Monday, September 20, 2010

Samples of 1 ...and other rantings

Let me preface this by saying I realize I'm a culprit as well...but that's not going to stop me from getting this off my chest.  I completely understand why this happens, but as a researcher I think it is imperative to note that we should not base our long-term strategies on samples of one.  To clarify, we often hear that media reports should be 'fair and balanced.'  My experience with this iPad experiment has actually proven to me that what they call 'balance' is not an accurate portrayal of societal beliefs nor a proper indicator of trends.  Instead, what I see is that balance has come to mean that we find extreme viewpoints on each end of the spectrum and suggest that we have a balanced report of the phenomenon. 

This bothers me only because I frequently receive comments from my blog readers, from publishers, and from other faculty, who latch on to a specific (often extreme) quote from a student, take that as 'fact' if it supports their a priori belief, and use that as justification for excluding all opposing viewpoints. For example, a student at Reed College in a recent NPR report noted that the iPad was horrible for email.  I know in my class of 40 (admittedly a small sample) that the vast majority of students have specifically commented that email is one of the top rated functions (btw, I happen to agree that typing on the iPad is not optimal but now that I'm using a tyPad (and no, they are not paying me to endorse them) the iPad is my email device of choice).  So inevitably I get an email from someone that says something to the effect that students 'hate' using iPads - which simply isn't representative of what I'm seeing on the whole.  The opposite is true as well and equally as surprising.  When a positive report is picked up by the media, I end up getting lots of faculty and administrators asking me why we don't "require" our students to purchase iPads. 

My short answer to all of this is simply: "we are still experimenting."  I don't think the software (Apps) are where they need to be and I don't think the publishers have figured out the right model of delivery and ownership yet.  Does this mean we should stop trying?  No way!  Does this mean 'an eReader for every student'?  Not yet.  But just because a publisher takes away the rights to an eBook after 6 months doesn't mean we should abondon everything we are doing and stick to textbooks (I get this comment at least a few times a week).  Let's listen to the 'crowd' and focus less on the extremes and see where this all heads.  To successfully accomplish this, we need to continue to run pilots across a wide variety of classes and student populations and let the vendors continue to innovate...and let the chips fall where they may.  And by the way, kudos to Reed College!...and how the heck did you get Apple to give you the iPads???  

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