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iPads In Education – How’s It Going So Far?

by Kelly Walsh on July 10, 2011


A growing number of schools have launched programs to provide iPads to students. What returns is this investment yielding?

There’s no doubt the iPad is a hot topic in education technology today. Just about every week, my preconfigured Google Alerts deliver stories about schools that have decided to provide iPads to their students. With this trend on the rise, the question arises as to how well this investment is paying off at schools that have taken the plunge.

Students with iPads Naselle High School article picture

Picture from article about iPad adoption at Naselle High School

This week I decided to do a little web research to learn more about this topic. Searching for phrases like “ipads in our schools what worked what didn’t” immediately returned a number of relevant articles. Naturally, I’m sharing my findings here, and hope to encourage a dialogue with readers to learn about their experiences and insights.

Naselle High School – teachers and students motivated and engaged
The first article I came across was this one, about the rollout of iPads at Naselle High School in Washington state in the US. Here are a few highlights from the article that stood out for me:

  • They put some solid effort into into implementation planning. They did things like loading the iPads with many education-specific apps that did not require Internet access, and offering a $50 per year insurance policy to parents to help cover any possible damage to the iPad.
  • These statements from students: “Being able to be paperless, not having a lot of loose files in my binder, and best of all, the feeling of having something awesome.”; “The iPads make it easy to look up words and cut down on all the stuff you have to take home for math. You don’t have to take home your paper, calculator and math book. Now, we just take home our math book and iPad.”
  • From the section discussing teacher motivation and engagement: A ninth-grade teacher has integrated the iPads into PE class, with an application that, “allows the kids to measure heart and breathing rates while they reference the national PE fitness standards online”; the director of special education is thrilled with the iPad as she discovers, “how well children with learning disabilities respond to the portable computers”; a science teacher is, “leveraging the enormous potential of the iPads to engage student interest and extend learning beyond the classroom.”

Lincoln Elementary School – information at student’s fingertips
The next story I found explained how a pilot project with 60 iPads for students at Lincoln Elementary School in Little Falls, Minnesota, quickly evolved into hundreds of units, distributed throughout district schools. Again, some of the content of the article jumped out at me, particularly these reflections from a teacher and a couple students:

  • “Fifth-grade teacher Shawn Alholm said the students have been learning so much by having the iPads, including how the technology works and learning more information about various topics. Alholm said if a student doesn’t know a word or how to pronounce it they can easily look it up. If they want to learn more about a historical person, it’s all at their fingertips. Alholm said there also are educational websites on the iPads that also help students with their mathematics.”
  • “Fifth-graders Ethan Wickstrom and Logan Linhardt both said that using the iPads has been fun and they’ve learned a lot more than they would have without them. The students also said that it wasn’t hard for them to figure out how to use them. With a chuckle, Ethan said that carrying the iPad around is much easier than carrying a lot of textbooks around. It helps you focus more on your homework, said Logan. You don’t rush through it as fast.”

Higher Education – a more balanced perspective?
The two stories above sound great, and offer a very positive perspective on iPads in education, but what about the downsides – the issues, the distractions they can provide, lessons learned? As an experienced IT manager, I know that all technologies come with trade offs.

When I added “higher education” to my search criteria, one of the first articles I came across was, “iPads Could Hinder Teaching, Professors Say”, from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The March 2011 article states, “Despite the iPad’s popularity—Apple has sold nearly 15 million of them and just came out with the iPad2 … early studies indicate that these finger-based tablets are passive devices that have limited use in higher education. They are great for viewing media and allow students to share readings. But professors cannot use them to mark up material on the fly and show changes to students in response to their questions, a type of interactivity that has been a major thrust in pedagogy.” (I’m not so sure that there aren’t apps that can provide some of that functionality – KW).

The article contains a lengthy and informative section discussing “Pluses and Minuses”. Even more illuminating is the comments section, where dozens of readers spar verbally and take sides – there can be no doubt that this is a hot button topic, with many defenders and detractors. Comments range from suggestions of banning the use of electronic devices in the classroom entirely, to claims that the author had made up his mind (against the iPad) before writing the article.

One thread of discussion that rang true for me is that these devices are not replacements for desktop or laptop computers – they are a whole new category of device, with a different set of functionalities, and should be considered in that light.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading these articles and intend to find and share more of them. How much of the positive feedback in some of these articles is ‘new toy’ hype, and how much is based on relevant factors like the undeniable ease of portability and use of the iPad? What are we going to be saying about them a year or two down the road, after many of these rollouts have settled in and results become clearer?

I’m going to continue with this topic next week. In the meanwhile, if any of you have experiences you want to share, please comment. We want to hear the downsides too – what have the challenges been? What should institutions that are considering iPads avoid – are there clear pitfalls? Are there specific practices that can help ensure success? Also, if you’ve come across other good articles on the topic, feel free to share them here as well. Thanks!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
10 Excellent iPad Applications for Teachers
Let’s stop misspending education technology dollars
Emerging Education Technologies: Approaches To Staying Informed


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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