At the end of a conversation the other day, the topic turned to technologies in schools. I was asked what I thought about the iPad in schools, and as I thought it through, I saw both pluses and minuses.
Let me, of course, make this generic to tablets and PDAs. And not smartphones, as there are problems with phones in schools that I don’t want to get into. Having a wifi PDA (e.g. iPod Touch) is good enough for the issues at hand.
Now, many years ago Elliott Soloway decided that the form-factor of a laptop was not appropriate for kids, and created what ended up being the GoKnow suite of PDA apps. Back then he was working on Palm devices and then Windows PDAs. I think he had that right.
However, now that there are tablets, I think they have advantages for schools too. They’re not too big (by and large), and are better for both content consumption and creation than laptops or even netbooks (though an additional keyboard might be handy).
As I thought more about it, I’d like the tablet in class (and maybe at home), but I’d like a PDA when kids hit the road. Elliot had sensor-equipped PDAs being used to collect river pH measurements. There a host of reasons to get kids out gathering data and working on projects, including problem-based and service-learning type projects. Having the devices available for accessing answers to questions when on field trips or taking notes also makes sense.
You can have these as separate devices, synching them into a common database, but I was reminded of an early proposal for a processor ‘block’ that could plug into a variety of devices, and your files would remain on the ‘block’. You could do it with a U3 system, I suppose, but I really want that processor with it for consistency of OS, etc. For example, running an OS (WebOS, iOS, Android, etc) on a PDA (w/ camera, etc), and then the PDA could be plugged into a tablet and the tablet would take over as the I/O channel. Some may not get it, but I think it’s preferable to having to sync two devices.
This, I think, would provide the portability for field moves with screen real estate for creation and communication. Of course the device would be equipped with a camera, microphone, wifi, bluetooth, etc, and a suite of software, but I really think that one platform isn’t enough, and two is too many, and a PDA is too small for creation and consumption and a tablet too small for fieldwork, so what you want is a hybrid hardware platform. Could there be a happy medium, perhaps, but I’m not sold. What do you think?