Classrooms, Technology and The All Mighty Dollar.

This topic has been bouncing around in my noggin for some time and it was the recent announcement from Apple that help to bring it all to a point. What recent announcement you ask? Well if you are in education and you happened to miss the big news here is a small excerpt, courtesy of the NYTimes Bits Blog:

Apple wants students to stop lugging around backpacks full of heavy textbooks and to switch to the iPad instead.

Now I’m an Apple fan just as much as the next guy. And one has to admit that the iPad, regardless of version, is a beautiful piece of hardware.  All that being said however does it really make sense for schools to put out the $400+ per iPad for each student in lieu of buying a textbook? Sure over time it would eventually pay for itself, but that pill is a mighty tough one to swallow even at a steep discount schools may get.

More from the NYTimes article:

On Thursday the company introduced three free pieces of software revolving around education. It released iBooks 2, a new version of its electronic bookstore, where students can now download textbooks; iBooks Author, a Macintosh program for creating textbooks and other books; and iTunes U, an app for instructors to create digital curriculums and share course materials with students.

Digital textbooks made for iBooks can display interactive diagrams, audio and video. The iBooks Author app includes templates made by Apple, which publishers and authors can customize to suit their content.

But wait can’t the iPad do much more than just provide an alternative to traditional textbooks? Sure, there’s access to the web and don’t forget Angry Birds! I completely recognize the challenge that traditional textbooks pose; they’re heavy, susceptible to wear and tear, and are all but out of date the day the come off the press. Oh yeah, and expensive as compared to their eBook counterpart. Well haven’t eBooks and eReaders been around for years? There are seemingly more eReaders becoming available every day it seems, many coming down in price to below $99.

I recently came across this special offer direct from Barnes and Noble:

Get NOOK Simple Touch FREE w/ a 1-Year Subscription to NY Times at $19.99/month

Now I’m not advocating that every student in the United States sign up for a subscription in the NY Times for a year (as much as I’m sure the NY Times would love that) but rather wanting to point out that very capable eReaders are readily available that would serve students quite well to simply replace books. Would it replace every type of book? Probably not. Would it serve every whim that a student may want to use the device for, such as playing Angry Birds? Probably not. But what it could easily do is provide an extremely cost effective alternative to many traditional books. Books in the library, books in the classroom, and probably the vast majority of text books. And at the lower price point they could be used as a gradual approach to this new technology in the classroom rather than a large-scale investment that would come with the iPads.

When schools are struggling to accomplish such simple tasks as keeping schools open due to budget cuts or providing adequate transportation it just doesn’t seem to make sense that the typical school could justify an investment such as the latest with the new iPad and iTunesU. Perhaps in a few years should the price come down? But by then the existing eReaders will be even more cost effective.

As I say, I’m truly a fan of Apple and the iPad is a remarkable device. I just can’t see it makes sense financially for it to become a central part of the classroom. That’s all.

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About Jason Fabbri

Jason is a software engineer, father of 3 boys and avid builder of wacky things. When he's not conceiving one one crazy idea or another he can be found wrenching on a vintage motorcycle.
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