At ISTE last week I was asked by a representative of a development firm, “Is it important that our curriculum products work on iPads?” I replied: “Only if you want schools to buy your products.” Like most flip answers, even correct flip answers, that one calls for some elaboration.
First, let’s stipulate that the iPad has been one of the most brilliantly successful new products since the cheese pizza. Despite cost and relative fragility, schools are buying them at a rate that’s even more amazing considering that Apple originally didn’t even offer special school pricing, and that they were introduced into the teeth of the worst educational funding slowdown in recent memory. I mentioned in my last blog entry one district from a western state that’s seriously strapped for funds – except their Title I concentration school had lots of money (which of course couldn’t be shared with the rest of the district), so they bought…iPads for every student.
Like any hot tech adoption, schools are not always sure what they’ll do with the iPads once they get them, but they know they want them. And there are reasons to want them that at least make theoretical sense: increasing student engagement, accommodating the expectations for technology this generation of kids already come to school with, finally providing a 1:1 experience so materials can be customized, saving money on print materials…
A lot of these reasons are used as future justifications for a present purchase. They can also be present justification for avoiding anything that might screw up a future purchase. Hence my answer to my developer friend. Whatever schools adopt right now, they want to know it won’t blow up when/if they try to run it on iPads. And/or Android or Windows 8 tablets when they become a factor. “Platform neutral” is the goal to work toward. Painful, but not too different from the situation educational software people have always been in – we’ve always had to support whatever hardware the school had to run our stuff on, whether it was Windows 97 or Apple IIe.
But does that mean everything will really switch to tablets any time soon? Not on your tintype. My friend Lee Wilson just applied his usual keen analysis to the iPad adoption question, in a blog entry entitled Classroom Tablets Crossing The Chasm. He points out: a) at most, 2.5% of kids in public schools have iPads, and it will be a long time before it’s anywhere near a majority; b) iPad content doesn’t exist to do nearly everything teachers need to do, and c) even in 1:1 iPad schools, kids often don’t have access to the devices with nearly enough flexibility for them to serve as the students’ only portal to textbooks or other instructional content.
So for the foreseeable future (a phrase that Strunk & White abhor with good reason) – digital content better be iPad compatible, but overall instructional content better be accessible in other ways too. Such as ordinary computers, the web, and the extraordinary, renewable technology that originally made mass public education possible.
Sophia Consulting LLC