iPad: A Question of Aesthetics

Seven short days ago I was getting up at about this time in order to get in line at the Apple Store. So with a full week under my belt I'll go ahead and give you my thoughts on the iPad.

I don't think you need one.

Wait, what?

Look, I just think it's easier if I get that thought out of the way up front, so we can focus on what this device is about. I'm not trying to convince anyone to get an iPad. The fact of the matter is that, from a purely utilitarian standpoint, you just don't "need" one. There is nothing you can "do" with an iPad that you can't "do" with something you already own. That's the truth.

But iPad isn't about what you do, it's about how you do it. It's really about aesthetics. As a music teacher aesthetics that is wired into my life on a daily basis. The "how" and "why" of things matter to me. Since my generation (those of us who had TRS-80s in high school) grew up around the advent of computers, we sometimes struggle with the concept of computing being a pleasant experience. Many feel it should continue to be a proving ground for those who can "get under the hood" and tinker, troubleshoot, etc. In my opinion, the biggest reason Apple products have become so popular with younger (and older) generations is because those people don't bring that history with them to the computing experience. They want things that "just work" to the point that the device itself sort of disappears. The content is the focus, and the device should serve it. I certainly identify with that mindset.

So, for example, if I am at my desk, I prefer to work on a laptop. At work I am primarily creating content, and for that I want a large screen, printing, a physical keyboard, and feature-rich software. The iPad doesn't give me those things. Can you type on the iPad? Yes of course, and it's fine. But typing on the iPad, like the iPhone, is utilitarian. Though there will probably be some who can type just as fast on the iPad as a laptop, I prefer the typing experience on a mechanical keyboard, particularly Apple's latest "chicklet" style keyboards. And yes, Apple has released the iWork apps so you can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the iPad. Still, content creation, for me, will continue to primarily happen on a laptop because it is the richer experience.

That being said, when I want to consume content, whether in my leather chair or laying on the couch, the iPad excels. The ability to hold the display close and navigate quickly with your fingers is a far more pleasing way to surf, read, and view images and movies. The design is exquisite, the battery life is astounding (I'm regularly getting 11 hours or more) and it doesn't heat up (if you have spent any time with a laptop on your lap you are quite familiar with the heat issues). The iPad is the best consumption device I have ever used, and it is changing the way I experience media. And when I say "best"  I'm not talking about a side-by-side list of features, I'm talking about an overall aesthetic.

Book reading is much more pleasing on the iPad than on a laptop or an iPhone. The "pages" are about the size of a physical book. This of course brings up the point of whether physical books are better. Well, there is a tactile aspect that cannot be denied. If you prefer that experience, then the iPad will probably leave you wanting. But the iPad has some aspects to it that are either impractical or impossible with "real" books. For example, you cannot read a book in the dark, but you can do so on the iPad. You can also "carry" hundreds of books and magazines with you and have any of them at your disposal instantly. And of course the search, dictionary, and font capabilities are fantastic. For me it is the best way to read. I can't imagine we won't see student textbook migrate to this device. Chiropractor bills alone could justify the cost of an iPad for many students.

The web surfing experience on the iPad is great. Even though the Facebook iPhone app is excellent, I much prefer to interact with the actual site. If you have ever tried to do that on an iPhone you should try it on an iPad so you can understand what a difference the screen size makes. The "pinch" technology is very smooth and accurate, and touching links is very intuitive and quick, even more so than on the iPhone because you don't have to be quite as careful since everything is larger. I would much rather surf the web on my iPad than on a laptop or my iPhone. To those of you wondering about Flash, I won't go into the full discussion now, but just notice how fewer and fewer sites are using it. Whether you agree with Apple's position or not, there are about 85 million of their mobile devices out there now, and web developers are not going to ignore the fact that Apple prefers HTML 5 standards over Flash. Sorry Adobe but that's how it's going to be. But I digress.

Photos are gorgeous on the iPad. Sitting it in the dock and pressing an icon turns it into a digital photo frame with typical Apple elegance. In the hand it is a much nicer photo viewing experience than either the iPhone or a laptop.

