Jul 20, 2013
I am increasingly convinced that the defining experience of the 21st Century is getting steamrolled by blithe inculcations of "the future". We see them everywhere; in product announcements, at trade shows and conferences, and too often (sadly) in the edtech world as an excuse to purchase our favorite toy, to choose simple over powerful, and generally spend twice as much to get half as much.

I (somewhat) recently found myself drawn into this conversation through a post by Miguel Guhlin (who I greatly admire) entitled Only Human - #Ubermix = Yesterday's Solution? In it, Miguel suggests that it's too late for Linux (and laptops, really), extolls the virtues of the iPad, and suggests the overall inevitability of tablets ruling the world, based on well-reasoned observations and personal experience. To be fair, the post reflected something of a thought exercise on inertia overcoming right and exposed Miguel's own frustrations with the negative implications of our new, app-centric world. What it lacked, however, was broad reflection and a longer view of technology choices and their implications.

Miguel did me the great honor of posting my response as a guest post on his blog, but I also wanted to post it here (with slight edits and the addition of links), on the off chance that readers might not subscribe to his (which you really should).


Hey Miguel, thanks for your thoughts. 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the netbook front, while the category "netbook" as it is understood to mean a 10" laptop may be dead, they have simply been replaced by more powerful and slightly larger 11.6 inch notebooks at the same price points (See Acer V5, Asus X201E, etc.)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 beautifully 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, as K-12 computer science education 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.


For more thoughts on this, see my other post: Why ubermix? on the ubermix blog.

Photo credit: clydeorama via Compfight cc


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