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Why Cory Doctorow Is Wrong About the iPad
April 5, 2010 - 9:54pm

Fair warning - Cory Doctorow is much smarter than I am - so you'd probably want to side with him over me.

I say, heck yes to the iPad. This is a big deal for higher ed. The iPad programs at Seton Hill and George Fox should be celebrated, if not copied. And the iPad Blackboard app looks pretty cool.

Thank you to JUN1U5 (great name), for the comment on the IHE iPad article that linked to the Doctorow piece "Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either)."

Doctorow's 4 reasons for not buying an iPad are:

-Incumbents Make Bad Revolutionaries: The example is a comic book app, where an iPad app takes away the pleasure of sharing, loaning, and borrowing.

-Infantalizing Hardware: Doctorow hates that the iPad is sealed shut and cannot be updated by the owner.

-Wal-Martization of the Software Channel: Vendor lock-in for software purchases, as Apple controls the app store.

-Journalism is Looking for a Daddy Figure: To quote Doctorow, "..even a stellar iPad sales performance isn't going to do much to stanch the bleeding from traditional publishing".

-Gadgets Come and Gadgets Go: Again, to quote Doctorow, "The real issue isn't the capabilities of the piece of plastic you unwrap today, but the technical and social infrastructure that accompanies it."

Like I said, Doctorow is a smart cookie, and we would be wise in higher ed to listen.

But I think we would be foolish to miss this opportunity to get our educational apps and our learning content in front of our students.

Perhaps I see the iPad as a great platform to deliver e-learning content because I consume so much media on my iTouch. Videos from Netflix - check. The NYTimes - check. IHE - check. E-mail - check. Podcasts - check. TED Talks - check. Audiboooks - check. My ability to consume media is all wrapped up in the ability of my media player to be with me when I get a spare moment. My life is not compatible with consuming media at long stretches at a time. I don't plop down in front of the tube - I don't have the time. Life is too busy communicating, collaborating, producing, and sharing. Consumption is fractured, short, episodic, unpredictable, and irregular.

How often does a typical college student stay sit in one place, without distractions, and focus on one thing? I hope this occurs at least a few hours each week to read books, and maybe write papers. But all the other times a student's ability to consume course content is probably as episodic and fractured as mine (and yours). A device like the iPad, one that is portable and offers a great viewing and reading experience, may encourage our students to spend more time with our course related readings, media, and captured lectures. A device like the iPad may allow us to integrate formative (computer graded, low-stakes) assessments with the course content, allowing for better consolidation and retention.

The iPad and higher ed is the sort of case where there are no right answers, only experiments and opportunities. Given a choice between allocating resources for a whole class to have iPads and spending the money on people, (learning designers, librarians, developers etc.) to partner with faculty on using existing learning technologies, I'd choose the people any day. But I'm excited that Blackboard has an app, and I'm excited that Seton Hill and George Fox are running their experiments. We should all be finding ways to experiment with the iPad for learning at our institutions.


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