According to the Wall Street Journal, Intel is developing a small, ruggedized tablet device called the studybook aimed squarely at school students. Smaller and less expensive than an iPad, the device will feature cameras with applications for performing time-lapse photography and add-on lenses that turn the device into a microscope (although you can do this just as easily with an iPod touch). Apparently, the tablet device appeals to children around the globe, especially in developing nations. In fact, the devices will feature native language applications and content.The water, dirt, and drop-resistant device also features an e-book reader app. At first blush, this device sounds like the perfect solution for an increasingly mobile global population. However, IT management features and Intel’s software bundle hints at command and control tactics used by schools to ‘control’ the user experience. Will students even be allowed to take the devices home? These management tools will make it even easier for schools to block blogs, YouTube, and other rich online content. Even the name, Studybook, makes non-traditional learners shudder. It has an authoritative, old-school, all-work-no-play ring to it.
According to Intel’s press release, “Teachers are an integral part of the classroom and the new Intel Learning Series Teacher PC criteria will enable solutions that are developed specifically to meet the needs of teachers.” What about the learners? Is Intel suggesting that children aren’t able to learn without the expert help of a teacher? Has Intel spent any time with young children who know more about their parent’s iPhones than the parents themselves know? Has Intel looked at children outside the classroom to understand how these types of devices, open-ended and not purpose-driven, can be used in ways not intended or imagined by the inventor? By tethering these cool new devices to a classroom management system with teacher controls, Intel is squeezing the life (and fun) out of innovation, creativity and imagination. In other words, the Studybook might as well be a printed paper book (or a paper weight) after implementing all the “classroom management” measures.
Schools aren’t exactly setting the world on fire in learning innovation. Most school systems are still modeled for the Industrial Revolution. Many teachers are technology-phobic and ban mobile devices from the classroom. Schools still segregate technology into ‘labs’ instead of integrating it into every aspect of the learning experience. Is this really the model around which to build and launch a new mobile device? A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article points to the future of learning and it isn’t the traditional classroom model.
Learning isn’t something we’re taught. Technology that takes advantage of natural human curiosity, ingenuity, and imagination moves humanity forward by providing an open-ended experience through which we express ideas. However, when technology seeks to manage and control our experience, it hinders or retards the natural learning process, becomes less interesting to us, and makes the case (for frustrated users) for jettisoning technology altogether.
Hopefully, Intel’s OEMs will create models without the software controls for an increasing global population of non-traditional learners who learn outside of a teacher-centric environment. The device itself sounds really great for youngsters. Left to an 8 year-old, the Studybook might become a musical instrument, a doll, or a secret agent tool. Let’s embrace the emerging DIY, Maker culture by not artificially controlling the learning experience. Instead, let’s find ways to unleash it!