I bought a couple of iPads last weekend. I’ve already shared with colleagues how although I think it will be wildly successful in K-12 for all of the wrong reasons*, I’d buy one anyway because:

1.    I like new gadgets
2.    I like Apple products (since 1985 – prior to that I preferred Commodore)
3.    It’s my job to keep up with emerging technology
4.    My best friend has one
5.    I’m an adult with disposable income

I didn’t wait for the 3G model because I don’t want yet another stinkin’ AT&T bill. Had they come up with a fair plan for multiple devices, I would have jumped at it. I won’t even complain about 3G costing an extra $130 making the 64gb iPad the same price as a MacBook.

I harbored no illusions that the iPad would change my life like my laptop, iPhone or even iPod have done. Yes, the iPad is beautiful. Yes, the battery life is great. Yes, I feel less neurotic about losing or breaking it, as I do with my laptop. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with the iPad.

Go ahead. Call me an old codger, but I’ve been around eBooks/interactive books since the late 1980s. I still own a bunch of the groundbreaking Voyager Expanded Books. The Society of Mind, MacBeth, Who Built America?, The Rite of Spring, Poetry in Motion, Beethoven’s Ninth and Dazzeloids represent few of the examples of true commercial digital art ever created. It’s hard to think of any digital media that is better since those Voyager titles from nearly twenty years ago.

In 1991-92, I led countless workshops for educators on how to create their own interactive books using the Voyager Expanded Book Toolkit. Digital books would soon be widespread, right?

That said, I did not buy a Kindle because the design is ugly and I expected Apple to produce something better, an iPad perhaps? I love books. My house is filled with them. Had Amazon offered me the option of paying $2 extra and getting a digital copy of the physical book I ordered, I would have bought a Kindle. I recognize the value of carrying lots of books around in one device and the power of personal digital annotation. Whispernet is brilliant too. Anyone can use it, anywhere.

So, now I own an iPad. Oh, how I would love to use it as my primary way to read, but alas – not so fast!

Here are some of the reasons why Apple iBooks currently disappoint. I hope they get better quickly.

Steve Jobs is contemptuous of print

Mr. Jobs can be like that when he assesses the competition.

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.” (1/15/08)

Further evidence of Jobs’ contempt for print is the fact that iPad owners have to wait for their iPad to ask them, “Would you like to download iBooks?” before the application is on the device. Why doesn’t the iBooks app come pre-installed?

I won’t even raise the specter of Jobs banning books from the iBooks Store because he disagrees with the content as he has done in the physical Apple Stores.

The iBooks catalog is pathetic
Although I hope that every book ever written will soon be available for download, the Apple iBooks store doesn’t even have relatively popular recent publications in it.

I know that I can (and did) download the Kindle App for iPad, but I didn’t buy an iPad to get a Kindle. Switching between two different book readers is a drag. Sheesh!

I eagerly await word from Apple that they are just as serious about publishing books for the iPad as they were in encoding YouTube videos for the iPhone.

Jobs must know how craptacular the iBooks Store is or otherwise he would have given Amazon the “Adobe-treatment” and forbidden a Kindle app for iPad.

Jobs hates Amazon.com so much that he’s letting publishers punish us
One of Steve Job’s greatest accomplishments was getting tough with the music and video companies and forcing them to charge a fair price for audio and video via iTunes. He single-handedly broke the cartel that was raising CD and DVD prices to absurd levels.

So, what’s the first thing Jobs does regarding written content? He tells publishers to go ahead and charge anything they want, not just the reasonable $9.99 per book pricing instituted by Amazon.

iBooks cannot be annotated
I hope this obvious omission will be rectified soon via a software update.  Surely, Apple would like to offer functionality customers came to expect from Hypercard 20+ years ago.

There are no magazines for subscription in the iBooks store
Surely, Apple knows that this is a potentially fertile revenue stream. I’d love to save some trees.

Amazon’s Kindle Store offers too few magazine currently. That’s still better than zero magazines available  from iBooks.

Are the books I purchased backed-up in the cloud?
Unless I’ve missed it, Apple has not indicated where my purchased books reside in case something goes awry with my iPad.

