iPads, inclusion, and ethics…

I apologize about the lateness and brevity of this post – I’m feeling rather off today, but I still wanted to share something that fits with what we’ve been talking about in the last few posts.

As I was scanning Tame the Web, a libraries,technology and people Blog by Michael Stephens, I noticed an entry from this past Sunday about Freed-Hardeman University (FHU) introducing iPads, Digital Text Books, and Faculty training in these technologies as part of a program called iKnow2.0.

The basic thrust of the linked piece was that Freed-Hardemen was going to issue all new Freshmen iPads upon their entry into the iKnow program in Fall 2012, and are working to put together an entire educational system, including the retraining of professors and staff, centered around using this technology.

To my knowledge, this marks one of the first post-secondary, and perhaps first ever, complete move towards tablet based education. While the concept has been talked about before, the scope and depth of this program seems to outstrip any other efforts, reaching even into retraining staff on how to use the equipment.

Not to mention that they are supplying the technology to students themselves.

The real gem in all of this is that at the same time they are announcing a partnership with Inkling, a company that works to produce interactive and enriched content for iPad. The goal is, in their own words, to “reinvent the way people learn on the campus of Freed-Hardeman.”

That’s a pretty bold statement, and one the bears some watching.

Amidst all of this excitement though, there was one sentence fragment that did give me pause however.

Near the top, FHU states that they will be establishing minimum MacBook requirements for students. While that did non specify whether it was ownership, or merely proficiency, I cant help but feel that this is a bad decision.

Obviously, if at the early stages they are mainly concerned with getting people into their new program who can make the most of what they have to offer, then I can understand. But I still don’t agree.

Isn’t the point of technology and digital education to make learning more available to everyone? A move like this strikes me as a step in the opposite direction, away from inclusion and towards exclusion based on either 1) Wealth to afford the technology, or 2) An upbringing that allowed you access to technology (in other words, middle/upper class). Surely that can’t be an acceptable dividing line?

Beyond all of that though is the question: If your limiting your program only to those who have the ability to make the best use of what you are designing, isn’t that a design flaw to begin with? If you must be sufficiently talented to get anything out of the program, then perhaps the program itself isn’t organized in the most useful, and educational way.

This isn’t a grade-point level, or some requirement that is open to everyone. Anyone can take Math 30, Bio 30, etc. This points to skills that only a select percentage of the population have the opportunity to develop, and even worse, one that is tied to material wealth and access.

To me, that’s the opposite of what the new wave of education is supposed to provide, and at the very core, against the ethos of our educational system.

What do you think? Am I reading to much into all of this? Outside of this caveat, what do you think of the total program? In your mind, what would make it a success, and allow it to spread?


One thought on “iPads, inclusion, and ethics…”

  1. It isn’t unusual for programs and institutions to set requirements such as this, so that people in the programs are able to succeed. Ideally, these decisions are based on a good needs assessment, although that isn’t how many decisions are actually made.

    I agree that there is an equity issue built into much technology-based learning, even when the learning is built on an open access philosophy. When we look at it through a broad social lens, we’re playing a rich person’s game for the most part.

    As designers, I think it is important to keep that in mind, and to build opportunities that allow as much access as possible.

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