The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

This blog originally started as a reflection journal as I begun a pilot program for using iPads at my school. My early posts ( check January and February posts ) were discussions of the pros and cons of iPads. As the year has gone by and I have more time to research, read other iPad articles and experiment more with apps and with the students using them more frequently, I’ve had time to reflect on what iPads are offering schools. I’m not going to debate what model of iPad program to commit to – 1:1 or shared. I’m simply going to concentrate on what I think schools should consider before committing to iPads at all.

What you should use iPads for in schools

Multimedia content creation
I am so sick of the tech press misrepresenting the iPad purely as a content consumption device and complaining that it is not for content creation. I think they confuse content creation with publishing their articles with a traditional keyboard. On the contrary, the main reason schools should invest in iPads IS Content Creation. I’m not talking about Word or PowerPoint documents. That’s 20th century publishing that was meant for office workers and businessmen in the first place, not school kids.

What the iPad offers to children is the ability to capture, develop and publish their learning in the creative, engaging, multimedia way they experience the world. Traditional keyboard/writing based computing held back younger students and limited older ones. Now they can take pictures, record their voices (VoiceThread,GarageBand), create videos and slideshows(iMovie, SonicPics), annotate diagrams (Skitch), explain and record their learning in screencasts (Explain Everything, Doceri, Showme), use animated puppets to tell stories (Sock Puppets, Toontastic), create comic strips or whole comic books ( Comic Life, Strip Designer) combine text,freehand drawing and pictures in mind maps (Popplet, iMindmap) and publish interactive, multimedia books that others can read on their iPads (BookCreator,Creative Book Builder). All from the one device without having to connect any other tech up with wires and search for the files. The iPad is the ultimate one stop shop for student content creation that goes well beyond what they were capable of achieving easily just a couple of years ago. The beauty of all these apps is that they are multipurpose apps. They can be used in all curriculum areas and their uses are only limited by your or your student imagination. A Word Document could only do so much. Multimedia apps can allow for so much more scope for learning.

Portable, anywhere, interactive collaborative learning
The beauty of the iPad is its portability and use anywhere capability. Desktops anchor you to a desk and isolate you from a group. Laptops are still too cumbersome to carry around and the built in cameras and microphones are too restrictive. The iPad frees you up to use it anywhere any time. On a field trip/excursion? Take the iPad along with you and do all your work live and instantly. Take pictures and record a commentary for an instant report. Record footage of your physical activity in PE classes and play back for instant feedback on your performance, in slow motion with iMotion HD. Create a documentary on the spot with the video camera and iMovie. With wifi available, report live from an event with FaceTime or Skype. The physical makeup of the iPad makes for a more social sharing environment that isn’t as easy or effective in a lab of desktops or the one way screens of laptops. The tactile nature of the touchscreen brings students together and the multimedia capabilities can be shared by a group.

Social, interactive Reading the “digital literacy way”
One of the best activities on an iPad is reading, but not in the traditional sense. If you just want to read, get a book from the library – it’s cheaper. Reading on a iPad is a much richer experience and can enhance the educational experience in schools. Reading in iBooks allows you to highlight passages and record annotated notes which are then stored and organized in a dedicated bookmarked section and look up definitions without flicking through a dictionary. Using PDF annotation apps you can do limitless note taking without running out of space on the page.

While you can do the same on a traditional computing device, the use of social bookmarking tools and curation website bookmarklets make collaborative reading a far easier proposition, simply because of the book like experience sitting with an iPad gives you. Having students sitting in a group using Diigo’s shared annotation tools allows for both real conversation and tech based note sharing that can be referred to later. It also allows for collaboration with students outside the group which widens the community of learners you can work with. Individually, finding sites to share with others and then posting them on Scoop-it, Diigo, Edmodo, sharing via Twitter or other social media sites via bookmarklets, share buttons or through apps like Zite and Flipboard just seems more natural on a touchscreen tablet rather than on a mouse driven computer.


Check out my other posts on Writing, Maths and Literacy ( in the Categories section on the right) for my other uses for iPads – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say, the iPad has the potential to change the way we learn and teach if we take the time to research and investigate what others are doing. I have curated a wealth of resources for you to use on my Scoopit page linked at the top of my blog page as well as in my Diigo Bookmarks under the iPad tag also accessible above.

The iPad, however, is not perfect by any means and does have limitations to consider. There are some things it can’t do at all and many things that are best done on other devices. Read on for what they shouldn’t be used for in schools.

