We already have laptops. Do we need iPads too?

When the 210 members of 5/6 Learning community moved into our $3 million gift from the BER government program last year, we walked into a facility with a dedicated computer lab with 30 desktop computers, a “Learning Street” and classrooms with another 30 odd desktops, 3 laptop trolleys totally 45 laptops, 11 iWBs and free access to a range of flip cameras, digital cameras and microphone recorders. During the year, all the teachers received personal laptops and an iPod Touch as well, which students were also able to access. That’s a heck of a lot of tech compared to previous years.

The question was then asked – what about iPads? Despite the fact my personal iPad was forever by my side in all learning and teaching settings, I still found myself asking – We already have laptops. How is the iPad going to be a better experience? Do we need yet another ICT device to add to our collection of gadgets? So let’s then look at the argument for more laptops rather than iPads.

During the year, the laptops became indispensable aids for learning for our 5/6 students. The open spaces of our new building allowed the freedom for children to find a quiet place for independent research or content creation while also being able to easily bring their work on the laptop to any available teacher or other student for feedback or support. At other times, small groups would gather around a laptop and collaborate on projects, brainstorm ideas, edit each other’s work and present their work quickly with each other. The students had easy access to web 2.0 sites for content creation and were able to independently integrate AV recordings with their work. The students were free to use any technology that was available and many were at a level of expertise beyond the teachers in the level.

So the freedom, portability and sharing argument in support of the iPad is covered by laptops here then? They were already getting their work done effectively? Access to already available digital AV recording devices made creative work a snap? (access to software and web 2.0 tools will be covered in a separate post) If we are going to spend up big again, surely we should continue along the laptop path. It’s worked so far so “Why get iPads?”

“The court would now like to present its case in defense of the iPad”

For me, one of the biggest advantages the iPad has over the laptop model is ease of use and accessibility. The touch interface and app system makes it so easy to access learning tools. On a typical laptop set up at school , you have to open the lid, turn it on, wait for it to load, log in to your account, click on the Internet shortcut or scroll through levels of start menu items, type in the website address or click on the bookmark to get access to Google Maps for example. On the iPad , you click on the home button, hit Maps and you’re there. Want a dictionary? Same. Calculator. Tap-tap-on! Need to find a bible reference (work in Catholic school)? Ditto – just hit the bible app icon and you’re in. 20120120-000248.jpg The time saved using iOS ( or even, dare I say it, Android ) can really add up in a busy day at school. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the instant access to the specific task oriented app is a winner and a time saver. Even the instant “touch what you need” interface as opposed to scroll and click system of standard computers makes a difference. Also, returning to work later on in the day is as simple as returning to the app, not logging in again, finding the program and looking for your file on a laptop.

Another no contest is the access to AV tools on the iPad. Sure, laptops have built in microphones and cameras but using them is way more cumbersome. The laptop camera is really only for face to face video conferencing and recording tools that are preinstalled on most laptops are unsatisfactory. Of course, we have the cameras and microphones at school to do the job but by the time, you connect to the laptop, Windows goes thorough its ‘Wizard’ magic and you wait for a GB or two of video, photos and audio to copy over to the computer and then find it in the software you use, anyone on an iPad has finished their project before you have started. In today’s visual learning environment, this is a huge advantage.

Viewing media or work on an iPad is also superior to the laptop experience. The full screen set up on an iPad coupled with the touch interface of flick and change makes viewing photos, websites, texts and documents much easier than the scrolling method of standard computers. The multitouch resizing and panning enables focusing on specific parts with great ease. In terms of sharing and collaborating, the physical size and design of the iPad wins over the limitations of the vertical one sided viewing experience of the laptop. Laid down flat, anyone in a group can see the screen and passing it around is so much easier than a heavier, flip top laptop. Inputting anything on a laptop means complete control over mouse and trackpad/mouse. On the iPad, any touch will do. These might seem like little things but especially for little children, it makes a difference to their learning experience.

Laptops have never been great for reading. Yes, clearly we do read text on them constantly, but I have to say, since I’ve had my iPad, I barely use my MacBook or iMac for any reading or research. Let’s face it, we like to hold what we read. we want to focus just on the text, not all the other distractions on a laptop. Reading on an iPad or any other tablet for that matter is just like holding a book – with added advantages. As a learning experience I love being able to access a text on the iPad with an app like iBooks or Kindle for ebooks or Goodreader for documents and be able to annotate, highlight, look up definitions all with simple touch.
Some would argue that without the ability to have two apps open at the same time side by side it’s harder to take notes from the Internet. That’s true but there are now apps for that anyway. I suppose it is personal preference for some but for me, the research/reading experience on an iPad kills the laptop again.

