Too many layers


Continuing on from my previous post about the iPad  (and its shortfalls), I’ve been thinking about it from another perspective i.e. an educational one (suprising eh?).

The latest buzz in education for the last couple of years has been netbooks moreso than mobile phones , which in the majority of cases are still too clunky and lack sufficient screen estate to make them useful for lessons. However if we look to institutions like ACU (who’s connected program was the first to give students iPhones and iPod touches for educational benefit both in and out of class), we can see that that a device such as an iPhone lends itself well to aiding teaching and learning.

Why does the iPhone  succeed where other mobile learning projects have failed? Because its intuitive This is so often overlooked when it comes to e-learning tools,  first impressions count, if users (and I’m containing teachers and students within this term) can’t make something work, they’ll drop it and move on.

I’ve tested this myself, give the iPhone to someone who hasn’t used it before and they will know how to use it, as the majority of the controls make sense.

So why has education been so interested in netbooks? They’re certainly attractive:

  • Small form factor
  • cheap
  • sufficient performance for web and document writing tasks

I am a netbook owner ( for just under two years now), its  far better than the Toshiba Satellite A50 it replaced. That is not to say its not without flaws.  It’s battery doesn’t last long enough and the screen resolution is annoying, seriously who thought 1024 x 600 would be a good idea? I wouldn’t even classify myself as a power user, all I do on mine is surf the net and download stuff and yet it’s grunt is rarely sufficient for even that, if you are surfing a website/forum with many images or embedded videos you soon start to experience slow down.

But you can see the benefits, a £200 netbook that can act as an resource locator for lessons is far better than investing £400 in a laptop to do the same thing.

So if we agree that netbooks are great in concept, but flawed in execution why are we giving them to our students? Surely we want to give our students the devices that will enable them to excel?

Because there wasn’t anything better at the time

But I don’t think that this is the case, I now spend probably equal amounts of time at home surfing the net on my iPhone as I do my netbook (that in itself is a major milestone that a mobile device can even compete) and for pure passive information gathering, something like an iPhone is hard to beat.

The main reason I feel the netbooks suffer is that the os (be it Linux or Windows) offers too much functionality. For a device sold and marketed on the principle of giving you quick and easy access to the internet on the go,  netbooks don’t really achieve that with any great level of success. A Windows XP install will probably take 1-2gb at a minimum and I would happily say that you could probably do without a lot of it. All that functionality bogs the machine down and makes it harder to achieve its core goal surfing the internet. So it stands to reason that the iPad will probably overtake my netbook as my surfing device of choice because it will do exactly what I need of it, with no bloat, no fuss and no mess.

That’s not to say its perfect (far from it), for students the lack of flash (and thus removing access to the range of e-learning tools & services based on it) and the ability to easily create and store documents (unless file structures etc.. are revealed later on) are thorny issues but I can see that young students will be able to interface better with an interface with a touch screen than a mouse (point and click vs touch).

Regardless of your thoughts on the iPad I think it’s perfect for education as its cheap (relatively), secure, quick to boot and has a decent battery life. It’s ease of use (going on the iPhone interface) means that teachers will spend less time training students  on how to use the device and more time using it to support and enhance learning and that’s got to be a good thing right?

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