Appophobia: (n) A lingering fear and distrust of apps
Always do what you are afraid to do.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
We have evolved into what we are because we have somehow learned to balance mistrust and wariness of danger with a counterbalancing willingness to explore and exploit the rewards of equally dangerous undertakings and adventures. The stories of our histories would be tepid and soon forgotten if not faced with struggle and perseverance that somehow revealed a greater truth and wisdom and courage to live in a higher state of existence. If we do not accept and embrace this, then we may as well just relegate ourselves to a more diminished and ignorant self. Mighty high sounding talk, I know, to lead into a discussion of apps on an iPad.
But, it is what it is…
Every folder on my iPad is essentially a toolbox where I keep useful tools. I never let any one toolbox contain more tools that can fit on the cover screen of any folder—usually something like 12 apps, most of which I seldom use, but some that are essential to my daily workflow. It is no different than the toolboxes a I use when teaching shop or managing the various projects I undertake at home.
I have a toolbox for plumbing supplies and tools. I have a toolbox for painting supplies. I have a toolbox for woodcarving. I have a toolbox for working on my car and bus and boat. All of these are kept in my workshop and in my shed along with benches, shelves, vices and hooks and hangers.
Not once has someone said to me: “Fitz, you have too many tools in too many boxes in too many places.” I simply have what I need and what has evolved to serve the purposes and tasks of my everyday life. And still I sometimes have to go to Tom Cummings shop or a friend’s garage or another friend’s shed to “borrow” what I need, but don’t have.
So why the incessant hubbub I hear about too many apps on a student’s iPad? If they are useful to him or her—or me as their teacher—it is a useful app, regardless of how often a specific app is used. My shop students routinely come to a shop filled with all manner of tools—most of which those students are clueless about how to use.
And the funny thing is that it never seems to bother them or their parents or the school because everyone intuitively trusts that what is there is a useful and an ultimately necessary part of a dynamic and well-equipped shop.
And many of them are extremely dangerous tools! Way more dangerous than GarageBand, Book Creator, iTunes U and iMovie. This appophobia is as senseless as it is crippling, and the clarion call to forbid these apps is being led by people who have no clue how to use and exploit these tools for academic benefit.
The usual fallback for declaring an app to be useless is to lament that learning new apps is confusing and distracting and the sign of an out of touch teacher. With that logic we should throw out quadratic equations, the krebb’s cycle and the causes of The Civil War, and the proper use of conjunctive adverbs. We should ban backpacks with more than three textbooks, any loose sheaves of paper and calculators with any kind of trigonometry functions. We shouldn’t give a lecture that is more than five minutes long or occasionally ask kids to just remember the assignment—as in just remember the conversation we had at the end of class.
Imagine the horror of so many when the first pencils with built in erasers tumbled off the assembly line. Mistakes could now be hidden with a simple flick of the wrist. How could teachers even begin to know what students did and did not know? Imagine a school allowing students to use textbooks to supplant the power of a teacher’s oration on any given subject matter?
Education is like a shark: if it does not continue to move forward, it dies. If education does not move in the direction of its prey, it ultimately weakens and dies. If we put myopic restraints on a teacher thing to put new and dynamic power into the hands of his or her students and forge a new and better way of learning, then education dies. No fish can ever be caught without stirring the waters, so we should embrace the messiness of learning as the tailings of a miner’s labor.
Which brings me back to this iPad of mine tapping away in the stillness of a late September night. It is my poets hoe, my pick axe, chisel and plane. It is doing what I need it to do at this given point in time. In a few minutes (I hope) it will be the final chapter in a good book. Tomorrow it may record my songs, film my video, craft my essay, fill my journal, create my quiz, model my discussion, post my assignment, paint my canvas, grade my homework—and when I don’t want it or need it, or feel if is useful, it simply disappears.
Back into my shed, my toolbox, or some dusty shelf…
The iPad is not a tool or a device or a thing. It is an enabler of possibility. Apps are not a panoply of evil undertakings; they are merely shovels and spades that let us dig deeper and faster and cut our corners as clean and square as Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne.
And I do not have a problem with that.