All That Glitters

When Apple first released the iPad, my friends and I discussed it extensively. We were intrigued by its possibilities, and it sounded fun. We wondered, though, just what its purpose was. It wasn’t quite a computer, but it had powers far beyond that of a gaming device or e-reader. It had no keyboard, and yet it was talked about as capable of serious work. In short, it did not fill a niche in the market. It created one.

Therein lies the problem.

It was perfectly reasonable for Nightingale to establish a pilot program for the iPad. Many other schools are exploring its use, and there is incredible buzz about its potential to enhance education. Nightingale, for its part, has been laudably cautious and diligent in its approach to the iPad. Rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon with little thought for the ultimate usefulness of the devices or their ideal implementation, the school proceeded slowly. A task force investigated the iPad’s possibilities as an educational tool, and a pilot program was established with teachers before any students were given iPads. But the rationality of this exploration notwithstanding, my experience with the student pilot tells me that the iPad is essentially pointless.

It’s not useless. I did not have an iPad prior to the pilot program, but as an AP Biology student, I have been able to appreciate its note-taking abilities. I can type up my notes if I so choose or even make an audio recording of the class.

Just because the iPad has a use, though, doesn’t mean it has a real purpose or value. Created without any real need to fill in mind, it’s an essentially redundant tool. If I preferred to type my notes, I would already be bringing a laptop to school. Some might object that one can draw on an iPad. iPads may win that particular battle against computers any day, but they’re soundly beaten by actual drawing. It’s far easier to copy down diagrams with pencil and pen than to painstakingly draw similar sketches with a stylus using the iPad’s finicky mechanisms.

This redundancy crops up nearly everywhere you look when dealing with the iPad. Worse yet, sometimes the device’s idiosyncrasies even make it entirely useless without a secondary mechanism. When I realized I would have both a digital and physical copy of my textbook, I thought that having both simultaneously would be a waste of money. I soon learned, however, that it was impossible to function in only the paper world or the digital one. iPads have a frustrating inability to display more than one application at a time, although such a function is simple for computers and thus something I’ve come to take for granted. This means that if I want to take notes on the textbook, for example, I can’t handle it on my iPad, even though it has both my textbook and a note-taking app. The single-application display leaves me no choice but to messily combine paper and iPad.

These are admittedly rather technical objections. And not all of the iPad’s functions are such a headache. The device does have its merits in the world of school. But its benefits are minor. The iPad can streamline things we were already able to do, and it can make it simpler to find or use things that we were already capable of accessing, but I have yet to see it do anything really revolutionary or that would make it indisputably worthy of widespread adoption.

Furthermore, its drawbacks are significant, distraction first and foremost among them. I used to roll my eyes in slightly superior exasperation at students whom I observed using their laptops to check Facebook or chat with friends during class. While I still steer clear of Facebook, I’ve given in to the iPad’s constant temptation. The iPad makes it easy to check my email. That’s great, since I don’t have an iPhone and deal with many emails each day. But it’s also easy to check my email during class, and I find myself doing so regularly. Outside of class, it’s worse. Easy access to all sorts of distractions is literally at my fingertips. While this could also be said of computers, the phenomenon is a greater problem for the iPad. It was designed as a leisure device with great possibilities for business and schoolwork rather than a device for doing serious work that became entertaining, and so it offers more opportunities for distraction and presents them more often.

Distraction manifests itself in more direct ways as well. It seems like my biology classes are waylaid by technological problems weekly, and we must continually pause mid-discussion when AirServer, an iPad feature that allows a teacher to project to a SmartBoard, spontaneously ceases to function. The volume of these problems is likely just a hazard of being part of a pilot, but the problems’ presence is not. Rather, it is a product of such heavy reliance on technology, and not on just any technology, but on a device that has existed for less than three years. We haven’t worked out the kinks and details yet. No one has.

I fear that for all the talk of looking at the iPad as a meaningful educational tool and not adopting it simply because it’s cool, we’re succumbing to its allure. No one is entirely immune to that shiny aluminum glow. The educational features of the iPad that are truly exciting and different from those of computers – easily displaying 3-dimensional models of cells, for instance – are best suited to use by a teacher, and then only to some teachers. I see no worthwhile use of the iPad in an English classroom. But, enjoying our toys, students and teachers alike are eager to keep them, even though often computers would be far more useful.

We should not adopt the iPad wholesale just because we like the idea. The iPad has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. We should abandon the notion of its widespread use by students.

Olivia Stovicek, Age 17, Grade 12, Nightingale-Bamford School, Gold Key

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