Monday, 24 September 2012

Padding on

Well, I've had the iPad for just over a week now, and thought I'd give a quick update on how well it's going- or not, as the case may be. And, in the ongoing spirit of being prepared to be disabused of any negative notions regarding all products Apple, I'm typing this on the iPad's keyboard.
To start with, I'm still impressed by the speed of the thing- it really is wonderfully responsive. I love how it renders pictures and documents- but this is all old hat. I can also see how it is extremely useful for carrying round large numbers of documents that you may need to access. Even the onscreen keyboard is pretty responsive- I'm managing to type this at almost normal typing speed, despite having to switch between keyboards.
What doesn't impress me is the fact that editing and text design are very cumbersome or nigh on impossible. I can edit a google doc in Cloudon, but the editing is done using a Word skin, and if I open the same document on the PC, I can't edit it straight away. This is annoying
, to put it mildly. I've also been trying out the video and audio capabilities of this thing, wondering whether they be good for embedding in our blended learning vile or as podcasts, only to run into the problem of Proprietory Formats. Why can't they be in .MP3 or .avi, or similar? Apple want us to share everything ( that's why it makes everything so easy to share), but only as long as everything is shared in the Apple Universe, rather than across universal formats. I'm also, being of a slightly older generation, somewhat wary of sharing my documents of dumping them in The Cloud- somehow it doesn't feel secure enough.
Anyway, back to more bread-and - butter issues -how useful is the iPad in class?
Answer so far - still Not A Lot. I can see direct uses in very small classes ( by which I mean one to one, or three or four students at most); I also think it has wonderful specialist applications for very young, very old, or infirm learners, or ones with Special Needs. I also used it with my five-year-old to practise writing the letters of the alphabet and simple spellings. Trawling the net for blogs and videos has proven rather uninspiring. Besides the tedious repetition, I end up coming across phrases such as, ' distribute your iPads evenly round the class....' Er, hello? Which planet do you live on? iPads? In an ESOL class? The only way that is going to happen is if the things get cheaper. A lot cheaper.
Yes, I can show videos by attaching it to a projector. Yes, I can store all my listening exercises on it, yes, I can project pages of work ya dah ya dah blah blah blah. But I can already do this anyway, and more importantly I can actually work with the materials rather than just gawp at them.
And that is my biggest bone of contention: this is mainly a device for consumption, not creation. It might be good for receptive skills in a limited way, but I really don't see how it is that much good for productive ones. In fact, I have my doubts about how efficacious it is for reading and listening. I get the feeling that the iPad is great for giving the illusion of permanence- a student might think that just because their learning is taking place on a nice shiny tablet, they are learning well, when in fact the opposite may be true - in fact, they are retaining less.
 There was a piece of research a year or two ago that suggested making students learn from a blackboard factually made them learn better, especially if the teacher had scruffy handwriting. The speculation was that the visual 'roughness' made the brain work harder at deciphering what was written, and therefore the learner ended up retaining information better. When you look at an iPad, or indeed any other tablet, everything is wonderfully glossy. I'm worried it's all so well- varnished that anything presented on it wil, end up slipping off the learner's brain entirely.

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