Wednesday, June 30, 2010

iPad and Science Education

The noise over the iPad is deafening.  Steve Jobs and Apple have really created a huge stir and executed a major marketing coup.  However, what is there behind all of the hoopla for science education in ordinary classrooms?

Take the iPad apart one feature at a time.

Price: At $499 for the minimum configuration, it's more costly than some laptops and many netbooks.  Yet, it delivers less performance.

User Interface: You have to love the user interface, which blows away the others for many applications.  On the other hand, the screen keyboard won't be good for extensive typing, the kind that many teachers assign to their students.

Ports: The few ports make it harder to use this platform with the popular probeware.  I'm sure that Jobs & Co. did not plan the iPad for use in school science labs.  My personal opinion, backed up by some studies, is that probeware gets in the way of learning science by focusing on procedure and automating data collection.  Although many like this approach, I think that it's exactly backward.  You should automate the procedure and focus on data collection and analysis.

 Software Support: The iPad does not support either Flash or Java.  While I have little use for Flash, which infects too many web sites with annoying animations, many educators have found use for Flash animations that help explain difficult science concepts and provide quality visualizations for students.  These students won't be able to view them on their iPads.

The situation with Java really bothers me.  Java provides much more capability than Flash with its limited Actionscript scripting language.  You can find some excellent science learning software written in Java because of its multi-platform capability and the fact that you can write serious software with it.  One example, of course, is my own Smart Science® education system.

Interaction with Screen: For data collection from the screen, you might think that liberation from the mouse would be a good thing.  However, the finger tip has two serious problems as a data collection device.  It's big compared to the pixels on the screen.  You cannot position your fingertip to within a pixel.  Then, even if you could, your finger is opaque.  You cannot see where you're pointing.

Although the touchscreen on the iPad is wonderful for doing many things and for a gesture interface, it fails completely when you try to collect data by pointing at a specific pixel.

The bottom line here goes something like this:  The iPad is a wonderful technological advance but is not ready for mainstream science classrooms.  It costs too much for what it brings to those classes and lacks some really important features.

I do believe that someday, maybe sooner that we expect, tablet computers will be found in the hands of every student in many of our K-12 classes.  The things that will be done in support of learning will be truly extraordinary.  It's not the little red schoolhouse anymore.  And this learning will be available regardless of economic circumstance.  No longer will too many of our young people be denied a great education based on where they are growing up.

© 2010 by Paracomp, Inc., U.S.A.
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