3 (more) reasons why schools are choosing iPads

3 (more) reasons why schools are choosing iPads

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:

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. ‘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.

 

Image credit

 

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks for this succinct article. You’ve pulled together many of the thoughts that swim around in my head into some clearly articulated arguments.
    I had dreamt of using iPads in a 1:1 situation since they first came out. This year I am teaching in a 1:1 environment with Surface Pro 3. I tried to convince my admin team that we should consider pedagogy first and discuss what we wanted to achieve but they were blinkered by the hype of getting an iPad and a laptop in one. Unfortunately this is not what Surface Pro 3 offers. It is definitely not an iPad and as the keyboard and trackpad seem to work intermittently for many of my students, it is not the best laptop out there either.
    I think that a truely useful tablet computer offers something beyond the more traditional laptop and thus is what you have described in your article.
    Thankyou. If only my admin team had read your article before making a decision.

    Reply
    • Thanks Jane. I wrestled with the possibility of a W8 tablet in one of the 1-to-1s I was running. It is a seductive proposition, from a security, integration & change management perspective.

      Surface Pro 3 is the only Windows tablet of real quality I’ve found, but wow – at what a price!

      For that money, as you observe, you get something that seems neither a tablet nor a laptop, but some bastardisation of the two. For me, the problem is with Windows – it was never built for touch and I’m just not going to start using a stylus to make up for the OS’s inadequacies!

      It can be maddening to try and get SLT/ tech support to see beyond the seemingly obvious benefits of ‘staying Windows’ but the reality shows, time and again, unless you start with the pedagogy and what you actually want to be able to do, nothing changes. Another expensive, underwhelming IT project in education. Pedagogy first, device choice last.

      Reply
  2. There is no comparing a Surface Pro to an iPad. An iPad is a consumption tool. The Surface Pro is a much more powerful creation tool with no technology limits. From Flash apps to regular web apps, it is very powerful in the hands of a student. I am witnessing many tech configurations in classrooms and clearly an iPad is much more limiting and expensive for its capabilities. IPad =600$ vs Surface Pro =700$. No contest to me.

    Reply
    • It’s not a contest, Paul. The point of this series of posts was to explain the thinking behind why many schools are choosing the iPad. Some are not. That is also fine. The important thing is that all schools should engage with the question of what it is that they want to do with the tool, before they engage with ‘which tool shall we buy?’

      Reply
    • I think the iPad is much more than a consumption tool. It is equipped with numerous sensors such as cameras, a microphone, a three axis gyro, an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor… Yes, many apps and games use these sensors and the hope is that we will buy some of those, but these sensors also allow the user to capture and output data in a wide variety of formats easily and reliably. This is what schools look for. IOS is also fully compatible with MS Office, so that’s not an issue either.

      Flash is a legacy platform. Even Adobe has more or less given up on it and no longer supports it on mobile devices. Adobe has committed to “aggressively contribute” to HTML5 instead. This is before we consider the fact that Flash is a not an open standards platform, unlike HTML5.

      Reply

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