What you shouldn’t use iPads for in schools

This list is more about poor decision making about getting iPads rather than the iPad’s lack of ability to manage the task. It’s also more applicable to a school setting ( i use my iPad for a lot of things completely un-school related, which shouldn’t be a factor for getting them for school) and why you are choosing iPads over other computing options. If it can’t do the task as effectively as a “computer”, if it isn’t going to be an improvement and make a profound change to how you use tech in education, if it isn’t going to be any different to what you are already doing with desktop or laptop computers, then consider whether the iPad is really what you want.

Traditional word processing
Don’t get me wrong. I use my iPad for about 90% of the word processing I do. Most of this blog has been published using my iPad. Having said that, if you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and buy iPads and then complain about not having Microsoft Office on it, or that Pages messes up the formatting of the Word Document you just imported or you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard for typing, you haven’t thought about why you want iPads. If all your students do with tech at school is publish stories and reports in Word, then you will find your iPads being underutilized.

Replacing books just for reading or lightening the load in your students’ backpacks.
Personally, I read a lot on my iPad. But, as I outlined in the “What you should use iPads for in Schools” section of this post, I don’t just read with my iPad. Once again, it is a wasted opportunity for changing the way you foster learning in your school if your main reason for buying iPads is to replace books/textbooks with ebooks and PDF scans of textbooks. This does not enhance learning. This does not change the way you teach. Just reading books on an iPad makes no difference to education. It may be advertised to consumers as a great e-reader, and as a way of carrying around a truckload of books to read on a vacation it’s great, but if schools are going to invest vast amounts of money on iPads only to fill them up with ebook versions of novels or PDF copies of chapters from their Maths text books so our children can prop them up on a table while they complete Exercise 7A of the Quadratic Equations Chapter in their exercise books, we’ve missed the point.

If you have invested a lot of time, effort and money in Web 2.0 tools or educational management systems.
While there is much press about the demise of Flash support for mobile devices ( Android included ) and the rise of HTML5 sites, the vast majority of educational sites on the Internet are Flash or Java based. While many are free, educational versions of these sites usually cost a fair investment to use with large numbers of children. iPads don’t support these tools well. Yes, there are workaround solution in the form of dedicated iPad browsers like Puffin and Photon that use server based connections to provide useable Flash experience on iPads, but they are serviceable at best and inadequate or unusable at worst. While I have no experience of it, Moodle is widely used in schools as well and does not play well with iPads. Interactive whiteboard software like Promethean’s Activinspire doesn’t have an iPad version so you can’t create or edit flip charts on iPads with their software. So if your school has invested heavily in Web 2.0 tool licenses, Moodle like systems or have spent the last 5 years training you to make interactive whiteboard flip charts, consider the wisdom of moving to an iPad only set up.

Are you a Google Apps for Education school?
This is open for debate as I have visited schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who use Google Apps. From my experience, the user experience is not good enough. Maybe for word processing it’s functional but the Google spreadsheet experience is woefully inadequate on the iPad. If you have made a big investment in Google Apps, I’d stick with netbooks/laptops.

Website design/blog management
Web site building tools on the web like Weebly or Wix are useable and most of the publishing work of blogs can be done on an iPad. However,if you have an ICT course that is heavily involved in website building or you need to edit graphic elements or widget components of blogs, iPads don’t handle the task completely and you’ll need to stick with traditional computing.

Dedicated specialist software compatibility
Without listing them, there is obviously a huge range of software for specific purposes that aren’t supported and are unlikely to ever be supported on the iPad. While it may seem bleeding obvious, schools need to take this into account before dedicating their entire budget to a 1:1 iPad program.

Final thoughts
I started the year thinking the iPad was the one stop solution. I’ve come to believe now that a multi device option is preferable. 1:1 iPads would be great in an ideal world but the financial reality for school with substantial investments in other tech already doesn’t make it practical for a complete change. My school already has a lot of laptops and desktops in use. They are used for many valid purposes such as those listed above. It’s not reasonable to think we would replace all our resources with just iPads when there are good things already being done with them. So we are going down the horses for courses route. More iPads are likely to be purchased next year and used for all he great multimedia purposes outlined. Web tools, research, Flash and Java Ed sites, word processing, blogging, compatibility issues will continue to be addressed with our computers. I’m starting to think it’s the best of both worlds.

But what do you think? Have I under or oversold the iPad? Are there compelling reasons for iPads in education I’ve left out ? Are there other reasons for not committing to them? Share your thoughts. This is far from an exhaustive post. Join the conversation.