Why can’t I subscribe to a podcast on my iPad?
For a super-dooper mobile media device, I would expect that I could download audio and video podcasts directly to my iPad without requiring syncing with my laptop. Why can’t I do so? Shouldn’t the iPad make me less dependent on an old-school computer?

One more funny iPad observation… Apple is a company famous for protecting its intellectual property. Therefore, it seems peculiar that iTunes automatically copies my iPhone apps for use on my iPad as well. I know that I MAY have the legal right to maintain the software of two computers as long as I’m only using it on one, but how did Apple miss the opportunity to make me buy the same software twice?

Recommended reading: Ken Auletta’s 4/26/10 New Yorker article, Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?


* I will write an article on why the iPad is a bad choice for K-12 education at a later time.


Come to CMK 2010!

After years of avoiding the whole sordid mess, I’ve gone an done it. I am officially on the FaceBook.

I apologize for waiting so long to announce this to the world. I’ve been way too busy friending people who beat me up in high school.

Now I have an entirely new venue in which to waste time.

teacheroftheyearAmidst the hoopla surrounding the silly tradition of naming a national “Teacher of the Year,” the President of the United States and Council of Chief State School Officers made major policy news by endorsing the unblocking of Internet access in American classrooms – all in pursuit of educational excellence!

A high school English teacher from Iowa who incorporates everything from singing to Facebook in her lessons has been recognized by President Barack Obama as the nation’s top teacher.

Obama introduced Sarah Brown Wessling on Thursday in a ceremony in the Rose Garden.

“Her students don’t just write five-paragraph essays, but they write songs, public service announcements, film story boards, even grant proposals for their own not-for-profit organizations,” the president said, adding that one of Wessling’s students reported that learning in her classroom was never boring.

“I’m not sure I could have said that when I was in school,” said Obama. (original article)

…The Council of Chief State School Officers selects the recipient of the annual honor and cited Wessling’s passion and innovative approaches, including incorporating Facebook in her classes.

So, congratulations are in order for Ms. Wessling and for every teacher in America who can now go tell their school “network nazis” that the President of the United States wants them to stop blocking the Web. Blocking Facebook and other web sites is unpatriotic!

Thank you, Mr. President!


Come to CMK 2010!

Register for Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010 by May 1st and save save $75!

Take advantage of the Lifelong Learner Package by registering Constructing Modern Knowledge and receive free registration to the June 27th Constructivist Celebration – all for just $575. That’s five days of professional learning for only $575.

National Public Radio’s terrific talk show, Talk of the Nation, interviewed US Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning and sent out a tweet asking for questions worth posing to the Secretary. I immediately tweeted back a barrage of questions and the host asked a paraphrased version of one the most innocuous questions I submitted.

If goal is raising opportunities & achievement for all kids, isn’t RACE for the top an unfortunate metaphor? (1 winner, many losers)

Engaging in critical debates about Federal education policy in 140 characters is a challenge, but not impossible.

The following are the other questions I “tweeted” to Secretary Arne Duncan (in reverse chronological order) via NPR’s TOTN:

How would Sect. Duncan to respond to the report card given him – A for efficacy and D for policy?

Isn’t firing all of the teachers and charterizing public schools a right-wing utopian fantasy?

Where does Sect. Duncan think the magical teachers & perfect schools will come from after he fires teachers and closes pub schools?

Did you ask Duncan what he thinks of Diane Ravitch’s research disproving the basic assumptions of Obama education policies?

Given the Gates Foundation’s expensive school reform failures, why do they have so much influence within the Dept. of Education?

If you’re a parent in Harlem, should be concerned that nearly all of the local public schools have been turned into boutique charters?

Why should public school facilities be surrendered to private charter school operators?

Which is true: a) The Chicago Public Schools are a mess & failing children b) We should trust Sect. Duncan to do the same for America?

Should Americans be alarmed that most major city districts and the Dept. of Ed are now run by unqualified non-educators?

If goal is raising opportunities & achievement for all kids, isn’t RACE for the top an unfortunate metaphor? (1 winner, many losers)

Why has a “Labor” administration worked so hard to bust the teacher unions across the nation?

