PLAYBACK: Will Tablets (OK, iPads) Replace Computers in Schools?


11.5.11 | This week’s Playback looks at the move by Apple to woo educators and what it means for the future of technology in schools. Plus, Lady Gaga teams up with Harvard, MacArthur and the California Endowment to launch the Born This Way Foundation, and using the DREAM Activist movement to consider participatory culture and civic engagement.

Apple Woos (& Wows) Educators: In yet another entry into The New York Times series Grading the Digital School, Matt Richtel looks at what it’s worth to Apple to bring in school officials from across the country to check out the company’s latest gadgets, discuss the instructional value of computers, and dine at trendy restaurants with Apple executives.

The short answer: a lot.

The story considers whether these visits could cast doubt on the impartiality of school officials making Apple purchases with public tax dollars—and it also calls into question whether investments in iPads and other Apple products are the best use of money: 

The sales pitches come as questions persist about how effective high-tech products can be at improving student achievement. The companies say their products engage students and prepare them for a digital future, while some academics say technology is not fulfilling its promise.

Even Mr. Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, turned skeptical about technology’s ability to improve education. In a new biography of Mr. Jobs, the book’s author, Walter Isaacson, describes a conversation earlier this year between the ailing Mr. Jobs and Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, in which the two men “agreed that computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools — far less than on other realms of society such as media and medicine and law.”

The story later notes that Jobs “seemed to hold out hope that devices like the iPad could change things by replacing printed textbooks, ” and Walter Isaacson, the author of the new biography on Jobs, “writes that the textbook market was the next big business Mr. Jobs hoped to disrupt with technology.”

Plus: Read our previous coverage of the Times series here and here.

Speaking of Tablets: A small survey of school technology directors—really small, only 25 of them—indicates that tablets will outnumber desktops in schools by 2016.

“[T]he trend is consistent with other reports we’ve seen, and certainly Apple has been pushing the device for educational purposes,” writes John Paul Titlow at ReadWrite Web, continuing:

As prices drop and educational apps continue to proliferate, devices like the iPad will only become more useful in the education space. Storing textbooks on the device is less of a physical burden than carrying them around, and it may even help drive their astronomical costs down. Beyond that, native applications designed to help students learn about a wide range of topics continue to be developed, and surely anything missing will be covered somewhere on the Internet.

The phrase “devices like the iPad” may not be relevant to schools. Of the IT directors surveyed, all 25 are testing or using iPads. The Android tablet wasn’t on their schools’ radar. Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt has more on the findings, including the full survey.

Plus: A local story on how private schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., are using iPads. And, as Fortune reports, the rise of tablets and web-based education resources have led to some of the education industry’s top firms partnering with smaller start-ups to maintain their place in the educational technology market.

Born This Way Gets Big Support: Lady Gaga is a fabulously clever and incredibly busy entertainer who has made political and social issues such anti-bullying and gay rights part of her platform. But nothing she’s done until now has ever made me feel like we’re so, well, close.

This week, the 25-year-old singer announced the launch of the Born This Way Foundation, which will support programs and initiatives that deal with all aspects of empowering youth and use digital media as a way of creating change.

The nonprofit charitable organization aims to “lead youth into a braver new society where each individual is accepted and loved as the person they were born to be.” Its partners include the California Endowment, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and the MacArthur Foundation (see what I mean about us being close?).

“This is a time of potential transformation in how young people learn, socialize, and engage in civic life because of digital media,” said Connie Yowell, director of education for the MacArthur Foundation, in this release (pdf).

“With new tools comes new responsibility and sometimes painful unintended consequences such as bullying and challenges to safety. Lady Gaga is at the forefront of harnessing the power of digital media for her fans and encouraging them to be healthy and safe and to make meaningful change in the world,” adds Yowell.

“It seems Hollywood launches foundations all the time, but I can’t recall an artist of Lady Gaga’s reach or caliber who has done the months of due-diligence and behind-the-scenes meetings with the experts before they’ve launched such a foundation,” said John Palfrey, Harvard law professor and co-director of Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. “If this dedication and thoroughness is any indication of what is to come when this program launches, the Born This Way Foundation has the potential to transform the foundation community the same way Lady Gaga is transforming the music industry.”

And danah boyd was equally enthusiastic: “Lady Gaga has already energized a generation of young people with her music, her compassion, and her novel ways of using technology to connect. Her commitment to empowering youth and inspiring humanity with her new foundation is a radical, game-changing move that will transform youth culture.”

Media, Youth Activism & Participatory Politics: Case Studies: While we’re on the subject of digital media and social change, check out this post at DMLcentral on the Media Activism Participatory Politics (MAPP) project, which is examining potential connections between participatory culture and civic engagement. MAPP’s case study on the DREAM activist movement is the first of four case studies from Henry Jenkins’ Civic Paths project at the University of Southern California, writes Whitney Burke.

The four projects examine exemplary youth organizations and networks where new media tools and practices are woven into the fabric of the community. The undocumented youth movement serves as a key example of how young people are appropriating the affordances of digital media to empower themselves and their community. While working to pass the DREAM Act, young activists have used digital media to rally many across the country around the fight for immigration rights and education.

Continue reading for a look at the Nov. 2 USC Annenberg DREAMing Out Loud! event, during which youth activists spoke about using the web and social media in their fight for social justice.

Plus: At a separate USC event, organizers showed how three different projects—VozMob, the LA Flood Project and the Transborder Immigrant Tool—“help immigrant communities use mobile phones and poetry for daily communication,” writes Camille Houphouet-Boigny.

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