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


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


  1. Thanks for the valuable information about how iPad has changed the traditional education system nowadays. Both teaching and learning practice has been changed due to technology. Students are quite happy to study using iPad.

  2. Tablets versus books? Isn’t this the real question. Why do we need tablets? Well lets see
    *exponential population growth. *Lack of fossil fuels in the future. *Rate of knowledge exchange. *need to find scientific and social solutions to a growing environmental problem.
    These are just a few current reasons for education, not sexy but real.
    So what will answer that problem when it comes to education?
    Books take several months to be created and published but the pre press part of the process is common its the printing and distribution that takes at least half this time. So we need oil and industrial machines to make books then we use trucks and planes to deliver them. Then we use cars to get them when trucks are not being used to deliver to the door. Then we need millions of people to distribute them from retail and online stores which means they need to drive to the workplace. Then we have a banking and extra finance required to create these monoliths. Then we find we need to update them with editions. So how are these books made “Oh thats right paper from trees I forgot that, so we need forest and land to create the trees. Now land dedicated to creation of paper may tend to impinge on two things 1. Food security (remember the begining when I mentioned exponential population growth.) and 2. The natural habitat for all flora and fauna that makes up what is a diminishing ecosystem.
    So where are we, oh yes, an archaic system of information delivery that threatens are very existence.
    Hey tablets aren’t perfect but what was the choice again?!?

  3. Great blog! I have been very curious as to how IPads are managed in the school. It just so happens that I got 2 emails today regarding articles about IPads. One was for it and the other against. I am going to have a training on IPads this weekend. I will share what I have learned. If you are interested in the articles, see the attached urls’.
    Also if you have some time please comment on my blogg.


  4. Gotta respond to that last comment – the iPad in education has only just begun to pave the way for tablets in general to be commonplace in student’s hands, and misperceptions like these are falling by the wayside. While sadly some schools will use them in ways that are not too beneficial, often due to limited planning and/or inadequate training and professional development, many are using them is smartly designed programs that are showing benefits. Check our iPads in Education Category (https://www.emergingedtech.com/category/ipads-and-other-tablet-devices/) for stories like these and many more: Study Finds Benefits in Use of iPad as an Educational Tool (https://www.emergingedtech.com/2012/07/study-finds-benefits-in-use-of-ipad-as-educational-tool/), Study shows 15% improvement in 5th grader’s fractions test scores after playing iPad Motion Math game for a week (https://www.emergingedtech.com/2011/12/study-shows-15-improvement-in-5th-graders-fractions-test-scores-after-playing-ipad-motion-math-game-for-a-week/).

  5. $700 pacifier without a keyboard a high tech toy folks. The potential for abuse is enormous. Kids are kids – are they going to play angry bird games or study? It comes down to the teacher. Bring back the projector & teach the kids how to do research at the library. The limits of the internet are obvious, tons of superficial information & no depth. Why learn to spell if you have spell check. Why learn to multiply if you have a calculator. I have little faith that these devices will aid the average kid, much less those on the low end of the scale. Books may weigh a little bit more but they have depth. Lazy teachers must just love them.

  6. I recently purchased an ipad to use for my course work at Portland State University. I have been through many brands of styluses and note taking apps but I finally found ones that work well for me. I take all of my notes on my ipad and use a pdf app to organize my note files and study. The ipad substantially reduces the amount of paper and books I have to constantly carry around with me if I think I may want to study between classes on campus. All I need is my ipad. The down side is that the few nights I have forgotten to charge it or forgotten my stylus at home, going to class is exponentially more difficult since I’ve learned to depend so completely on my ipad. I would highly recommend an ipad to everyone for school. Notability is the best note taking app I have encountered, $1.99 well spent.

  7. There are insurance programs for the iPad that are worth considering. I don’t know much about them (sometimes I see an ad for one of these displayed here in the sidebar through Google’s context-sensitive ad services).

  8. One question and then a suggestion:

    What’s the plan if a kid looses (getting it stolen is more probable) or breaks his/her iPad?

    We have two portable carts that hold 25 iPads in our school. A Techie is responsible for loading apps in advance of our needing them. He can only do this one pad at a time. It’s extremely time consuming. Apple must create a “hub” system where you can load an app (or re-configure if necessary) to all 25 at once.

