In my first post in this series I started by explaining that there are plenty of good reasons (as well, I’m sure, as some weak ones) that more and more schools are seeing the iPad as their educational technology tool of choice.
Since writing that, Tablets for Schools have published the next stage of their research on the topic; I find it hard to keep up with the oscillating claims about market share/ take-up (compare it, for example, with BESA’s report from last year) but one thing seems clear; schools think the tablet works as a form factor, and their product of choice is Apple’s.
Why is this? I’ve already given my opinion on size/ weight/ battery life, the ‘feel’ of the tablet as compared to a traditional computer, and the fact that the iPad successfully converges the functionality of several devices we’d ordinarily have had to use separately. But there are more:
- Ease of use. Do teachers need iPad training?
Whilst the word ‘intuitive’ gets thrown around far too casually these days, it was the iPad that made it that way. These things are just plain easy to use. Interactions are pretty much limited to swipes, prods and holding down on an icon. If you can’t make it do what you want with one of those three, it probably doesn’t do it. There are no menus and in-app icons are usually limited to three or four. There’s no file structure to navigate – your stuff is in the app where you left it. The result is that children and teachers alike can use these tools with confidence and fluidity. Can we really say that of any prior technological intrusion into the classroom? I can’t think of any.
That’s not to say that training, or rather professional development, isn’t needed. It certainly is, because surface-deep confidence with a device is a very different thing from being able to apply its capabilities effectively for learning and teaching.
My point here is that the repeated, system-wide failure of technology projects in education is explained only partly by the technology and almost wholly by the difficulty in getting teachers to change. Most of the challenge of change is around risk, fear and doubts over the efficacy of new methods. The iPad may not solve all these, but its simplicity, reliability and overall utility make it the best candidate for success we’ve yet seen in the sector.
- Consumerism of IT
This one is pretty obvious – nothing succeeds like success, and the iPad is common in schools because it is common in wider society. The breakthrough of tablet computers into our living rooms means that the average adult working in education already gets it. They’re used to having the sum of human knowledge, and Netflix, at their fingertips and it doesn’t take a huge leap for them to think ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be useful if all my pupils were similarly empowered with a personal device like this?’
Similarly, the iPad is an accepted norm of youth culture. Indeed, many children will see the device as part of their world and a strange intrusion into their educational life. Using a tool like the iPad in the classroom leverages pupils’ skills and experiences from their ‘real’ lives and frames learning in a medium that resonates more strongly with some than paper ever will. I’ve just read that sentence back, and it makes me a bit sad, but I think it is now true of our society. It is the natural order of things that the new generation rejects the ways of the old one, as countless minds better than mine have observed since antiquity.
- ‘Think Different’
I’ve saved the most important until last. ‘Think Different’ was, for a long time in the 90s, Apple’s marketing line. It said ‘You’re not one of these easily-led automatons who uses Windows just because everyone else does, you’re a free thinking individual’, which rates an 11 on my Hindsight-Irony-O-Meter. Putting that aside though, the rhetoric has actually become the reality – the iPad truly does offer a different experience from that available elsewhere.
This is related to the point about the iPad’s convergence, its mobility, how easy it is to use and the richness of the app offering. But let’s go back a step, because to understand this it is necessary to understand what teachers have been used to. For too many for too long, technology has meant occasional access to IT rooms, where – hermetically sealed from wider cultures of learning – children would research things haphazardly on the Internet and then turn this information into garish PowerPoint presentations that would never be presented to anyone.
Learning with an iPad is utterly different from this. Firstly, it can be integrated into any lesson, whenever technology offers the best way of doing something; tech becomes not an ‘event’ but just another tool. Secondly, the toolset is totally different. Whilst you can indeed make slideshows or word processed documents on an iPad, people tend not to, because the alternatives are so much more powerful. The ability to explain what you know and what you’ve found out through a combination of text, images, video and audio, without needing an entire Key Stage of ICT lessons to learn the skills is empowering for both pupil and teacher and involves higher-order cognitive processes – it results in more effective learning, in short.
I’ll close with an observation about the release of the Office suite for iPad. This happened in March of 2014 and many commentators opined that this showed the iPad had finally ‘come of age’, the implication being that until the grande dame of productivity software was on the platform, it wasn’t worth bothering with… Schools already making effective use of iPads already just shrugged and carried on making Explain Everything slides; they’d moved beyond the mindset that technology in the classroom equalled typing text onto a screen. Microsoft have now done a volte face on the licensing of these apps, accepting the inevitability that they need to be largely free if anyone is going to use them.
I’m sure there are other things that could be added to this list, and plenty to disagree with within it too. These posts have been an attempt to articulate a whole host of small things that add up to a compelling tool for schools – a combination of factors that makes iPads much more likely to lead to sustained change than any other technology we’ve seen to date.