Guest Post - Jim Klein on Netbooks vs iPads

Jim Klein was kind enough to respond to my blog entry yesterday, Only Human - #Ubermix = Yesterday's Solution? in two comprehensive comments. So, rather than make you read them there, I'm going to post them as a separate blog entry. My only edits have been to break up the comments into more paragraphs for easier reading.

Jim writes:

Hey Miguel, thanks for your thoughts here. To sum them up, it seems like your argument is "the iPad is going to win, so we should give up" with a heavy emphasis on "the way we do things now", however I'm not sure that this reflects reality, partially because you seem to be focusing on netbooks alone in your comparisons, and partially because I know for a fact that an iPad is not your (or anyone else's) primary computing device. So let's break those two down:

On the netbook front, while the category "netbook" as it is understood to mean a 10" laptop is dead, they have simply been replaced by more powerful and slightly larger 11.6 inch notebooks at the same price points (See Acer V5, Asus X201E, etc.) But even with that knowledge, let's be fair and compare Apples to Apples with an equally priced notebook running ubermix. That Core i3+ notebook will process your aforementioned video and audio at least twice as fast as your iPad, and the applications will bring with them greater capabilities and sophistication than the overly simplistic, touch-based interfaces of the iPad allow. But beyond that, the real computing device also offers far greater potential in terms of complex, sophisticated applications for making, like Blender, Alice, Scratch, LibreCAD, and Eclipse, as well as access to the wide array of web apps that simply don't work or work poorly on an iPad (Flash, Java, and other plugins are still quite prominent, despite what Apple fans might like you to believe). I could go on here, but I think you know what I'm getting at. 

Choosing to do less in the name of simplicity, opting for an activity-centric approach that emphasizes "doing" rather than "making" in the name of fitting technology in without disrupting outdated structures and practices, and submitting yourself to a degree of vendor lock-in never before experienced in computing is, quite simply, a terrible idea that will ultimately hurt everyone involved.

On the primary computing device front, let's get real here: no one you know or I know uses an iPad as their primary device, for many of the reasons I listed above - and more. Knowing that, why on earth would we then think it's OK to give students iPads and only iPads to compute on? The answer is simple: because we make all of our decisions based on what we perceive the capacities of our teachers to be, rather than on what we believe the potential of students to be. This, perhaps, is the saddest trend of all. 

What will it take for us to believe in kids? To honor their expertise? To accept that we don't have to know everything about technology for our students to use it effectively? When will we understand that our students don't need a list of steps, a stupid template, a wizard, or someone else's idea of design to build something great? I, for one, don't want to see 30 copies of the same (perfect, by someone else's standards) thing as evidence of mastery. I'm not impressed by the beatifully designed whatever that a student used a canned app to create. I'm far more impressed by the ugly thing that mostly works, but was created from scratch with a healthy dose of critical thinking and problem solving. 

I fear that giving in to the Borg (Apple and similar corporations), building dependency on other people's software and "ecosystems", and limiting our kids in the name of not being disruptive is leading us down the same path we have gone with skilled labor. We barely think about plumbing, carpentry, metalworking, and shop in schools today, finding ourselves content to simply leave a check for the plumber/carpenter/mechanic when we need something done. 

And yet we are facing a shortage of skilled labor the likes of which we have never experienced in this country, which is driving costs of some of the most basic needs higher and higher. The same will soon be true with computing. The number of computer science students continues to decline, yet demand for computing resources continues to increase. 

If current trends are any indication, we are building a generation of takers, rather than makers, who rely on someone else to provide them with the tools they need to get things done, placing their future in the hands of profiteers who wish to control something that was meant to be free. Programs are like math, and if you have to go to the math store to purchase ever more math when you want to design something, then what you design is based entirely on how much math you can afford. 

Let's not set our kids up to succeed or fail based on how much they can afford. Let's give them the world and anticipate the amazing things they might do with it.

My Response:

Jim, thanks so much for sharing these points. I don't disagree with any of them. And, I've probably made these points, although less eloquently, over time. Against this barrage of facts, sentiments, and hard-won experience stands one incontrovertible fact--Americans in public, private, charter, and home schools have made their decision about the type of technology they want to see in their children's hands. I can't imagine a Special Education child interacting with a netbook in the same way they do with an iPad.

That choice is not the one you or I might have made, but rather, the iPad. It's almost like watching an enslaved nation, yearning to slip the chains of traditional computing (no matter how wonderful in the eyes of the elite experts), rise up and choose simplicity rather than complexity in their devices...sometimes, not everyone wants to be a maker in your own image. And, the iPad allows creation, collaboration, in varied ways from what's been done in the past.  

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


Anonymous said…
The answer is a laptop hands down. I can get an acer laptop which will do everything we need in the classroom - while my ipads sit unused. Students can't edit their sites as there is no flash and EVERYTHING must be had on apps...lots of costs there. Students generally prefer keyboards as well.

Not a fan of netbooks but for everyday classrooms the chromebook is cheaper and superior to the ipad and an acer laptop which is also cheaper is always preferred by my students.
Jobs-It -India said…
Knowing that, why on earth would we then think it's OK to give students iPads and only iPads to compute on? The answer is simple: because we make all of our decisions based on what we perceive the capacities of our teachers to be, rather than on what we believe the potential of students to be. This, perhaps, is the saddest trend of all.

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