  9. […] 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. iPads In Education – How’s It Going So Far? | Emerging Education Technology […]

  10. […] iPads In Education – How’s It Going So Far? | Emerging Education Technology 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 […]

  11. […] Last week we started looking at rollouts of iPads in schools by searching out, reading, and summarizing findings in articles discussing these types of programs. This week we continue our examination of this topic by sharing take-aways from this excellent article in the March/April 2011 Educause Review. Educators Mary Ann Gawalek, Mary Sparato, and Phil Komarny from Seton Hill University wrote this highly informative overview of the recent introduction of iPads at their university. […]

  12. Sounds like an awesome idea, what ever makes it easier for children to learn. There are so many things that can be done to heighten the learning experience for children. The problem is with budget cuts nation wide building adequate schools to house these kids in is often the first hurdle. Expensive technology though not needed is often overlooked.

  13. A colleague and I have just completed an action research project in our first grade “leveled” reading classrooms. We had the 30 most at-risk readers in our grade level. My colleague and I collected data and compared scores to our groups from the previous year in four categories: Sight word recognition, Fluency, Comprehension, and Vocabulary recognition and meaning. This year’s students, who practiced all of these skills on iPads, averaged higher scores than the previous year’s students. We quickly discovered an unintended outcome: measurable improvement with time on task (t.o.t.). After a special education teacher came in and collected data for us, we couldn’t believe our eyes when one group’s t.o.t. improved by 20%, while the other reading group improved %15 on iPad use days vs. non-iPad use days.

    Biggest iPad PRO: (Although there were many more) MOTIVATION with what typically ends up being our toughest groups for behavior.

    Biggest iPad CON: (Although there are others to discuss) We had a difficult time finding apps to practice comprehension.

    The goal of the project was to provide an innovative learning experience for our “at risk” learners and include 21st Century Learning experiences in both teaching and learning experiences. We hope to continue to share our story through publications and present to districts interested in deploying iPads to early elementary learners. We can’t imagine teaching without them!

    Sara Getting and Karin Swainey

  14. Good step in moving towards recent technologies!
    Please also share how schools are going to use this for study purpose and other activities.

  15. We’re in the midst of providing a very small number of ipads to 5 teachers in our school so I’m keen to find out the pros and cons that other teachers have experienced. So far as the person in charge of syncing the devices I haven’t hit too many road blocks although it does take a bit of patience to decide on apps, name and sync all the devices and check their internet connectivity. I’m looking forward to seeing them in use in the classroom. My main reason for pushing their implementation is the portability and the ease in which children can use them. I’ve used them with my news team with great success . I’ll be blogging about our adventures with ipads as soon as I get them all ready 🙂

  16. Thanks for this!

    I just posted an article to my blog on using a free web-based service called Socrative. It’s a powerful alternative to student response systems. It turns any device that has internet access into a classroom clicker: http://suefrantz.com/2011/07/10/socrative-turn-student-smartphones-into-clickers/

    Backchan.nl allows participants to share their thoughts and questions electronically. It has been making inroads at conferences. I anticipate it showing up more in classrooms. See: http://suefrantz.com/2011/02/05/backchan-nl-another-way-to-communicate-live/

    Also look for QR codes to start showing up as an interactive feature in textbooks.

    As with any tool, it’s not the tool but what you do with it.

  17. Great point Doug – this is precisely one of the things I’m concerned about as we consider adoption of iPads at our school. We’re considering the potential need to increase overall bandwidth, and the number of access points. I too would love to hear more about how others have addressed this.

  18. Thanks Lyndon – I agree fully that educators shouldn’t think of the iPad (or most tablets) as a potential replacement for other computing devices, and thought I made that specific point. As I wrote, “they are a whole new category of device”. While education is traditionally a laggard at tech adoption, there are also countless teachers who are looking forward and embracing technology, as evidenced by the thousands of subscribers to this blog, and by the hundreds of blogs and websites on the web focused on education technology.

  19. I read your article and response… Sorry I get so mad when you repeat the same old phrase “This not going to replace that”. Why should you automatically assume that when a new device comes out it is there to REPLACE another! That is such a lame old argument! Why not think fresh and see this as another device in the tool bag. Teachers/professors or what ever one wants to be referred to are probably the WORST people on the planet to adopt change. I am sure it is well documented that education is always one of the last areas to adopt new technology! So don’t get pissed when education is ignored! Educators are notorious for comparing this with that and then finally seeing the point of something new when it becomes old and passed most people by! I guess you will catch up one day! Good luck!

  20. Thank you for this informative post. I have been trying to find out one other issue with the iPad: its tendency to seem to hog WiFi bandwidth. I found this article and would love to hear some comment from those who have iPads in their school.


    I would love to know how schools handle this. Do you have a sizable internet access for this? Do you see internet activity or your network activity slow?


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