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May 6, 2011 / Thinknology

Technology… yes, but where’s the content?

The Bangor (Maine) Daily News recently ran a story called iPads for kindergarteners: ‘Game-changer’ or distraction?

According to the article iPads will be given to kindergarteners in the Auburn schools this fall, at a cost of about $200,000. District administrators hope to pay for the iPads through grants, but, if grants cannot be obtained, the expense will come out of the school budget.

Needless to say, this has had a polarizing effect in the community with parents, teachers, administrators, and academics weighing in with a wide range of opinions. The arguments range from students must start using technology tools at a young age to the money can be better spent on hiring additional personnel rather than giving a 5 year old a $600 machine.

I won’t  get into the relative merits or pitfalls of providing kindergartners with iPads. But I will say this: every time there is an advance in technology, this type of discussion invariably comes to the surface.

The point that seems to be missing is that this discussion puts the cart before the horse when it comes to technology. It goes something like this: Every [student, teacher, school, classroom, district] must have a [radio, television, calculator, cassette player, walkman, CD player, DVD player, computer, iPad, smartphone] to prepare them for today’s world. But, unless there is sound instruction to be delivered, the device is irrelevant.

Adult educators, in particular, should be asking if there is any content out there that is designed for specific students in specific learning situations that is delivered via this technology. The reason I single out adult educators is that they are faced with a diverse student population at a wide range of levels. All too often, teachers are left to troll through the web to find content that meets the unique needs of this student population that can be delivered through the technology that they happen to have on hand.

This is analogous to giving teachers several textbooks of blank pages and then asking them to find content to fill the pages so each textbook meets the needs of a particular student.

The fact is that it has never worked this way in print, so why do we expect that it will be any different with new technology? Content developers have always provided educators with content that is designed for a specific audience,  no matter how that content is delivered. The iPad is not going to change that.

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