'

iPad in schools? Content controls, DRM, and pricing mean no

The iPad is coming, the iPad is coming! And while it might be coming to some schools (or at least some student backpacks) near you, it won't be coming to my schools or my kids' backbacks.

The iPad is coming, the iPad is coming! And while it might be coming to some schools (or at least some student backpacks) near you, it won't be coming to my schools or my kids' backbacks. Just because it's really the only device of its kind for now, we don't need to hop on the bandwagon just yet. Will the iPad and Apple's content partners drive some important innovation in electronic, interactive educational content? Yes, I think they probably will. However, I have too many concerns about iPad for it to be on my radar any time soon.

Jason Perlow revealed some genuinely disturbing information about content controls in his post, "Apple iPad Adopters: Prepare for Content Punishment". Will everything that he outlined, hypothesized, or suggested come to pass? Maybe not, but the very existence of a "Regional Content Review" clause that could limit schools' abilities to use content for which they have already paid makes me bristle. Jason interviewed companies who have already been affected by the content reviews:

The Bad News? Just because you bought something from [a] content provider...and can view it on another device today doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to view it on your iPad.

It's unlikely that schools will be pushing MAXIM out to their students. What if, however, a school district decides to implement a sexual education program with which Orwellian content review boards (ultimately answerable to Disney's single largest shareholder, Steve Jobs) don't agree? Do those materials provided by third-party national curriculum vendors get blocked on the iPads the school just rolled out for 1:1 education?

Whether it's sex ed or a video series deemed inappropriate for the educational market or a math curriculum that adheres to the "wrong" set of standards, where does this end? Hardware and software need to be implemented at the sole discretion of individual schools and districts. No matter how far-fetched (and frankly, I don't think Jason's concerns are particularly far-fetched given the direct evidence from content producers), any hardware/software ecosystem that will potentially not provide the platform expected by the purchaser is one that should be very carefully considered.

I can't fault Apple too much for DRM issues surrounding educational materials. Nobody outside of the open-source textbook community has proposed a satisfactory solution to digital rights management that allows schools to license content generally and share it with many students in the way they can with dead-tree books. Apple, however, used to be the unparalleled leader in educational technology. If the iPad suddenly offered not only innovative content and an intuitive, sophisticated interface, but also the answer to the educational DRM issue, my reluctance would fade very quickly.

My final issue is with price. Is the iPad priced aggressively? You bet. Is the content priced aggressively? I have no idea; content partners are sworn to secrecy. However, although the iPad stands to be a revolutionary product in the educational space, educational discounts amount to $20 off retail. There is also no evidence that they will be manageable via the truly outstanding client management tools in OS X Server. Windows-based slates (and, more than likely, Android-based tablets since Android now supports OpenLDAP) will be manageable in an educational enterprise.

There's no doubt that Apple has brought serious innovation to the iPad. However, it's the sort of innovation that appeals to pro-sumers, not educators. It has the potential to be a transformative platform for e-learning. Mr. Jobs, will you let it live up to that potential?