Ode to a Doubter of “iPads in Education”

A student in my Ed Tech class for pre-service teachers wrote an excellent blog post questioning whether there is much of a future for iPads in the classroom. Are just an expensive accessory that will get “trimmed” as our provincial education budget inevitably tightens?

The class assignment this particular week was to produce some projects using iPads and experience some class-type activities that allowed learners to be out of their desks and even roaming the campus.  It’s hard to be critical of the engagement for all learners, and especially those who are kinesthetic learners, when you are able to be learning, decision-making and creating while “on the move”!  But I can definitely relate to this student’s frustration at being asked to use an iPad when it is not your tool of choice. I don’t even own an iPhone and only bought an iPad because my school was using them, so learning to navigate on an iPad was and is a stretch for me as well.

She goes on to quote, “Also as a pre-service teacher I find myself going to many different classrooms and I have yet to be in a classroom where the teacher used iPads or has them available for class use. With classroom and school budgets in the decline I feel that classroom and school sets of iPads are not going to be something that is readily available for teachers. Therefore I feel that teachers need to be utilizing the forms of technology that they do have available to them, such as computers, projectors or Smartboards.”

All valid points. There are certainly more classrooms who do NOT use iPads, than those that do at this point in 2015. Furthermore, in our corner of the province, most classrooms have Smartboards and projectors, and, well, I’m a Smartboard junkie, so I’ll never argue about the importance of a Smartboard!

Another excellent point this student made was about observing the difficulty that even  her iPad savvy classmates had moving files between devices. Don’t get me started on the countless hours I have spent trying to devise systems to get a class set of student work OFF of the iPads! IPads were not designed to be used by multiple users, which creates significant challenges in school settings. (Dropbox was the work-around our school settled on.)

Despite these valid reservations about the need for and/or use of iPads in classrooms, my own classroom experience has driven me toward iPads, even though I’ve never been a big iPad fan.  

Two years ago, for instance, in attempt to move toward a 1-1 classroom learning device environment, I spent hours converting many of my lessons into a format that could be readily used by students who would bring their laptops from home.  Many high school students have their own laptop, so it seemed like a great plan.  Here’s the thing….the majority of my students would NOT bring their laptops to school on a regular basis. Too bulky, too heavy, too slow to get on the network. These were just some of the excuses. Can’t we just bring an iPad? At the time, my answer was no….all the time I spent converting lessons doesn’t work on an iPad!

So, this non-iPad girl got thinking. What would it look like to use iPads? About this time I was astonished to hear that our division was pushing iPads as the technology of choice that they would be implementing and supporting.  My favoured “Chromebook” model was given an “absolutely not going in that direction” shut down. So, I began to look at iPads. Could this work for high school humanities classes where we wouldn’t just be “consuming” content by playing/ learning on apps? We need to type multi-page essays–how could this possibly work? Google Docs soon became an important piece of the equation, and so I started to teach my students to use Google Docs way before we had our own school iPads, and perhaps before it was recommended by our division.

There are other signs that iPads are not just an educational fad:

  • Our school is slated for some major renovations. The design team of architects talked about removing our computer labs entirely!  The future looks like iPads and portable laptop labs, not bulky desktop equipment that renders a room otherwise useless.
  • Last month, our school of 450 just bought a second set of 20 iPads (these ones with Bluetooth keyboards).  Because internet access is so immediate, they are often used for research or short activities by two different teachers in the same period.  20 ipads isn’t enough devices for most class sizes, but students WILL bring their own iPads from home on a daily basis.  Between student iPads and mobile phones in a pinch, we always have enough devices.
  • Many times, iPads work great for recording information or creating projects in groups of 2-4, so I can even run a great lessons using iPads with only 5 or 6 devices.

At this point, I can’t imagine a near future in educational environments without iPads.

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