iPad vs The Slate

You know you’re getting older when you start sentences with, “I remember when…”, more on this later.

I have been wanting to talk about the iPad & the slate for a long time, mostly because of the profound educational potential of mobile computing, but also from a historic and design aspect. Two events pushed me over the “passive/active” writing threshold, one Old & one New. Now I will share both of them with you.

First, let’s briefly go over some important concepts.

Affordance (the theory) describes the type of relationship one can have with an object. A cup affords my picking it up and a chair affords my sitting on it or affords my standing on it if I have to change a light bulb. I see affordance as usage of the intrinsic value of an object.

From an embodied cognition point of view, when you are holding an object something special happens. What does this mean? Mobile devices are not just computers that you can hold; there is more to it than that, there is an added value that is difficult to understand unless you are holding the object. For example, you cannot receive the sensation of a 3D accelerometer unless you are holding it.

The Old
Last Friday, while spending quality time with my daughter, Kara, helping her with her homework, we were at my desk in front of my computer (for quick Google access) when she showed me her English textbook. This textbook must have been 10 to 15 years old – if not more. It was marked up, taped up (the tape was actually keeping the book from falling apart), and it didn’t look very clean. Then, she takes out another book: her workbook (the book where she writes her answers). Looking at the two open books, that’s a four page spread, I knew, from an embodied cognition point of view, this was all wrong. Especially when the workbook affords writing – but she is not allowed to write in it! Old and wrong, right?

The Really Old
So, the slate I am referring to in the title of this post is not the HP slate or any other electronic device. I am referring to a slab of rock with a wooden bumper (similar to the iPhone bumper). The original slate:

The Original Slate

The Original Slate

Slate is a type of metamorphic rock and is used as a medium to write on, with chalk, because of its innate property to form a smooth flat surface when cut properly. This is the same type of stone use to make blackboards, the really old good quality ones anyway. In the west the slate is all but gone. However, it probably won’t surprise you if I say that this old technology is still being used in developing countries.

The New
The second element that triggered my writing this post is the article First iPad University Course, in the online journal, The eLearning Coach.

The Rutgers University course in a Mini-MBA in Digital Marketing will:

provide students with iPads loaded with all required reading material, videos and custom applications

The eLarning Coach thinks this is a “Great idea”. So do I.

Out With the Old & In With the New
There have been educational studies (which cost millions) where all students, in a particular class or school, were given laptops in an attempt to increase their learning outcomes. These studies, in terms of learning outcomes, have not been very successful – for the most part because they were deemed not to be cost efficient.

Similarly, there is the One Laptop per Child (OLPC). In the initial program the computer looked like this:

One Laptop Per Child

One Laptop Per Child

From an industrial design cost efficiency point of view this product was doomed to fail. The main problem: too many physical parts. Parts are expensive to manufacture and even more expensive to assemble.

Now there is a new OLPC movement that is replacing the laptop with – you guessed it – a slate-like device.

XO-3 concept

XO-3 concept

This changes everything because the iPad, tablets, and slate devices are near-net devices. Near-net devices are more cost efficient because there are less individual parts, and the shape of the parts are close (near) to the total (net) shape of the product. Simple designs are always more cost efficient.

Due to the minimalist design of the digital slate it is possible for the price of these products to drop down from hundreds of dollars to just mere dollars. And, the beauty of solid state technology and devices is that, theoretically, eventually (10 years, yes you can quote me on this), manufacturing costs could be cents. When this happens everyone gets one, and we wouldn’t need Oprah to give us one. In 2020 it is possible for everyone to have a mobile device, that’s approximately 8 billion devices, when this happens, the world will be a different place (in a future post I will articulate why and how).

Back to “I remember when…”
After looking at the archaic sprawl of textbooks, workbooks, and other books I said to my daughter, “I remember when there was no computer” – I got one of her famous eye rolls. In response, I told Kara, “one day, when you are helping your kids with their homework you will tell them, you remember when there was no iPad”. I thought it was funny – she did not – I guess because she doesn’t have one yet. 🙁

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3 Responses to “iPad vs The Slate”

  1. Minying Says:

    I think, I shall look at the trends of technolgy and how it works for our daily life, as well as future generations.

    I agree, Ipad is amazing in terms of various funtions and the volume of information. However, I personally feel, users may pay attention too many commercials and games installed in Ipad. I think, we shall encourage ourselves to read, study and do research with Ipad, other than only play games.

    Now I still love reading by holding my books and dictionaries on hand in a peaceful and quiet place. I believe, when the price of Ipad is reasonable and affortable, I may do my reading with Ipad.

  2. Minying Says:

    This June, I had an interesting discussion with a marketing specialist regarding to Ipad.

    She thought, we shall apply Ipads to many marketing activities. I asked her why. She said, she felt bad how many papers print-out are waisted!

  3. Terry Says:

    I find what you have to say especially pertinent to my life as an educator. I am more and more interested in technoloy`s role in education and your blog highlights how far behind our education system is. We should be so much more progressive, however we are still using textbooks held together by tape! (as you pointed out regarding Kara`s English textbook.) I`m looking forward to reading your blog in more depth and discussing the ideas with your more fully.

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