Earlier today, I enjoyed the great privilege of sharing the stage at the Australian Conference on Computers in Education with two of my favorite educators, Geoff Powell of St. Hilda’s School on the Gold Coast of Queensland and Steve Costa of Methodist Ladies’ College, Kew. The following is a tribute to Steve Costa, a truly gentle man with a wicked jump shot and the gratitude of the countless young people he has inspired for decades.

mlc-costa-640Stephen Costa, Deputy Head of the Methodist Ladies’ College Junior School may be the most important and overlooked educator in the world today. Steve emigrated to Australia from the United Stated in 1974 during a period in which the nation was recruiting young teachers. He fell in love with the woman he would marry and with Australia – in those days requiring him to surrender his U.S. citizenship. By 1981, Steve was teaching primary school girls at MLC to use computers. Around that time he read Seymour Papert’s, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, and became inspired to teach his students to program in Logo.

A little known milestone in the history of educational computing is that Steve Costa began teaching an entire class of year five girls each with a personal laptop computer in 1989. He is Patient Zero when it comes to the use of laptops in education. If you are an educator anywhere in the world – from Manhattan to Melbourne to Mumbai teaching in a 1:1 setting or contemplating the eventuality of truly personal computing, you owe a debt of gratitude to Melbourne’s own, Mr. Costa.

It is not often that you have the privilege of knowing “the person who started it all,” but Steve Costa is not an artifact found in a museum, he continues to teach kids and his colleagues every day of the school year TWENTY-ONE YEARS after he embraced laptops as an integral part of the learning process. Steve Costa has been teaching with a laptop per child for more than a generation.

When I first met Steve in 1990, I was impressed by his energy, curiosity, dazzling teaching skills, calm demeanor and love of children. He was always willing to “have a go” and try any crazy idea I might throw at him and “his girls.” He has been invaluable to me as a colleague who could inject a dose of classroom reality into a scenario without ever using such current “reality” as an excuse for not trying to do better – to push the envelope. Steve is unafraid to learn alongside students allowing them to lean about learning by his example. Anytime you want someone smart for a panel discussion or extremely competent in a workshop setting, Steve tops my list.

Countless, perhaps thousands of educators have visited Steve’s classroom over the past twenty years, become inspired and gone back to make their schools better. Steve Costa should be famous. He should be traveling the world hailed as the father of 1:1 computing. He should be running the national education system, but instead Steve Costa does the hardest, most important work of all. He teaches children every day.

David Loader gets much of the deserved credit for pioneering 1:1 computing in schools, but that effort at MLC would be a long-forgotten experiment if it were not part of the daily excellence displayed by Steve Costa. Steve Costa’s contribution to modern education and computers in education puts him on a par with Seymour Papert, Alan Kay and David Loader.

At an edtech conference such as ACEC, it is worth noting that unlike so many ICT professionals whose curriculum is technocentrically focused on the hot new toy or latest fad, Steve Costa still teaches children to program in Logo (MicroWorlds). He does so because it affords learners countless opportunities for self-expression, problem solving, debugging and to think about thinking. Too many educators succumb to peer pressure and abandon “hard fun” or sound educational practices as the spotlight shifts. Steve is not one of them. He continues to learn, grow and develop his own personal computing fluency while embracing new technologies that increase learning opportunities for young people. He is not only a master teacher, but a master learner as well – unafraid of technological advances that amplify human potential.

There is no honor sufficient for my friend Steve. One would think that a grateful nation engaged in a “digital education revolution” would put its original revolutionary, Steve Costa, on a postage stamp. They would do so if they loved their children (and their children’s teachers) half as much as Steve cares for the children in his care.

Steve Costa led a silent revolution that changed the world the year Milli Vanilli topped the charts and continues to lead every day. Since the education community tends to be short on memory, we need to learn from Steve Costa today and honor his contributions for many years to come.


Memo to ISTE: I realize that Steve’s proposal to share wisdom gained over 20 years of teaching in 1:1 environments was rejected for the NECC 2009 program. Perhaps that was an oversight. Isn’t it about time you featured Mr. Costa at your annual conference and in your publications?