I love my iPad. As an adult, it helps me organize my life by giving me access to Google tools that I use daily via Google for iPad. Every morning, I launch The Weather Channel app while I plan for my day. On the weekends, I grab a cup of coffee and snuggle on the couch with my dog as I swipe through the Pulse app for news, but also to see what my friends are up to on Facebook. I carry my iPad with me almost everywhere, so if I end up in a waiting room while my car gets an oil change, I have one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books ready and waiting for me on the Kindle app. Or if I’m looking at a longer wait and fighting off boredom, I call upon my army of aggressive animals using Battle Bears or Angry Birds while listening to my favorite playlists.
Like I said, I love my iPad.
That being said, as an educator who knows that students are the most important part of my job, as an employee who is conscious of budget shortfalls and possible job cuts, as a resident of the district I work in who demands fiscal accountability, I do not think Apple’s iPad is the right tool for the classroom.
A lot of people will disagree with me, and I would never question your freedom of speech which, according to my iPad’s Constitution app, is a constitutional right. I have been a part of a pilot program in my district and have had a number of conversations with other tech educators that have brought me to this- my own personal opinion.
First, let me point out the obvious: Flash. My school district’s website is built around a platform designed by a company called School World. Guess what? It’s Flash-based. Additionally, at the Central Office level, we have invested in two websites for teaching and learning. Gizmos by Explore Learning subscriptions are provided to every K-12 math and science teacher; Cicero is available to every K-12 teacher who covers American History. According to usage reports, teacher and student feedback, these two sites are a good investment for us. These two sites are Flash-based. That’s a problem when a device cannot view Flash items.
Second, not all of our buildings have WiFi access. Buildings that do have WiFi are limited to certain areas, meaning after walking so far with the mobile device, students lose Internet connectivity. And having the largest district geographically in the state, we have a lot of rural areas that make access to the AT&T network way too unreliable to even consider purchasing 3G iPads. There is no way on the device to connect an Ethernet cable, so you cannot hard wire yourself in if you lose your wireless connection. I know what you’re thinking, “Why not retro-fit all schools and join the 21st Century?” What do you think the potential cost is for a roll out like that in 40 buildings (including equipment and man power)? The short and cheaper fix is to allow for WiFi in designated areas.
But there’s probably an app for that, right? If there was, it would be one app- one app that you want to load to 30 devices. Show of hands: how many of you have successfully batch-synced a classroom set of iPads? That is, no less than 20 devices. And while we’re talking about doing something successfully, how many teachers have easily -that’s the keyword- easily connected an iPad to a ceiling-mounted projector for displaying on an Interactive whiteboard? Now you can buy a peripheral (expense) that allows for that if you have the right set-up. Generally, though, you will need to bring in a document camera (expense). And while you’re at it, give a classroom FULL of student learners this assignment: launch a writing app and, using the virtual keyboard, write four sentences that introduce yourself. How long do you think students need for this assignment? I can tell you that a class of 5th grade students I worked with needed all of 15 minutes to type TWO sentences stating their name, what school they attended, and what grade they are in this school year. Of course, you can give them a keyboard to use with their iPads to speed up the process (expense). Alternatively, they can use a stylus with a journaling app (expense).
Another issue for me is the inability to use printers we already have in place in schools and classrooms. Can you print wirelessy using an iPad? Yes, if you download the AirPrint app and buy the correct kind of printer (expense). Of course, you could forgo purchasing new printers and use your already networked printers by having students save to removable storage devices, right? Wrong, iPad lacks the ability to use removable storage. That’s not entirely true, though. If you have Apple’s Camera Connection kit (expense), you can use the SD card reader.
Lastly, and this is the BIG one for me as an educator. What kind of expanded learning takes place when students launch an app? One of my favorite apps is Physics Fingers, created by PressOK Entertainment. This app is a great tool for a number of learning standards in science in regards to forces in motion, magnets, and gravity. But once a student solves a level, they are promoted to the next level without any reflection. You cannot replay your moves, you cannot analyze the angles of your structure, you cannot show your friends what you created and challenge them to find a completely different solution. Why? Because the app was not created by educators or for education- it’s a game. What students should get in the classroom from an app like this is some questioning, some “how” and “why” behind what they accomplished. In fact, as good as a lot of the apps are, a lot of them function that same way. The only progress saved is that the level was completed. Wouldn’t it be great if Angry Birds showed the angles that you were creating before you launched that troubled, feathery projectile? It’s a lot of fun, and teachers can ask the right questions and guide students to higher-order thinking, but it would be nice to have a little of that built-in.
I love my iPad- it has become an invaluable tool for me on a personal level. I own the WiFi model and I know where to go when I need access. Cost? Roughly $500. To keep my iPad “protected,” I purchased the cheapest case I could find at the time, which was $40. For writing (like this post that I edited in Google Docs), I prefer a keyboard. As I began researching keyboards, I found a Bluetooth keyboard that doubled as a case called the ZAGGmate for $100 (other keyboards friends and colleagues use are around $70). I also use a Boxwave stylus with some of my writing apps for $20, and the Camera Connection kit to work with images, another $30. For over $600, I have a mobile device that cannot browse a Flash-based website or connect to the Internet if WiFi is not available. I cannot read PDF files without a specific app, and I cannot print documents without a specific printer.
For the cost of the device, the limitations are just too much. In my district, and according to conversations with other educators on Twitter, the BIGGEST pro of iPads in the classroom seems to be one-on-one access to the Internet. Have teachers found creative and innovative ways to use iPads and its various apps with students? Absolutely! Good teachers make any tool a valuable part of the learning process- after all, it isn’t about “the thing,” right? Good teaching is good teaching, PERIOD. We can all agree that there is no magic tool that increases student achievement without an educator to support it.
In my opinion, and that’s all this is, the iPad just isn’t the best choice for schools at this time. Prove me wrong! Show me research that says “Apple’s iPad was integral in raising student achievement in XYZ” or share your own field experience with schools over a period of time. We are facing budget cuts in public education that are so deep in some areas that teachers and administrators are being furloughed. There are funds designated to be spent on technology within every district. Knowing that you cannot get that money back, and knowing that there are mobile devices out there that function like the iPads and without its limitations, can you say that iPads are a good investment right now? There are too many additional purchases schools would have to make in order to make an iPad a well-rounded tool for all learners. Let’s give one classroom a set of iPads and a second classroom a set of Netbooks and track some results. What do you think we’ll discover?
Are iPads fun and innovative? Yes. Are they new and different enough to encourage students to explore? Yes. But let’s revisit this in a few years as textbook companies start investing, and as educational websites and companies start to develop apps with nothing but educators and learning in mind. If districts are limited on funds already, why should they purchase a tool that has so many limitations?