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Assessing the Impact of iPads on Education One Year Later

Sam Gliksman


Mobile digital devices rocketed to popularity around 10 years ago with the release of the iPod. Mobile computing went mainstream with the release of the iPhone in 2007. With the release of the iPad just one year ago, we are now seeing a significant shift in the dynamics of computer purchase and practice – moving away from desktops and laptops to iPads and other mobile devices. Their cost relative to laptops along with the promise of mobile computing has raised tremendous interest in iPad use in education.

I don’t believe Apple anticipated the demand for iPads as educational devices. When they were first released, more than one Apple sales representative suggested that iPads were designed for personal media consumption and laptops would be a more appropriate investment for schools. In response to overwhelming interest among educators, I started our online community – iPads in Education – within weeks of the iPad’s release.

The site is an online network that provides guidance on educational usage, allowing users to ask questions and gain from others’ experiences. In the past several months we’ve learned a significant amount about how mobile tablet computing may impact education now and into the future.

The Promise

  • Form factor: Anyone that has used an iPad can attest to its compelling form factor. It just feels right. Light, portable and easy to hold or lay in your lap. As opposed to a laptop where the upright screen acts as a barrier between people in classroom settings, the iPad tends to be used more organically; it’s small, lays flat and is easily shared and passed around.
  • Long battery life and instant-on: Continuous, transparent access to information is a key educational goal and these are two core requirements. The long battery life of iPads allows you to charge them overnight and use them throughout the school day without any need to pull out messy power cords or search for sparsely located electrical outlets. Additionally, they power up almost immediately. Teachers have little class time to meet increasing demands and don’t need to be wasting five or more minutes every lesson waiting for students to open laptops, power up and log in or shut down. The iPad simply flips open and it’s on. Importantly, as with other mobile devices, this also enables natural, almost transparent educational use. You’re more likely to just spontaneously turn to it for information in the course of a discussion. Students can carry it around easily and instantly access and integrate information and tools into discussions and educational activities.
  • Price: The cost of computer implementations has been a stumbling block for many communities and countries. The advent of cheaper alternatives – netbooks, smartphones and iPads – are closing the digital divide and making computing increasingly accessible to more people.
  • Touch interface: When combined with the simplicity of the screen layout, the touch interface is a key element of the iPad’s popularity. Most notably, you will observe how young children instinctively take to it without instruction – the web is replete with examples. From my own experience, I find that younger children adapt to the interface even more naturally than teens.
  • Improved digital reading: The crisp quality of the display, especially when combined with the light weight and portability, enables a far superior reading experience than currently exists on desktops and laptops. Along with the iPad’s light weight and portability, this finally opens the door to the possibility of utilizing eBooks in education in place of their far heavier and more expensive paper counterparts.
  • Integrating multimedia: We live in a society that increasingly expresses itself in images and video. There is an abundance of apps delivering high quality multimedia content to iPads, allowing for integration of fantastic media experiences into educational activities. This is especially applicable to news events where fresh, sharp video footage and images are easily accessible and can spark valuable class discussion.
  • Special education: Increasingly we are hearing how the iPad has been a huge success within special education. The simplicity of the touch interface is making it an extremely popular device for students with special needs.
  • Connecting: The educational value of social networking lies in its ability to facilitate the growth of impromptu virtual learning communities – connecting people around the globe to share opinions and experiences. Social networking applications are an integral part of iPad usage – whether connecting users to news events, industry experts or video-conferencing with students and classes in other countries.

Tips for using iPad in the classroom

Consumption or Production?

Much has been written about the opinion that iPads are great consumption devices but are less stellar at allowing students to express themselves creatively. I don’t entirely agree. Firstly, it isn’t simply a consumption device – it’s an extraordinary consumption device – and the role of information acquisition in education shouldn’t be under-valued.

Also, as the application market matures we’re starting to see an evolving depth in the creative opportunities. Music applications, digital storytelling, animation, mathematics … now with the addition of a camera to the second generation iPad and the hallmark release of core Apple applications such as iMovie and GarageBand, the creative possibilities are expanding rapidly.

