learn programming? I'm not sure since I'm not a programmer (I tried to be when I was 13, but retyping code from Nibble magazine quickly taught me that I didn't want to mess with so many lines of code...but I have no doubt that for some, it's an engaging well as a necessary one.)

#2 - Imagine a school where no desktop

publishing occurs.

I'm honestly not sure what is meant by desktop publishing in this case. Let me re-acquaint myself with a formal definition:
Desktop publishing is the use of the computer and software to create visual displays of ideas and information. Desktop publishing documents may be for desktop or commercial printing or electronic distribution including PDF, slide shows, email newsletters, and the Web. Source:
Having grown up using Publish It!, Quark Express, Aldus Pagemaker, later adopting tools--and a few others I just don't remember--like MS Publisher, Scribus, Pages, it seems to me that desktop publishing has been slowly getting easier and easier.  

On the iPad, desktop publishing finds expression in apps like the ones below:
Is this what you have in mind when you think of desktop publishing? For day to day documents, Pages probably will get the job done.

#3 - Imagine a school where advanced image editing is not taught.

I don't know about advanced image editing, but certainly, there is no dearth of image editing apps for the iPad and the number is growing exponentially (might be some hyperbole there). Every time I turn around, I run across iPad apps that include photo editors, effects, and more. Is there an app like Photoshop or THE GIMP on the iPad? Here's a quick round-up of those:

I don't know about you, but the pricing of apps compared to full price suites of tools for on the go work is less expensive...and that may be worth it where portability is at a premium or "just good enough" is sufficient in a grade school setting.

#4 - Imagine a school where video editing, manipulation,

has no place.

Video editing...the less I have to do, the better. As a text-fanatic, I have less inclination to work with video and audio than most folks. I suspect that it's a small number of folks who have this need, so there's no reason why you couldn't have most students working off iPads and occasional access to video editing stations and software.

PCMag has a nice article on video editing with the iPad that is worth paying attention to:
Talk about the "post-PC" age. Video editing is one of the most demanding tasks a desktop computer can take on, yet here we are talking about editing digital video on a tablet—the Apple iPad. Indeed, the iPad even has some built-in video editing capabilities: The built-in Camera app lets you trim the start and endpoints of your cinematic creation by dragging the edges of a single timeline view at the top. But to really edit video in earnest—to add transitions and titles and join and split clips—you'll need one of the apps here.
Some of the apps that they feature include the following:
Avid Studio

Since I have yet to invest in a video editing app, I'm open to suggestions. Simple, quick rendering, easy to add effects is what I'm looking for. 

#5 - Imagine a school where student digital products are limited

to what an iPad can do.

Student digital products have often been limited by the devices we have access to. When I was in the classroom, we used Hyperstudio to do some pretty fun, educational stuff. Now, the possibilities are endless! To be blunt, given that many teachers are stuck with old clunkers of desktop computers, little access to computer labs except once a week, there's no doubt that the iPad is like a refreshing spring rain on a sunny day after a winter of discontent with technology.

If I'd had an iPad, whether a class set or a handful, my students would have been able to accomplish so much more than what they did on Mac LC IIs or computers of that time period. Even now, iPads offer greater flexibility than the obsolete Windows XP computers--and Macs running Panther, Tiger, even Snow Leopard--can.

In short, the iPad can do quite a bit. I'm not sure I'm convinced this is a valid argument against them replacing computer labs, even new ones.

You may want to read, 50 Reasons Your Students Don't Need to Print.

#6 - Imagine a school incapable of taking the STAAR or other test online.

You would think this would be an objection to the iPad, but I already know that Pearson--who is the primary test generator with its TestNav software--is already at work on an iPad app. I've raised this objection myself in conversation with two large urban school districts--as late as last week--in Texas with large iPad deployments, and both stated that Pearson had assured them that they were working hard to move testing onto the iPad as an app.

In a conversation with HoneyGrove ISD, ex-tech director there Mark Cockrell (listen to him) pointed out that Pearson's TestNAV is being served up to 150 old computers via Linux Terminal Services, an astonishing accomplishment when you consider he only paid about $5000 for the 150 old computers and they are running the latest and greatest software compatible with required state testing. It's clear that running TestNav can be done more cheaply than the way schools have chosen to do it. The question is, is cheap or inexpensive the final measure for school superintendents?

I don't know about you, but if Pearson comes out with a TestNav app for the iPad, the masses of schools will waste no time in dumping the boat anchors they are forced to have in their schools, reclaiming rooms designated for labs. At a time when building new schools is expensive, having a few more rooms at every campus in your school district is powerful incentive.

Consider the following information from Pearson and Apple:
During its Worldwide Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco this week, Apple introduced a new feature that addresses both user accessibility and testing needs when its mobile devices are used in schools. "Guided Access" allows for the lockdown of an iOS 6 device to limit its use to a single app. The feature disables the Home button and restricts touch input to certain areas of the screen. iOS 6, which is expected to be released in fall 2012, is compatible with iPad 2 and the next version of the iPad, as well as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S. 
By being able to lock down the environment, educators will ensure that students won't be able to go outside of the high-stakes online testing environment, for example, to access a browser. That's an important consideration as the Common Core for State Standards are introduced in schools all over the country and the two assessment consortia--Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)--introduce their state-created online assessments starting in 2014. 
One education technology company already has plans for Guided Access. Immediately following Apple's keynote news, Pearson Education announced its intention to use the new feature to bringTestNav to the iPad soon after the release of iOS 6. TestNav is Pearson's online test delivery system. Current versions of the application work on Macintosh computers running OS X version 10.4 or later and Flash. iPads aren't currently supported. (The program also runs on Windows and Linux machines.)In a statement, the company said, "With the new capability of Apple's Guided Access feature for the iPad, we look forward to working with increasing numbers of educators in all states and districts to accelerate the transition to innovative assessment--and moreover to expand access to digital learning for all students." (Source:
Wow, that's something I didn't know when I started writing this blog entry. So, what are your thoughts? 

Are you convinced that the iPad is the new mobile computer lab? 

From my perspective, the iPad is good enough a platform to do something "well enough" to get the job done. For example, since I first complained about blogging on the iPad, the Blogsy app has gone through major updates to its functionality. That tells me that my own experience with the iPad has changed, getting a lot less kludgy and making the workflow easier and comfortable.

Please share in the comments what your thoughts are!

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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