Movies are perfect for the iPad. Yes it is doable on an iPod Touch, iPhone, or laptop, but they just don't compare to having a decent size screen in your hands. Pair a set of Bluetooth headphones and you are in for a treat. ABC and Netflix have jumped on the iPad band wagon and I suspect we will see many more content providers release apps in the coming months.

And speaking of apps.... even after one week it is easy to see how the app experience is going to be qualitatively different on the iPad. There is so much more information that can be included on the screen, and developers are taking advantage of that. I think we're going to see some excellent educational apps that will will make the classroom more interactive, productive, and provide the teacher with much more individual input about student learning. Clickers are nice, but just wait and see what iPad developers bring us, I think it's going to be exciting and if done right, far more immersive and engaging for students than cumbersome laptops when reading and interacting are called for.

So there you have it, my thoughts on the iPad. Clearly there are those who feel it is "just a big iPod Touch." For those who do not value the "how" as much as the "what" that will probably hold true. But for me, the iPad is my device of choice for content consumption. The aesthetic experience it provides is unlike anything else, and for me that is significant.

iPad: Review of Early Edition

Here is a new app that has a lot of potential if you prefer a more "newspaper-like" blog reading experience. It's called Early Edition and sells for $4.99. There are a few bugs/issues that need to be worked out, but a very nice initial effort that takes advantage of things the iPad does well.

Sorry for the low light iPhone video, but at least you'll will get the idea of this app.

Update: Bug regarding Posterous feeds has been fixed!

On Festivals and Contests

Achieved In about 45 minutes there is going to be a "musedchat" on Twitter regarding the values of festivals and contests. I know myself well enough to realize that I can't fully express myself on this topic by using tweets. So although I'm going to try, I figured I'd better get some clarifying thoughts written here first. I hope you don't think this is against the spirit of the chat concept, it's just a complex subject that I've been thinking about for decades. Please forgive the typos and poor sentence structure, I'm typing fast!


As I've written before, I do not think that competition should be a part of curricular ensembles. This is nearly unavoidable, since even the invited opportunities such as the Midwest Clinic or the National Concert Band Festival are competitive during the application process. I can live with that, but I cannot support the idea of a fully ranked competition. I want my students to be able to focus on (and celebrate) the manifestation of the music, and that just isn't realistic when there are ranks and trophies at stake. I just don't see the musical upside.


I also find the "Divisional Rating System" to be problematic, though perhaps marginally "less bad" than ranked competition. Playing for three band directors in a gymnasium is simply not my idea of an excellent performance opportunity. I have also found that I get input/criticisms that are far more beneficial to me and my students by inviting respected professionals to our classroom for clinics. It is amazing what a colleague can share with you and the students when they are not worried about stamping a rating on it.


Festivals (at least in Illinois) come in two basic flavors. The first is the "Honor" ensemble whereby each school sends a small number of students in order to form one large ensemble (and when I say "large" boy do I mean "large"). Typically students audition for these spots. These festivals can be a positive experience for some students, but there can also be a fair amount of disappointment for the students who do not place "high enough" in the section or do not receive a placement at all. I could go on at length about the actual festival experiences (whether single day or multiple days) which often lack a clear sense of philosophical grounding and therefore become "hit or miss" from year to year. I'm sure we've all had students return from these events only to proclaim that there experiences at home were more enjoyable and musically beneficial. If we're going to support these types of events, we need to think carefully about that.

The second type of festival is the format I vastly prefer, whereby groups come together to perform in a non-competitive, "comments-only" format. The National Concert Band Festival is a prime example. I especially like how the students support each other by serving as audience members. The main advantages of this type of experience are (a) your entire ensemble participates, (b) you are able to focus almost exclusively upon the repertoire, and (c) you are usually performing for a knowing audience in an appropriate performance space.

Collaboration Concerts

One idea we are starting to see in Illinois is the idea of sharing concerts between schools. For example, a trusted colleague and I rented a nearby college concert hall and we presented a concert, each with one of our bands. Then for the last piece we combined the groups and performed together. This gave an "off campus" opportunity for our students to work towards, there were no rankings or ratings, and we played in a marvelous hall. And the students got to learn about the musical approach of a nearby school and show support for each other. I found this to be one of the more significantly relevant endeavors we have ever done, and I look forward to making it a tradition.