Some Considerations

  • Sharing: iPads are intensely personal devices that record your digital footprint – logins, preferences and more. There’s no login process. This makes them difficult to share. A 1:1 iPad implementation requires very different planning than an implementation that shares iPads among students. My hope is that educational app developers will see the obvious need for sharing in schools and add login layers to their apps.
  • They aren’t laptops: You can’t manage iPads in the same way as laptops. Imaging and synchronization processes, content management, application purchasing – they all raise specific issues that require thorough discussion and planning.
  • Keyboard: The touch screen keyboard is not popular with all users. I find that it’s more than sufficient for smaller typing tasks such as emails, notes, blog posts and more …. but I believe we’re approaching the end of qwerty typing in computing. The popularity of tablet computing may end up stimulating development of alternative, more efficient input methods that also utilize voice and video.
  • eTextbooks: At this point, the promise of eTextbooks still exceeds the reality. There aren’t enough quality books available in digital format and frankly, most still stem from a model that is built upon their physical, paper counterpart. It’s not enough to simply translate textbooks to digital files – we need new models that utilize the media and interactivity capabilities available on iPads. A digital textbook should be cognizant of what the learner has mastered and where he/she needs assistance. It should customize the content to the reader’s strengths and weaknesses and report the student’s progress to the teacher. Effective use of multimedia – interactive multimedia – will become core elements of new eTextbooks and eCourses. There have been some excellent first attempts and eTextbooks and eCourses will improve as the market matures.

The Immediate Future

  • The app market will mature and we’ll move from single task, short session apps to more sophisticated offerings. The release of GarageBand and iMovie are the first steps in that direction.
  • The barrier to entry for creating and distributing eBook content will become lower. Increasingly, teachers and communities will create their own eBook content.
  • Social reading is an imminent phenomenon that combines the reading of eBooks with social networking. When reading eBooks users can connect to friends and other readers, asking questions and sharing notes or opinions. Apps such as Inkling are a bold first step in that direction.
  • While the iOS browser is adequate it still lags behind desktop offerings. As mobile continues to expand we can expect a consolidation of desktop and mobile systems and browsers resulting in better mobile web editing, more collaboration tools and support for a wider range of web technologies.

Finally, it’s still a free-for-all in the mobile tablet market. The huge popularity of the iPad is spawning a wealth of new applications and cultivating the development of a host of competitive products that will only serve to strengthen the overall educational value of mobile tablet computing.

13 Responses to “Assessing the Impact of iPads on Education One Year Later”

  1. Actually, it's strongly rumored that Apple will release new wireless synchronization and management capabilities this summer. Some products already exist that offer some degree of management.

    • Jonathan Nalder

      Hi Sam- nice to meet you here at edutechdebate also! Loved your summary here- and especially the future predictions, particularly in the direction apps are taking in becoming far more than just mobile equivalents of their desktop counterparts.

  2. Hi Wayan, thankfully, schools can use the gift card option to open iTunes accounts, and in the US-only (thus far), the volume purchasing program which requires just one cc card I think per school. But it's still a consumer device that is requiring considerable adaption to be managed in education. In some ways tho, if possible, having students and their parents manage the account (with app lists rather than book lists etc) is one way to teach them a bunch of digital citizenship skills and responsibilities perhaps…

  3. Yes, Ipad or any tablet PC would be great.

    The core issue is how to translate all these to be used in the third world?

    All should realise that simplicity is the key .. not how sophisticated/feature rich is a hardware.

  4. I have to say that I am saddened that even you find the state of eTextbooks lacking. If the iPad, which calls to a highly educated, high-income demographic, and no one has come up with enough quality books available in digital format, then I have little hope that we'll see any activity for the less-wealthy or the non-American educational consumer.Any idea on how to jump-start eTextbooks (assuming they are different from eBooks on Amazon)?

