“They’re Coming…” Innovation and the Diffusion of iPads in Higher Education
by Megan Mullen — University of Wisconsin-Parkside
May 23, 2012 – 00:00
I’m part of a campus iPad pilot. Proposing a good pedagogical use for the technology wasn’t difficult. What has been difficult is being a good steward of my new gadget; pilots are meant for guiding decisions about more widespread adoption, after all.
Today’s traditional-aged college students are “digital natives”— comfortable with languages, behaviors, and aptitudes inherent to social media. They value technological mobility, and consider digital multitasking part of their DNA. We’ve gotten word that we must adapt in order to reach these students—as well as those who follow them (today’s young children). Video footage of babies using iPads seems to suggest what these students will be like—not to mention breed anxiety for college administrators. The iPad has become iconic in these discourses.
With most colleges facing severe budgetary constraints, it’s common to treat students as fickle customers, even while racking our brains trying to maintain quality and integrity. “What if we became an iPad campus?” administrators ask. "Would we appear ‘forward-looking’ to prospective students?"
My students surprised me by expressing disapproval at the possibility of our institution becoming an iPad campus. Then, instead of citing cost as their main reason for objecting, they cited distractions. A couple even said that they were already wasting time checking social media during class and don’t need another device to encourage this.
Were they fearful of the innovation process itself—even though they’re part of it? McLuhan would have told them to stop looking in the rear-view mirror! I turn not to him on this, though, as much as to Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations— a chapter of which, ironically, had been the assigned reading on the same day that I wound up attending a presentation on iPads in higher education, offered by Apple sales reps. Reflecting on the processes of “re-invention” that follow adoption, I thought: if we could move past the pilot stage, my students might be on the cutting edge in shaping education’s future.
Yet I do worry a bit about campus-wide iPad adoption. While building its repertoire of innovative products, Apple has grown as a competition-averse corporate giant, the iPad a cash cow. iPad apps won’t run on other platforms. Some promising apps require a Mac computer for content creation. And Microsoft software still isn’t fully compatible with iPad. Clearly, becoming an iPad campus implies more than just putting a high-functioning tablet in every student’s hands.
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