iPod touch in School

My thanks to Chris Foresman at Ars Technica for covering the issue of restricted applications being browseable in the App Store, even when restricted. I wanted to write a bit more about a couple of issues that people have raised in comments both on Twitter and at Ars.

That's not Porn, this is Porn

It was never my intention with this to get into a debate about the definition of pornography. I used the title "The Apple Soft Porn Store" to be catchy and memorable, but nothing here really hinges on the how-many-sirens-can-lapdance-on-the-head-of-a-pin question of "is it porn?".

The point is that these applications have been given an age rating for a reason. Many of these apps only exist to present images that are delivered inside the application binary and, thus, viewing screenshots of the app is little different to installing and using the app, except in terms of the number of images available, perhaps.

Kids Can See Porn On the Web At Home

Of course they can. What they can't do is see porn using my computers, on my network in my school and expect to get away with it. Plenty things happen outside school that aren't allowed inside school:

Young men have been known to sort out their differences with a bout of fisticuffs in the local park but we don't fit them for school-issue gumshields.

The senior pupils may illicitly partake of the gift of Dionysus of a weekend but we don't serve Beaujolais in the lunch hall.

That similar images are freely available elsewhere in society is to miss the point so completely as to disqualify you from the discussion. If I handed out copies of Nuts magazine in my classroom and explained to parents that there's no problem because their sons can get that from the newsagent too, how long do you think I would be in a job?

17+ Isn't Just For Porn

Apple's policy is that any application that may retrieve content from the open internet has to be rated 17+. Some people pointed out that removing all 17+ apps from restricted devices is unfair to those apps. I agree, but I also think that the number of age-restricted devices and iTunes accounts in the world will be but a tiny fraction of the total market.

The core problem here is that Apple's ratings and policy cannot discriminate between "frequent/intense sexual content" and "loads web pages".

Why Use iPod Touch and Not Netbooks?

This is about the only genuinely good question to arise from the Ars thread. There are a few reasons, which I'll discuss:

Firstly, I like NetBooks for education. I think they're pretty great for people whose hands are half the size of an adult's. The problem is that Netbooks are, largely, sold as commodity items in supermarkets.

We have 100 pupils in the school. When you phone up most places and say "I would like to buy about one hundred of your narrowest-margin items", the answer is along the lines of "jolly good, nip off to our website and use your credit card, there's a good chap".

We have a great relationship with our local Apple Store and, for us, that's a huge advantage. It's an advantage in pre-sales and it's an advantage in post-sales support and repair. Having a drop-off/pick-up repair shop 30 minutes drive away beats the pants off having to ship it off to some remote warehouse-based repair place. This is triply-true when you have 150+ devices under your command and simple statistics say that you're going to see a higher absolute number of failures.

Another reason that some teachers brought up is that a laptop of any size (even a netbook) quickly becomes the only thing on the desk. It's precisely because we want to use a range of high- and low-technological teaching tools that we were led to look at the iPod touch. A little iPod sitting on the desk alongside books, paper and pencil doesn't dominate the learning experience in the way that a laptop does.

Finally, there's the charging issue. We could reasonably expect to get a whole school day's worth of use out of an iPod touch on one charge. We're looking at putting the 4-port Griffin PowerDock into the classrooms so that kids whose devices are running low can juice them up during a lesson.

Speirs, You Suck and Should Be Fired

Well both of these things are probably true and, like Pete Venkman, I'd go quietly and enjoy my time in prison.