    • We have to keep some perspective as eBooks are still very much in their infancy stage. The issues with eBooks are twofold. Firstly, content is still very much in the development stage – but increasing at a rapid rate. I have worked with countries where the government controls the school system and development of all the associated books and equipment. That's not the case in the USA where textbooks are produced by private companies that are pursuing profit. There hasn't been much incentive for them to cannibalize their profitable paper book business up until the last few months. Now that the market is being flooded with eReaders and tablet computers many publishershave started to take eBooks a lot more seriously. This last quarter the unit sales of EBooks actually surpassed paper books for the first time. This has started to spill over to the textbook industry and within the next year or so the content should become available.

      The second issue at hand is the "maturity" of the eBook technology itself. Too much of the content flows from the model of traditional paper books. It's primarily textual, lacking color and media, linear (adding random access doesn't change the linear nature of the content) and more. This is to be expected as the technology is developing. We're starting to see new models come to market that are more interactive, "intelligent", integrate social media … the technology will mature significantly in the coming year or two.

    • Charmaine Brooks

      I am ready to celebrate the death of textbooks in any form. As an educational researcher I see the most innovative classroom practice occurring when teachers utilize almost any other resource. The textbook, in some cases, tends to reinforce past, delivery-based practices. While I have seen some creative, well-designed eTexts, I still wonder if we really need them. Honestly, in an age when we have access to so much knowledge and increasingly in multimedia forms, why do need textbooks?

  5. I know there are people at Apple who saw the potential of the iPad from the start. It has been presented that way, but it may be that in general the message didn't get through. It is also true of the iPod 10 yrs ago. I sat in an audience of Apple Education Staff,, some of whom "poo-pooed" it at launch. Some saw the opportunities instantly. It's always the same. Of late Apple in the UK has less Educationally trained sales Managers, but it has far greater numbers of Educational expertise at it's finger tips than ever – apple Distiguished Educators- ADEs. Talk to Apple about ADEs and tap their enthusiasm.
    IPad is not just a hardware consideration. IOS is almost the biggest innovation. The infrastructure may still not be perfect, but no one can get this better than Apple. If anyone remembers "knowledge Navigator" John Sculley's vision, I now question whether it really was just his dream……..I can understand why Steve Job's ideas have been reenvisioned in a fashion that is almost Science Fiction in realisation. If educators can get past the barriers of naivety and lack of vision in some areas of the educational establishment, let's just say that the iPad, running powerful, educationally sound software tools in a supremely accessible form, has changed the future for individual eLearning & cooperative education like no other – and copying this will also bring it's own legacy. I just hope the old arguments don't end up with some schools etc wasting money. I see Sony has just announced 2 android devices…….great, especially as Sony has the reputation for creating good quality hardware – but take a look at their history in ICTs…… Their driver is not the same as Apples. Ps: in the day, I always wanted the Sony MSX!

  6. CAIS Rolls out iPad Program in First Grade ClassCAIS recently purchased a collection of iPads and technology teacher, Karan Wang has developed curriculum for the first grade classes as a pilot program. We recently had the opportunity to sit in on one of Wang Lao Shi’s classes and were stuck by how comfortable these six and seven-year-olds are with their iPads after only three classes of use.<img src="http://www.cais.org/files/IMG_4689_small.JPG&quot; align="left"> In class the children were busy creating fruit and vegetable art using the Faces iMake application. Soon bright works of art appeared on the screen using pineapples, grapefruit and artichokes. The kids were eager to help one another and show off their artwork at the end of class. Wang Lao Shi has also introduced English letter tracing and math practice using the iPad and plans to add voice recording and other lessons before the end of the school year. The iPad program will continue to be integrated into the overall classroom curriculum next year and soon our students will be showing us a trick or two on our iPads!

  7. Unless I’m missing something, the tablet computers impact on learning (especially in ELA, Math, Science) is the outcome to be tracked and measured.

    My takeaway from this tablet trial in Chicago schools is, relative to advanced learning outcomes, the jury is still out.


  8. Now even high tech countries are on the path of learning.
    Our children need stimulation for learning that is at least as high as at home. We have been bad in using ICT for our children. This is cheap and we need a critical mass to make this happen everywhere.


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