“He never assumed the mouse would be it,” said the younger Englebart, who wrote her father’s biography. “He always figured there would be newer ways of exploring a computer.”
She was 8 years old when her father invented the mouse. Now 57, she says she is finally seeing glimpses of the next stage of computing with the surging popularity of the iPad. These days her two children, 20 and 23, do not use a mouse anymore.
San Antonio and LUCHA elementary schools in eastern San Jose, just 17 miles south of where Englebart conducted his research, provide a glimpse at the future. The schools, which share a campus, have integrated iPod Touches and iPads into the curriculum for all 700 students. The teachers all get Mac Airbooks with touch pads.
“Most children here have never seen a computer mouse,” said Hannah Tenpas, 24, a kindergarten teacher at San Antonio.
Kindergartners, as young as 4, use the iPod Touch to learn letter sounds. The older students use iPads to research historical information and prepare multimedia slide-show presentations about school rules. The intuitive touch-screen interface has allowed the school to introduce children to computers at an age that would have been impossible in the past, said San Antonio Elementary’s principal, Jason Sorich.
Even toddlers are able manipulate a touch screen. A popular YouTube video shows a baby trying to swipe the pages of a fashion magazine that she assumes is a broken iPad.
“For my one-year-old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work. It will remain so for her whole life,” the creator of the video says in a slide at the end of the clip.
The iPad side of the brain
“The popularity of iPads and other tablets is changing how society interacts with information,” said Aniket Kittur, an assistant professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “. . . Direct manipulation with our fingers, rather than mediated through a keyboard/mouse, is intuitive and easy for children to grasp.”
Underkoffler said that while desktop computers helped activate the language and abstract-thinking parts of a child’s brain, new interfaces are helping open the spatial part.
“Once our user interface can start to talk to us that way . . . we sort of blow the barn doors off how we learn,” he said.
That may explain why iPads are becoming so popular in schools. Apple said in July that the iPad outsold the Mac 2 to 1 for the second consecutive quarter in the education market. In all, the company sold 17 million iPads in the April-to-June quarter; at the same time, mouse sales in the United States are down, some manufacturers say.
“The adoption rate of iPad in education is something I’d never seen from any technology product in history,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in July.
At San Antonio Elementary and LUCHA, which started their $300,000 iPad and iPod experiment last school year, the school board president, Esau Herrera, said he is thrilled by the results. Test scores have gone up (although officials say they cannot directly correlate that to the new technology), and the level of engagement has increased.
The schools are now debating what to do with the handful of legacy desktop PCs, each with its own keyboard and mouse, and whether they should bother teaching students to move a pointer around a monitor.
“Things are moving so fast,” said LUCHA Principal Kristin Burt, “that we’re not sure the computer and mouse will even be around when they get old enough to really use them.”