Last week every teacher at work was given an iPad 2. Stylish design, slick operating system and a web-browsing experience that rivals everything else. But, what has the iPad taught us, what have we learnt? Ironically last week my fourth Raspberry Pi also arrived. What is the relevance and role of these two very different devices?
Software developers and companies have simplified operations and procedures for the masses. They have shortened the process time for animating and video editing to minutes as oppose to hours. This has allowed more students and teachers to access the benefits of these and other media as teaching tools. However, has it come with a dumbing down of our understanding of how it works? Taking for granted that a device “just does it”.
Once students stop asking why and how and we dilute their enquiring minds, then they stop discovering, learning and developing. How can we transition forward if we don’t know where we have come from? Or is progression destined to become the digitisation and digital form of everything analogue? I used to write a letter, I now send an email, I listened to a record now I listen to an MP3, I used to buy a book and read it, I now download it and store it on my device. (Not true, I still buy books)
Computation forces you to question, think and understand concepts, too many students take it for granted that something happens and that is it. Can you imagine a time when so many humans don’t know how stuff works that we begin to believe it is magic? Imagine taking a laptop, charger and digital camera back to 1950s. Would it be viewed as technology or magic?
Or would it be so advanced for the time that it would completely pass people by. Considering the analogy with magic is relevant. Magic tricks are illusions, tricks and skills that engage, until you understand how it works and then the engagement comes from impressing and fooling others. I often get my A level computing students to learn one magic trick and share it with the class.
It requires the skills of learning how it works and also perfecting the illusion of the trick. This is the subtle balance between trick and technique, ICT and Computing, content consumption and content creation. Maybe there is a fear that by understanding how technology works it takes away its engagement and makes it mundane? The iPad operating system looks great and is
stylish. This is its strength, it makes things very engaging. However, if you were presented with the coding behind the software would I still be in awe? (Would you want to change the coding to see resultant change on the display?)
With reference to learning and the iPad, students ask me “do you know how to change the brightness?, can you install this app?, have you seen this video?, I’ll make a podcast, I can use this app to mind map my ideas”. Fundamentally, in this process students are uninterested in the understanding of how the programs, interfaces and software are developed and created.
In stark contrast the Raspberry Pi forces you down a road of learning – students ask me “how do I connect to the Internet because the Pi does not have Google, well Google is not the internet, It is a search engine, you need a browser, what is a browser..?”. One of my students, with an enquiring mind was given a Pi for their birthday. They are a huge Minecraft fan and wanted to be able to create their own server to host games, (basically because they keep getting killed and raided!) The Raspberry Pi is a powerful vehicle where a student no longer plays games and consumes content.
Now they are learning how to create and solve problems. This 11 year old setting up his own serving, asking me about IP addresses and DHCP is learning so much more than the student downloading the latest app. Students MUST develop the independence of an enquiring mind, understanding and overall question how things work.
Therefore, use the appropriate tools and devices to consume content and the appropriate tools to create it, but overall, it has to be engaging.