For about as long as I can remember I have carried a Swiss Army knife in my pocket with my change. It has a small blade less than an inch and a half long, a screwdriver blade/file, a small pair of scissors, a toothpick, and tweezers.
My understanding is that actual members of the Swiss Army can use such a knife to kill an enemy in a dozen different ways, but I use mine primarily for opening boxes, trimming my finger nails, and cutting tags off things.
None of the tools is as good as having a dedicated tool. The scissors are small; the screwdriver is hard to use; the tweezers are flimsy. But each tool can do the job - and the tool is actually there, in my pocket, when I need it.
OK, I am getting to my point. I had to shake my head when I read Gary Stager's post "Cameras for the Classroom" in which he recommends four models of digital cameras for the classroom ranging in price from $645 (list price over $1,100) to $95. "Every class should have a few of these [$151 model] babies!," he exhorts.
Why? Perhaps a school may need one or two of the models that are specialized for outdoor use. The high school photography class can justify using digital SLR cameras. But to have third graders shoot examples of triangles in nature or for middle school students to document signs of economic problems in the community to put in a slideshow or for high school kids to create a video demonstrating a cooking technique - for 99.9% of the uses we ask kids to make of cameras and photography, the camera in the phone or tablet works great. It is simple - and it's there.
Schools should be asking themselves why they should spend $151 on a camera that only shoots digital stills and video and requires a separate device (computer) to edit the images, when for a few dollars more, they can purchase a tablet* that not only takes pictures and video, but edits them and serves a multitude of other functions as well? Really, just how many megapixels does that fifth grader need?
I would question not just the need for stand alone cameras. Tablets are on the verge of replacing:
- Interactive white boards (Apple TV or Reflection will project the iPad screen on which the student or teacher can display work.)
- Student response systems. (PollEverwhere, Socrative, and GoSoapBox are among the programs that use tablets or cellphones instead of "clickers."
- Document cameras. Point the tablet camera at the object and project. iPad stands are under $20.
- Graphing calculators. Use an app.
- GPS systems. Built into phones and tablets.
- Labs. Unless one doing high end video editing or copious amounts of keyboarding, who needs a desktop or full-sized keyboard? List three features in Word that you'd miss if you only used GoogleDocs.
And the thing is, a lot of kids already have these devices, know how to use them, and will happily bring them to school if allowed to do so. Schools can focus their tech spending on devices for kids whose families can't afford them - and kids get to use what they personally know and like. Win - win - win.
Are we selling kids short by offering them a "Swiss Army knife" approach to educational technology? No. The trade between a few, high-powered devices seldom used and ubiquitous, multi-function devices that are always available, is a no-brainer. Go for access.
What is your school no longer buying? Textbooks? Printers? Pencil sharpners?
*GoogleNexus tablets are $199