May 18, 2024

The Big, Little Paradox

For decades, many schools gave old hand-me-down computers to their youngest students. The implicit logic  is that little kids don’t need the best computers. Today, many school districts provide iPads for its youngest students. Both practices are built on faulty logic.

Sure, the iPad is light, easy to use and has a good battery life, but of all the students in a school or district, younger children need the most computing power for speech, graphics and video.

Since most high schools steadfastly refuse to change in any way shape or form, note-taking, looking stuff up and word processing are about all one might expect computers are used for.

Therefore, wouldn’t it make more sense to give the less powerful computers to the older students in a school and the real computers to the little kids?

15 thoughts on “The Big, Little Paradox

  1. The answer obviously would be to give the best possible equipment to ALL students but with current funding problems that is an impossibility. Therefore, choices must be made. Unfortunately, your logic is based upon your opinion that high schools steadfastly refuse to change. If that turns out to be true then it won’t really matter in the end since our students will ultimately be given a second-rate education.

    Progressive middle schools and high schools have been using the power of video editing for years. Video editing requires as much computing power as possible. In fact, you can never get enough power for video editing.

    If we are just going to discount the upper grades as unwilling to change, then maybe your logic makes sense. Unfortunately, if we take this approach to edtech, then we have given up!

  2. I understand that you don’t like the iPad for a variety of reasons, but it’s a really poor example of this phenomena. I work at a school that currently uses iPads for JK-4 and MacBooks for 5-12, and “computing power” is almost never an issue. The iPad has plenty of “power” for anything it does – including video editing, photocomposition, or physics simulations. From the perspective of a elementary student creating content on their iPad, there’s no such thing as slow. When they use the device, everything feels “like it should.” We can discuss how Apple manages those expectations, or what’s been left off the table to create that sensation, but the iPad doesn’t present users with an underpowered experience.

    What the iPad excels at, from my experience and observation, is seamlessly transforming into the specific tool that students want in the moment. When kids shoot and edit movies on their iPad, the transition between camera and editing station is natural and instantaneous. When older students do the same thing with their Macbook, they’re constantly frustrated by the physical incongruity of trying to shoot with the low-res screen mounted webcam.

    Before this year, we had a 1-1 Macbook program for 5-12 and our younger grades were stuck sharing carts of dilapidated WinXP netbooks. Now THAT was a frustrating and underpowered computing experience!

  3. If it’s hackable, then it’s powerful. Which the iWhatever is not.

    But that’s just my opinion…as a constructivist. 🙂

  4. Peter-

    While I sympathize with that perspective, I don’t think that kind of “power” rating is nuanced enough for education. I’m on board with the Maker-critiques as well – if you can’t open it, you don’t own it – but recognize that classrooms, even constructivist classrooms, might not find that a sufficient criteria for usefulness.

    When trying to discuss anything related to iOS, I try to prepare myself for the arguments that would sway me and change my mind. I recognize that I use iPads in a very privileged space, and if I had to make decisions about a solo device to use in an unsupported environment, my concerns over the walled garden would be far greater. I don’t have a good alternative to Scratch on iOS. Many of my iOS solutions require significant external infrastructure, and really undermine the fraudulent “just add iPads” miracle narratives. I try to reject and debunk that popular delusion whenever possible, while still speaking about my own concrete, positive experience with iPAds in our classrooms.

    But it’s 2012, and in the last 2 years the capabilities, real “power” type capabilities, of the iPad have increased enormously. I’m comfortable using them in various Ed contexts both as they are now, and in anticipation of how they’ll develop over the next two years.

    Is there a threshold that you’ve identified that would make the iPad acceptable as an Ed-tool? Anything shy of the ability to wipe the internal storage and install an alternate OS?

  5. Gary

    See what you are trying to get at but can’t agree with your decrying of the iPad. Maybe applicable 12 months ago, but iPads such a fast changing technology that in more recent times has made incredible headway as a media (ie speech, video and audio) data collection, processing and publishing medium. Have seen fantastic use by teachers of young children creating powerful learning opportunities such as Chinese character writing and media blogging reflections and communications to list just two. As always the true value lies in teacher capacity and willingness and not powerful v less powerful machines as the over-riding issue. Always interested when technology as issue or solution crops up. Reminds me of Papert’s mid1980s thoughts on techncentrism.

  6. John,

    Why defend Apple’s arrogant ban on programming and the use of programs (other than theirs) that creates executable files.

    It is interesting to hear you justify the iPad in terms of Papert’s worldview when nothing Papert advocated for children, computers and learning are possible (at least currently) on the iPad. Blogging (short writing) and Chinese character writing could certainly be done with a pencil and paper.

    Let me know when you see Mathland on the iPad or something really good created by kids.

    Perhaps it’s just me (Apple stockholder and multiple iPad owner), but NOTHING I do with children is possible on the iPad.

    Have you given up on school mathematics or computer science for kids?

    I am scared of the future of educator being defined as classrooms and digital textbooks.



  7. Andrew,

    When I think of constructivism I don’t just think of learning by constructing. I think of constructing society. How can we construct a society that is free from tyranny? There are many angles to take here and one of them is to promote technology that is empowering…not just from a learner’s persepctive, but from a citizen’s perspective as well. This is why I favor devices that can be hacked and run software-libre.

    Of course, software and computing devices alone won’t make for a free society, but with their increasing use and our reliance upon them, I think they are a significant factor to consider.

  8. Gary
    I didn’t mention Apple. Bit surprised by your pre-occupation with the technology (could extend this to BYOD but best to leave for another day). Could run similar argument in the 80s when Windows (or before that when Apple reigned supreme). Can’t remember you being as interested in the Microsoft empire when MLC was basing their 1:1 on them.
    My examples were to show that technology can be used to enhance learning (be it pen & paper or tablet) and the Chinese example shows how using media to record process and aid reflective learning as the student constructs meaning can be a plus (in a similar way that Logo was seen in the 80s). Teacher opportunity and commitment to learning risk and connected reflection are key drivers in this.
    Problems in teacher learning and how learning is valued are much bigger issues than personal computing preference (although benefits of mobile over static well established – if you thought I was giving a free pass to IWBs)
    Enjoy the thinking op (and using your Jumping the Shark piece in something I’m working on)
    PS…as always looking to make use of constructivist coding approaches to learning but while school systems continue to value such experiences as optional at best teachers will adjust their values accordingly.

  9. John,

    Why the hostility, especially over a stupid piece of hardware?

    I’ve used Apple computers since 1983. When MLC went 1:1, the only laptops ran DOS.

    They would do a better job of supporting my constructionist computationally-rich practice than the iPad next to me.

    Perhaps some of your teachers should come to! Computing abounds! At last weekend’s Makerfaire 100,000 kids and adults were making things with technology of all sorts. iPads were barely relevant.

    Thanks for your kind words about my article. I imagine my Dumbjng Down article will make your head explode!

    By the way, my values don’t change.

    Gotta fly 14 hours now….


  10. Appreciate the tete-et-tete
    Helps when dealing with conversations of 1:1
    By the way, agree laptop still better than iPad for 1:1 because of its constructing knowledge advantage but while value (ie philosophy) mightn’t change always need to be open to new technology learning opportunities
    Happy 14 hours

Comments are closed.