Final point for me to make is the one issue that Apple products rarely if ever win – affordability. As a long suffering Mac man in Australian schools, I have always lost out with the number crunchers in the PC v Mac debate on sheer dollar numbers. However, the 32 GB iPad cost the same as the laptops we have at school at present. The bigger deal for me though is the price of apps. Putting aside the plethora of excellent free apps as a basis for the argument, I’ve always been amazed at the amount of money spent on software licensing for multiple users on school computers. Mac or PC, the prohibitive costs of software puts so many potentially great programs out of reach of the students and teachers. So much money and effort is put into turning what is essentially Adult Work software (AKA Microsoft Office) into useful children’s software that there is very little left for other software. Without web 2.0, we would probably have about 6 useful pieces of software on our laptops. That’s all we can afford other than crippled demos.

Apps on the other hand are ridiculously cheap. Even if we have to purchase an app per iPad every time we download, it’s not even close to the cost of licenses on computers. Yes it’s extra money buying new software instead of installing already owned software on new laptops but eventually upgrading comes at a cost anyway. IPad app upgrades are free. So many more options are accessible for such small cost on iPads (and yes other tablets too but I’m arguing on behalf of Apple’s tool here) that it can greatly impact on learning opportunities. 50 different 99ยข or $2-3 apps x 100 iPads would still be cheaper than a Microsoft Office or iWork upgrade. In my opinion, in a battle between laptops and iPads on price alone, Apple finally wins a cost war.

So that’s my first post on “do we NEED iPads?” I think I’ve convinced myself that the iPad can be a different and better learning experience to add on to our already impressive ICT inventory. If its a choice between new laptops or iPads, I’m going with the iPad.

But what do you think? Have I been too negative towards laptops? Is my iPad bias showing too strongly? Please leave a comment to add to the debate. I am very interested in other opinions based on different experiences. This is only the first round. I’ve still got the other six points from my original introductory post to raise. Some of them are harder to argue. Hope to hear from you.

5 thoughts on “We already have laptops. Do we need iPads too?

  1. Pingback: Do we NEED iPads?

  2. I would love to have ipads in the school, and we are getting a few, but only a few, for special ed. I don’t think we have the funds to get a class set at the moment, but probably could in the future. We have just managed to equip our primary lab with 30 new desktop PCs, after having broken antiquated stuff there for ages.

    Nonetheless I love ipads as a device. They are wonderful:)

    • What are the plans for iPads for special Ed, Viv?

      We’ve only got 18 iPads as trial units at the moment and I’m not sure what our purchasing plans are yet. I’m not the official ICT leader of the school, just the self ordained Apple Guru who got involved in iPad / iPod management at school. It’s why I’m doing this blog – to convince myself and the boss that iPad investment on large scale is worthwhile. I’m reading both pro and con iPad blogs ATM. As I said in my post, I look for reasons why not before why!

      Interested in why your school went all desktop PC and not some laptops. Durability concerns? Desktops easier for juniors? I suppose we’re fortunate to have a junior and senior lab plus the laptops. More money I suppose ๐Ÿ˜‰

      What did your school do with your government “gift”?

  3. I am in the U.S. and have 1-1 iPads in my 6th grade classroom. Our jr high is going to roll out a 1-1 next month. I have had iPads for 2 years and prior to that I had a 1-1 iPod class. (I am a very good grant writer, none of my devices were funded through my district)
    Anyway my 2 cents:
    *we have laptops, but share 3 carts of 30 in an elementary of 500 students…iPads are the better experience, but it takes some time to adjust teaching styles…(students have no problem) In my experience, we often use laptops to do the same old thing in a ‘different way’ ie: write a report, make a ppt presentation. My contention is that iPads make teachers think more outside of the box (if they want to get the full benefit)
    Flash is an addiction that we can easily overcome. More and more things are in HTML5 now anyway.
    My students shared (2-1) iPads from my first year. Using things like Dropbox and emailing assignments made sharing easy. Plus compromise is an art that 6th graders don’t practice enough! It was their job to figure out how to share equitably.
    Teacher buy in is crucial…otherwise you will get teachers trying to do the SAME thing with a different tool..
    We have no restrictions other than spot checks of web history and the filter run by the district network. My students understand that to use improperly means to lose the opportunity to use the device.
    I have anecdotal evidence that having an i device is a powerful learning opportunity for kids. My standardized test scores back that up..(ugh) if you want to judge their usefulness on that. Personally, these have brought back the ‘fun’ into a job that is becoming more and more driven by testing, testing, testing.
    Good luck!

    • Thanks for the response, Dana. Worth about $2 I reckon! ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Your experience sounds like I would hope for. At best, though, I think we would be getting a shared option although would love to see your grant applications since you’re so good at it. Our biggest problem is our system’s insistence on proxy servers makes Dropbox a crippled experience; we can download but not upload. Our IT guy has been looking for solution for several months ( interrupted by the theft of his test iPad ). Email works, though.
      My kids high school is going 1:1 this year so will be interested in seeing how that goes.

      Thanks again. I share and feel your ugh re: testing. Australia is following your ‘lead’ on that, unfortunately.

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