It’s a bit awkward. Most of my living is made from adoptions in far flung lands. I am frequently made to feel like the scum of the Earth and I read a lot of things that suggest my work is soon and inevitably going to disappear like something out of The Day After Tomorrow. Frozen out. Despised. You see, I’m a textbook author. Paper books mainly. You know the ones. Front and back cover. Pages and so on. Educational materials you can roll up and whack someone with or let your dog chew. Things that go soggy in the bath. Faced with the long-heralded demise of my career and in an attempt to keep working while helping Ireland pay back our German friends I’m also involved in digital projects. Online teacher training and digital language learning. That sort of thing. It’s a bit complicated but very enjoyable and everything stews away nicely. Mutton, onions, barley, an onion and of course, potatoes.
I am also one of the parents of two children. One of those children is an 8 year-old who would spend his whole day looking at screens of various sorts if he was let. Both my children go to a school where they have IWBs in all the classrooms and a computer room for a bit of variety. There are four computers in our home, two TVs, and a pile of other hand-held devices from Mp3 players to iPod touches. And of course the DS. And the Wii.
Doing what I do, I was very interested in what Apple had to say the other day. If you haven’t seen it already, basically they have announced to the world that they intend to take over the textbook market, from content creation, through delivery all the way to consumption. Of course this was couched in the sort of quasi-religious language we have come to expect from Apple. We are going to be liberated. It’s a Good Thing. I think we all have our doubts about their actual motives but that’s not what has been bothering me. It’s something else.
So the interactive books are cool. Yes. So authoring is in some ways more accessible and the software is so very clever. Yes. So the iPad is possibly more fun to have on your desk than a book. Yes. So what’s my problem then? Why don’t I jump up and down with iJoy? It certainly isn’t because I’m worried about my living because I have already talked about this to a friend who knows and he says that ‘this sort of thing’ will only serve to enhance the power of brands such as the big publisher to whom I am wed. It’s something else that bothers me.
It goes back to the things I feel my kids don’t get enough of at school. Off the top of my head I mean music, art, exercise, singing, dancing, running, jumping, making things with their hands, touching things, experimenting with real objects, putting on plays, doing projects, cooking, mixing, interacting with each other, interacting with the people in our community, observing nature. Playing. I’m a believer in Ken Robinson. Actually, I would like to set up a Robinson School one day. I think he’s right.
So back to Apple. Yes. Now I know what the problem is. All this cleverness has replaced one 2D environment with another one. It’s a trick, kids! You’ll still be staring at a flat surface (iPad) that’s sitting on the flat surface of your desks (to be renamed your iPodium) with your backsides for a large part of the day on an iStool. Me this weekend (to my son): ‘Put that thing down and go and do something 3D!”.
I would have been way more excited if Apple had come up with a way for our kids to be doing something apart from looking at either flat books or flat screens but in my heart of hearts I don’t think what education needs is going to come from some technical cleverness or some big company’s announcement. What we need is going to come from communities. So what am I going to do about this? I’ve already done it. Can you guess what it is?
Patrick spent a year that turned into 15 teaching kids in Japan. He now lives in Dublin where he writes ELT materials. Patrick is co-author of Everybody Up, a seven-level primary course that motivates children by linking the English classroom to the wider world and Potato Pals, a series of readers for young learners, both published by Oxford University Press. He tweets as patjack67 and blogs here.