Recently, I became the somewhat proud owner of two new devices, an HTC Incredible S – a slick, 4-inch mobile sporting Android Gingerbread and the HTC Sense user interface – and ASUS eee Pad Transformer tablet, which includes Honeycomb 3.1 and the nifty ability to dock in a keyboard station. As a fairly long-time iPhone and iPad user who likes his technology to “just work” (so I can get on with teaching and learning), I found myself on a very steep learning curb. I’m only now – after two months – getting the hang of things and beginning to think about how Android as a platform might work in education. Since there is very little research on the relationship between operating systems, devices and learning outcomes, I’m interested to investigate this a little further – and quite enjoy being the technology guineypig.
First Thoughts – Affordances/Extensibility and the 1-1 Question
So how do we come to terms with an OS like Android and what it might mean for education? In answer to that, I’m reminded of the frustration I’ve had with iOS in recent times and the stranglehold that Apple continues to have over software development, often to the detriment of the user. Recently, a system leader in my area asked me if I would consider the iPad a viable 1-1 learning device in systemic Catholic schools. Despite being a huge fan of iPads, I had to point out:
1. the lack of Flash functionality on web pages renders many LMSes – such as Moodle, Blackboard, LAMS and so on – quite unusable for many purposes, especially those that are more interactive and require pop-up screens, multiple tabs and so on;
2. typing on an iPad without a keyboard for any length of time is unwieldy and bad ergonomics. Typing with a bluetooth keyboard is costly and drains the battery much faster;
4. getting data out and in – or in and out – is not always easy – consider the fact that a Numbers spreadsheet saved on Mac Numbers and opened in iPad Numbers is “converted” – with loss of formatting, formulaes, sheets, tables, etc.;
5. productivity apps like Pages look good when demo’ed (and everyone loves twisting the butterfly around) but can be alarmingly inflexible, difficult to navigate and problematic when format-shifting to other formats/devices later on… consider editing a complex table and see if you don’t become the least frustrated after half an hour; and
6. access to – and the ability to open – a range of different file formats is problematic at the best of times… consider video codecs that Apple doesn’t like and the fact that the VLC media player was pulled from the app store shortly after it launched a few years back.
So in pointing out the above, I had to say that, no, I didn’t consider the iPad viable as a 1-1 device, even considering its huge potential as a media-making tool (think of apps like GarageBand and iMovie), or the fact that it still benefits from being the dominant player in terms of app development. In other words, while devices like the iPad and iPhone have a huge range of affordances, their extensibility is conditional on the fundamental design of the OS.
So how does Android stack up? Well, in the next few posts, I’ll be considering this question as a teacher, a technology leader and as a university student. Having now become familiar with both platforms, I aim to be as objective as possible and really delve into Android’s potential for future teaching/learning experiences in the classroom and the real world. I’d love to hear from anyone who uses Android in any way that relates to teaching/learning and your thoughts so far.