Netbook/iPod Touch/Kindle/iPad Update

One of the more popular posts on my blog has been Netbook vs. iPod Touch Debate from back in March.  Well since that time, the landscape of potential portable devices in schools has changed.  Our school’s media coordinator has gotten a Kindle, so I’ve had the chance to play around with one of those.  The most recent entrant is Apple’s iPad, the claimed “middle ground” between smartphones and laptops.  Here are some updated thoughts from myself and my discussions with my students.

Kindle

Amazon’s Kindle, the top in the current line of eBook readers, has been suggested as a great idea for students.  After all, one of the biggest complaints about textbooks is their cost and weight right? (Nevermind other, more valid complaints regarding errors, sanitized, standardized language, over reliance by teachers, etc)  The Kindle would allow students to have all their books in one place, plus it’s Internet enabled…sort of.  The Kindle does allow you to go online, but online in the most limited sense of the idea.  Sure Wikipedia seems to work fairly well (for those teachers who will actually let their students use it) but the majority of the rest of the web is very limited. Additionally, and here’s my biggest complaint against the Kindle: schools are dealing with a TON of overhead. Buying the Kindle only gives access to a small number of free eBooks.  Owning a library means a school already has hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on print books, all which are unusable with the new eReader.  Along those same lines, buying one copy of a physical book allows many students to read that book.  Buying one copy of a Kindle book, allows that one student to read that book.  Not very cost effective despite the lowered cost of Kindle editions.

iPad

My feelings on the iPad are largely summed up here by Russ Goerend.  He beat me to the punch.  I like many others, was very excited about the announcement of the Apple Tablet/iPad.  Steve Jobs keynote left me somewhat uninspired, and continued reflection led me to be downright depressed about the next few months of technology in schools.  Schools have lately (perhaps always) been engaged in the game of technology one-ups-manship, where neighboring schools/districts/states try and show their dedication to technology by having things that are newer or better than those around them.  With the new “it” item being the iPad, it won’t belong before we hear about a district purchasing inordinate numbers of them for students.

The problem is, as it stands now, the iPad is an infinitely poor laptop replacement.  Steve Jobs portrayed netbooks as “Cheap laptops”.  The iPad, by similar logic, could be categorized as an expensive “not quite laptop.”  A few of the issues with the current version of the iPad:

  • Runs iPhone OS – this limits users to running a single app at the same time.  No grabbing pictures from Safari and dragging them into the Keynote slide you’re creating, no listening to Pandora while working on email, no toggling between two apps that you are using for anything.
  • No camera – This to me looks like the “big announcement” for the iPad 2nd Generation. Leaving a camera off of this device seems to have no logical reasoning unless it would have pushed the iPad over the desired price point. Still, no camera means, no photo taking, no video, no video chat.
  • No USB, no storage expansion, nothing that’s not in the App Store…that’s a lot of No’s…
  • Must sync back to another computer…This makes the iPad only an accessory.  It can’t stand on it’s own forever. Just like the iPod Touch, which few people would argue is a total replacement for another computer, the iPad will require users to connect back to another device.  I see this posing problems for schools trying to run implement their use large scale.

A few things the iPad, MAY have going for it

  • Keynote and Pages – great to see these make their way to other mobile devices, but what will we find out they can’t do? We know they won’t run at the same time something else is running. Will they end up running on the Touch/iPhone? At $9.99 I’m not sure many folks would buy them for the smaller devices, but it stands to reason if they’ll work on the iPad, they SHOULD work on the iPhone/iTouch.
  • iBooks/Kindle App – Together, these two apps will likely make the Kindle a very hard sell.  Since the iPad can do everything a Kindle can, plus more, someone looking for an eReader will be hard pressed to go for Amazon’s device. Except on the cost level. If that is the only consideration for someone, then the Kindle may still make sense.  iBooks looks very good, despite the potential eye-strain that we all may be dealing with from looking at a backlit device for our reading.
  • Aesthetic Appeal – The iPad looks cool…every kid would be excited to get one…schools would get a great PR boost…but that’s not what technology in schools is about, or shouldn’t be…

From the addition of these two items to our list, I have to put my current rankings of the 4 in terms of their benefit to schools in this order:

  1. Netbook
  2. iPod Touch
  3. iPad
  4. Kindle

Netbooks just offer so much in terms of creation, collaboration, and communication. The iPod Touch gets us closer to the mobile learning device many of our students will be using after school ends. The iPad has potential, but just isn’t there yet.  And the Kindle, well, at least Amazon doesn’t have to worry with it too much more, just selling the eBooks for it. Hey, that’s really what they wanted to do to begin with right?

Would love to hear your thoughts on my rankings.

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Serious Games in Education: Global Conflicts: Palestine

This might be the first and last post in this series, as I may not find another game worth devoting an entire post.  The first game I want to review really pushes the boundaries of what can be considered a “game”.  The game in question is called Global Conflicts: Palestine.

Here’s a brief video clip showing scenes from the first mission and giving an overview of the game:

The basic premise of the game is that the player assumes the role of a journalist dropped into the middle of the conflict in Palestine.  From there, a sort of “Choose Your Own Adventure” gameplay style unfolds. Your responses to conversations with characters in the game increase or decrease a confidence score with each character and your decisions affect whether you are viewed as Pro-Palestinian or Pro-Israeli.

As you go through missions you collect quotes from those you interview. At the end of the mission, you publish an article selecting quotes to support your stance, a headline, and images. Based on the strength of your choices your article can wind up on the front page, or buried deep within the newspaper.

The first mission involves going along with Palestinian authorities to investigate a report of terrorist activity.  A man accused of terrorist acts is dragged from his home and weapons are produced as “evidence”.  Your job is to document his treatment and report on it.  The “Choose Your Own Adventure” style offers a number of possible pathways for the game.  Two students could go in and have an entirely different experience while both winding up with front page articles.

This game is fantastic on a number of levels. First, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is very difficult for students to understand. This game gives them an intimate look at what life is like in the middle of the conflict.  Second, for anyone teaching journalism, media bias, persuasive writing, history, sociology, or any number of other subjects there is tremendous depth for discussion of topics in each course. Finally, the game is engrossing despite it’s simple interface.  There is little in the way of the gameplay. There are no advanced gaming skills necessary.  You simply play the game, interact with characters, select your quotes, and develop the best possible article.

My one complaint is in the selection of quotes. Your “notepad” has limited space for quotes. If you fill it, and a better quote comes along, you are unable to replace an older one. This can be frustrating as it seems a supporting quote always pops up right after your notebook is full.

After a concerted effort to do a great job with the first mission, I had learned a fair amount about the treatment of suspected terrorists in the region, selected the perfect quotes, developed a top-notch article, and found out that it appeared on page 7 of the newspaper.  This is definitely not a game that I would expect students to master within the first few minutes.

A couple of quotes from supporting documentation I found interesting:

We are convinced that learning about topics are interesting, and that it is a matter of engaging students at the right level and provide tangible experiences that provide relevance and good examples that abstract concepts can grow from.

On the expectation of some teachers for the game to teach for them:

Imagine our game as a field trip. Students will experience important issues in fully immersive 3D world. But, they still need the teacher to broaden their understanding of these experiences. We can take them some of they way, but to be quite frank it is up to you as a teacher!

Though a school license for the game is quite expensive, individual licenses are far more reasonable. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fits well into your curriculum I encourage you to look into Global Conflicts: Palestine.

Links

Resource Page for GC:P

Direct Link for Demo Download (Win)

Direct Link for Demo Download (Mac)