30 thoughts on “The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

  1. Thank you. I appreciate your comments. I am attending a training in a couple of weeks regarding iPads in schools; I am glad to have this (and your other posts) as a preface.

  2. Great post! You’ve shared some very useful information. I’ll be sure to share this with our tech committees as I continue on my soapbox: “It’s not about the technology, but about the pedagogy!”

    • Yes, Joanne, it’s the great battle all around the world – Pedagogy before technology! It’s why after so many years of computers in schools the jury is still out own their effectiveness. They don’t solve the problems without us.

  3. I prefer a mixed tool model. I agree that those who label the iPad a consumption only device have under-represented it for all the reasons you state. I also see the value in creating more traditional digital products like webpages, wikis and such. In an ideal classroom, I’d have 7 iPads, 7 laptops and 7 something that doesn’t yet exist…

    • “7 something that doesn’t exist yet” is quote of the day. It’s so true. We shouldn’t commit all our finances to the latest tech wonder when there is always something else around the corner. 2 years ago we designed and built a new learning centre filled with the latest technology for our Grade 5/6 children to share. A year later we were salivating over and demanding iPads. Good Pedagogy can use any tech tool – it doesn’t work the other way around.

  4. One of the most rational, balanced discussions I have read about pedagogy and tech amid the clamor for iPads. Thank you for articulating your thoughts so lucidly.

    • Thanks, Judy. I’ve been teaching long enough to have worked during many impulse tech buys that have sat in cupboards going to waste because no one knew what to do with them. We have to get it right this time.

  5. This was good; thanks for sharing. I’ve had a class set of iPads in my room for about as long as you, and agree with most all of this. My only caveat with my use of the iPads as multimedia tools (which I and my students do often) is that the product as a draft needs to be savable and accessible away from the iPad.

    I love Educreations to have my students share their knowledge, but the second they leave the class and go to save, its uneditable. Saving my students from that frustration leads me to steer towards web-based content that they can also work on from home, but perhaps has a BETTER experience on the iPad.

    • Chuck, I agree that in a shared environment, saving files on iPads isn’t the greatest out of the box. But with a bit of Dropbox integration, a lot of apps now allow for sharing to off iPad networks. Comic Life and Strip Designer ( for comic making), Explain Everything and Doceri(free) for Educreations alternatives, Notability, Pages, Number and Keynote allow you to save editable files through email or Dropbox so that you can use them on another ipad. Hopefully more apps will allow this in the future.

      Never noticed that about Educreations ( and ShowMe as well ). That is not user friendly. Most apps on iPads do allow you to come back and edit at a later stage, though. Educreations seems to be an exception more than a rule. Try Doceri if you are looking for alternative that is free.

  6. Thanks for this. A thoughtful and well balanced piece. A refreshing change from the often published polar extremes around iPads. In these days of rapid changes pinning all your hopes one one device is risky, I feel.

    Loved the ‘7 of something that doesn’t exist yet’ from Erika. I’m still internally debating wherther the smart move is not to worry about the device, but more on what devices you can access your work on. E.g Evernote, which I currently have on my iPad, laptop and desktop.

    Amixed economy is surely the way forward? There’s lots i can do on my iPad, bust other stuff is best done with…. insert your choice here!

    Thanks again.

  7. Pingback: Shifting Mobility, Learning and Assessment | Dreaming Weaving Learning

  8. Thanks for this blog post. I agree with much of what is being written here. I come from a secondary (11-18) context though and so there are obvious differences. Where I see the iPad as being the killer device is when you think about it as a device for learning rather than ICT. I think that if you separate the use of the device in that way, it makes it all the easier to benchmark what you’ll use the device for. I agree, that for web creation, and other ICT specific activities, the iPad isn’t the best tool for the job, but when it comes to wanting a device that students can use, 24/7 to manage their learning, share what they’re working on, be connected to digital resources, demonstrate their learning using many of the tools you’ve mentioned, plus iBooks, iTunesU courses you’ve set up and much much more, it’s a no brainer.

    Going back to your earlier comment too about pedagogy before technology – you should really have a look in to (and apologies if you have already) the work of Dr Ruben Puentedura and his ‘SAMR’ model. It gives a great framework for thinking and planning before utilising technology to support learning. He talks about moving from a basic substitution model to augmentation to modification and then redefinition. It is well worth checking out!! Highly recommended.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist

    • Thanks for such a thoughtful reply, