Two of the most popular sessions at EdcampMN this year were on iPads: iPads in Primary and iPads in Intermediate. iPads have also been a dominating force at nearly every conference I have attended or followed this past year. A lot of this has been driven by Apple’s aggressive marketing and leasing programs for schools. At least ten districts I know of in Minnesota will be going full-on 1:1 k-12 with iPads across the whole district. Many other schools are doing smaller iPad integration programs (one school, one grade level, one subject area, etc.).
These tablet devices are great and have captivated the attention of a lot of people but I can’t help but wonder if it is the best choice. Marshal McLuhan tells us that in the electronic age the “media is the message.” By that he means that it is not so important what the content of the media is but the effect the media has on us and our social environment. He also classifies media as having either “hot” or “cold” qualities. A “cold” media is one that relies on the user for the content. The telephone is a cold media because the content is completely controlled by the user. Conversely radio, newspaper, and television are “hot” media in that the user has little control but is greatly affected by the media. Under this definition, compared with the desktop or laptop the iPad is a relatively “hot” media.
iOS devices are largely consumer-oriented and closed systems. You cannot program an app for the iPad on the iPad. Plus, a lot of what I hear schools list as reasons for iPad adoption involve content-heavy rhetoric surrounding content delivery rather than content creation. At the same time there seems to be a decline in teaching computer programming in schools. Last month at the ISTE conference in San Diego, the largest education technology conference in the world, there was only one poster session (and not one breakout session or featured session) devoted to engaging students with programming and that session was geared toward teaching kids how to make their own mobile apps.
So, if the “medium is the message,” what is the message that the iPad brings? Is there anything we should stop and consider about its adoption?