I just finished reading a piece in eSchool News called "Educators assess iPhones for instruction. Does it make me incredibly old to balk at the idea of spending hundreds of dollars per kid on a glorified cell phone? I'll be the first to acknowledge both the cool factor as well as the typically well-executed software and hardware embodied in the iPhone. But as the latest and greatest for secondary and higher ed? I don't think so.
The article lauds the growing availability of third-party software such as "3-D Weather Globe and Atlas, which displays accurate weather conditions for locations around the world, and a trivia challenge based on facts from its World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia." Apple has announced support for Web 2.0 applications in general on the iPhone, enhancing its already impressive browsing capabilities, but does it actually offer much that less expensive PDAs, or even laptops don't?
I can't turn my laptop on its side and have the screen rotate, true, nor does it fit in my pocket. But who cares? The article quotes Helen Barrett, "an Apple Distinguished Educator and recent retiree from the faculty of the College of Education at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, [who] said she believes 'online simulations, games, learning objects, widgets, blogs, and built-in-camera features ... could [make] the iPhone the next one-to-one platform for learning.'"
Really? I'll tell you what, cut the cost by 50% and we might be able to have a discussion. At this point, though, I'd rather hand my students an OLPC, a device of which I'm definitely not a fan. Better yet, hand them all an ASUS Eee, a real computer running a real operating system.
I'm afraid that this is simply another case of tech for the sake of tech. The article points to research efforts at several universities as well as testing programs in public schools, trying to fit the iPhone into instructional settings. How about we spend our time figuring out better ways to have kids utilize computers as they wade through information overload and collaborate with each other. Maybe we could teach them to use calculators as tools rather than thought-avoidance devices or to think critically about the knowledge at their fingertips instead of just remembering the URL for Sparknotes. They are already quite adept at using cell phones, even really pretty ones from Apple.