Well, there are my thoughts. Clearly more than I could fit into a tweet. Your comments are welcomed.

Teaching: Profession and Professionalism

mugged Recently I stumbled upon a blog post by Will Richardson talking about professional development for teachers, specifically in the area of technology. In the subsequent comments under the post the discussion between David Warlick and a few others took an interesting turn from professional development to whether or not teaching iteself is a profession. David posted additional thoughts on his own blog:

If you think of teaching as something you do in one room, beside the room of another teacher, beside the room of another teacher, delivering content or directing skill development, checking off standards sheets, and doing pretty much the same thing year after year — then I would agree with Sheryl.  Semi-profession might actually be generous.  Much of the job, especially as addressed by NCLB, is more like being a technician, applying prescribed, researched, and government-approved techniques on students, based on high-precision measurements.

I suspect that the term professional, has described teachers because they’ve earn a college degree, and years ago they were among the only people in many communities who were educated to that level.

I agree completely with the spirit of David's thoughts. Yet it concerns me that there is a tendency to use terms like profession, professionalism, and professional development interchangably. I know some may think it's just semantics, but I think there's more to it and we need to be more intentional about our word choice. Do some of us really believe that teaching is not a profession?

There is little question that there are some teachers who lack professionalism. Nor is there much doubt that some teachers need more professional development, especially in these times of exponential change. We've experienced administrators, board members, and legislators who may not treat teachers professionally. While a profession, the conduct of those within it, and the treatment of its members are certainly related, they are still clearly distinct. Furthermore, these are the realities of any profession. Can you think of a profession that does not have these same challenges? The bottom line is that the challenges we face do not change the fact that teaching is a profession.

"A profession is a vocation founded upon specialised educational training, the purpose of which is to supply disinterested counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain".[1]

By any reasonable definition of the word (like the one above), teaching "meets or exceeds" the definition of a profession. We hold college degrees and state/national certification. We provide service to others, are directly compensated, and teach without expecation of "other business gain." If teaching is not a profession, what is it? And what careers are professions, if teaching is not chief among them?

Having said that, if someone is qualified to enter the profession, does that mean he will surely conduct himself professionally? Will she continue to develop her teaching skills throughout her career? These are important questions of conduct within the profession, or professionalism. We must not confuse the two, nor use the terms interchagably.

We can (and should) discuss educational professionalism without any doubt that what we do is a profession. Let's be sure we are choosing (and using) our words carefully.  To my mind, teaching continues to be one of the most essential professions on this earth, and we would serve ourselves well to not only keep that in mind, but believe it to the core. If we don't, why would anyone else?

Midori Q&A - Ovation | ColumbiaTribune.com

Midori: I think that every child should have the opportunity to play or explore whatever kind of music speaks to them and to take that experience into adulthood. The eventual manifestation could be as a devoted listener, a casual player or a paid professional musician; whatever that might be, simply having those musical opportunities as a child ultimately benefits the individual as well as the larger culture. No matter the level of experience or talent, I am always amazed by children’s capacity to love music and to embrace it. At the very beginner level, the focus should be on the individual and to nurture the child as a whole person, rather than focusing on a specific talent or skill. For instance, at Midori & Friends (my nonprofit organization in New York), we emphasize a process-oriented, rather than goal-oriented, approach to music education. As I mentioned above, whether or not this young person grows up to play the violin professionally or for fun or not at all, just having this exposure to the arts will benefit and enrich their lives tremendously.

This interview with Midori is worth reading. We had the opportunity to bring Midori to our school last year. Her commitment to music education is unwavering. Notice her statement about nurturing "the child as a whole person." That needs to be the core of our educational mission in this country.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

This is a fantastic TED Talk given by author Elizabeth Gilbert in February of 2009. Since that time it has remained one of the most popular videos at ted.com, which is further evidence that creativity continues to be on everyone's minds these days. As you watch it, resist the assumption that ensemble music students are creative by default, and instead think about how you can empower your students to become more involved in the creative process of bringing music to fruition. Further, what does it mean for music teachers to be creative?

What do you think? Leave a comment, it only takes a moment.