iPads, Chromebooks, and the responsibilities of the post-PC educator

Below, I share some thoughts on the recent article in The Atlantic about why some schools are selling their iPads. Click here to read the article.

I was always skeptical of how quickly schools adopted iPads on a large scale. While they are easy to adapt as teacher tools for organization, proper training is necessary before they are put in the hands of an entire classroom. Generally speaking, educators are behind the times when it comes to technology because of how long it takes to organize and implement new hardware and curriculum. The iPad’s potential got hyped back in 2010 and though I know there are situations in which they are engaging kids, my experience tells me that many administrators are buying them out of the excitement of being seen as “technological” and telling interested teachers to just go right ahead without any plan how to enhance existing learning.

The examples in The Atlantic suggest some excellent points about the productivity of tablets vs. laptops. The idea that kids see tablets as “fun” devices and computers as “work” is of central interest to me. I wonder if American adults were surveyed, if the majority would say that their iPad is a reading, web browsing and light gaming device, or instead, that it is primarily used for email, documents and professional software. I use mine for both. However, I find myself leaving it at home from time to time. Though tablets are both productive and mobile, they are also playgrounds of varying different activities and amusements. I soon learned, for example, that if I wanted to get any serious reading done, I had to bring my plain old Kindle on the go instead of using the Kindle app on iPad where I would constantly get distracted by email, text messages and game notifications. For getting “real” work done, my Mac has the software features and keyboard for getting it done faster. Of course, I have seen many examples of iPads used in the classroom where it seemed the teacher intended them to be used as a fun gimmick rather than a tool for engagement or productivity, but that is a criticism for another post.

The question I raise is: do we as educators have a responsibility towards teaching students to manage the distractions that come with the utility of modern technology? Or do we “edit” real life, making school less like the real world but one in which getting positive results out of children is more immediate? I am talking about editing the classroom in the same way, for example, elementary school children get in line to travel down the hall or band directors give donuts to the section who has 100 percent sectional attendance. I understand why Chromebooks are favored in the examples in The Atlantic. There is something organized and concrete about putting your device in “listening mode” where it has to be in an objectively fixed position and no distractions can get through. I get it, but if we are truly living in a post-PC world, do kids need to learn how to cope with the distractions of a tablet as much as they did the inconveniences of a PC years ago?

As for IT management, Chromebooks make total sense. While I have known Google devices to be far more frustrating to manage for IT departments due to their open source nature, when kids are using apps as basic as Google Docs, the cloud is the perfect place to work. The nature of Google apps, Docs in particular, is to function entirely on the web. There are no software hassles, disk space shortages, or any of these other traditional “computer-y” ideas. Apple has to step up here. They are catching up, but I still have to think a little too hard about what is happening to a document when I save it to the cloud on a Mac or iPad. Google’s simple approach is a huge asset for students to share work with teachers and making sure that there are fewer management problems on the student end.

Chromebooks have appeared useless to me due to their limitations, but it seems these limitations are an advantage with large numbers of students in the classroom. I am interested to see if there is continued iPad fallout in the coming years or instead, an establishment of how post-PC devices are valued in education.