Here we go again

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The iPad has arrived and with it the usual claims about the transformation of everything education. I saw that the TLT group here on campus has taken up the issue in the form of a post at Geek Dad. What disappoints me about all this is that it is so predictable and so seemingly ignorant of past prognostications of this type. People have been saying that technology will transform "everything" about teaching and schools since there have been schools. One of my favorites:

"[This technology] appealed at once to the eye and to the ear, thus naturally forming the habit of attention, which is so difficult to form by the study of books...Whenever a pupil does not fully understand, [it] will have the opportunity...of enlarging and making intelligible."

This was said about the chalkboard in 1855. 

My point is that if we want to change schools the place to start is with the teaching. Technology is an amplifier. There is plenty of evidence that technology in the hands of teachers with outmoded pedagogical practices just gives us more and faster outmoded practice. We need to start with a conversation about how to change teaching and then see how technology can support the transformation. I know it sounds obvious, and yet there are so few examples of it happening out there. We are willing to spend huge sums of money to put technology into our classrooms, but are not willing to put more than a pittance in to supporting the teachers in reconsidering how they teach. We are spending money to amplify what is already wrong with schools. It makes me feel like I am watching This is Spinal Tap, when Nigel Tufnel explains the special volume on his custom amps:

"Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? ...Eleven. Exactly. One louder."

If we don't change the way we think about teaching with technology the iPad in schools will just be one louder.

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I agree with you Scott. It kind of reminds me of a quote by one of my graphics instructors:

"Photoshop does not make you become a better graphic designer, it makes poor graphic design easier."

In some ways this could easily transfer over to education. In the past we have looked at the potential of the new device and hoped that if we put it in place the best usage will naturally evolve. Often we just revert back to our standard strategy and say this is one louder.

I am guessing it applies to many fields. Technology is always viewed as the magic bullet that will cure the ills of bad practice. Too bad.

Using some metric, was there an increase in the quality of education from the pre-chalkboard age to chalkboard age? If so, would this be due to the advent of chalkboard, chalkboard coupled with changes of teaching practice, or neither.

Don't the changes in mental processes brought about by new technology drive changes in teaching practice moreso than the need for a better teaching practice drives a change in technology?

I guess the question I think of when something like the iphone or ipad comes out is, "how will this force education to change (along with society)?" not "how will this improve education?" "Education" is a moving target.

Just thinking out loud. To be honest, I really struggle with what "education" really means, so I'm probably too far out in the deep end with this comment.

Not sure about that, but I am sure it would depend on the metric. The question I have is related to your first question. Does technology FORCE change? This is one of the operating assumptions about emerging technology is that it can somehow create change because of its nature. It might be a chicken and egg question, but do the social norms shape the technology or vice versa? I think it may be generational to the extent Alan Kay describes "technology is only technology to people born before technology" and so for teachers they really have to change social norms first, because it is technology to them, while their students don't see it as technology and just see it as part of their ordinary social practice.

I followed your link from facebook and got here and decided to be a part of this interesting conversation (i hope its okay). So, from my little experience with the computers in the HImalayas heres what i think: Human culture and technology are continually co-evolving in a dynamic relationship. All technologies develop in a particular cultural context as the result of changing needs or constraints. But once developed, a technology changes the culture that gave it birth. When a technology spreads to another culture, the cultural context affects the speed or way in which the technology is adopted and how it is used. The diffusion of technologies to other cultures changes those other cultures as well. The changes in culture that one technology creates may then incite local adaptations of the technology, or they may result in technological rejection.
Case in point: The computers in the Himalayas (technology which got somewhat rejected -due to lack of adaptation/electricity) or the cell phones which got accepted in the mountains at a super fast rate.

I agree Sameer. I am sure that you could gain a lot of insight into the way technology and culture interact by doing the kind of work that you are doing. Taking technology away from it's culture of origin and seeing how it gets adapted tells you a lot about both cultures. It reminds me of the Coke bottle in "The Gods Must be Crazy".

Thanks for the comment.

interesting thread Scott,

I think your Spinal Tap connection i right on, you could also say, we're sort of creating exploding drummers... I would say that I'm sort of a child of the technology era- maybe more of an early adopter, but I see technology improving things in different ways than it's being talked about.

This past summer I was on a project with Landscape Architecture and in our second week, my MacBook Pro's graphics card kicked the bucket (you could say it went to 11). So I took my iPhone and I bought a VNC client, and for the next month, that is how I got things done on my mac like transferring image files and even a little ftp work with Coda. So what's the point and how does that relate to the iPad?

This is just my own take on this so I'm curious wat others think:
the iphone weighs 135 grams, about a 1/4 lb;
the MacBook Pro, 2,490 grams, about 5 1/2 lbs;
the iPad weighs about 70 grams, or 1 1/2 lbs.

Now add external hard drives, power supplies, books, etc...
Before you know it you are easily carrying around 15-20 lbs in your bag

I have problems with my back so if I had the choice between carrying 5 lbs around all day or 20, you know what I'm choosing. If my back or shoulders are really bothering me, it affects my work. I have a hard time focusing, and the result of carrying all that weight around can cause a lot of pain that keeps me from maintaining focus.

I believe that we're going to see people (you'll see me doing it anyway) using their iPad as a controller for their desktop machines. I don't need the iPad to run 4 apps at a time because with my VNC client running, I can harness the power of my full blooded computer. I can use the mail, browser and calendar (for the most part) from the local apps, and run photoshop via vnc.

I'm excited for it- It's easy of course to boo the thing, but I'm going to take advantage of it- big time.

I agree completely. I think the thing that we are seeing with the iPad is the creation of the computational appliance. I think that is why so many hard core geeks are bemoaning it. It just like the hard core gear heads who bemoan the modern automobile that can't be tinkered with or modified. The reason the iPad is going to be revolutionary is not its form factor or its specs, but in its ability to disappear into our lives and become a semi-transparent technology artifact. It will be an interface to everything.

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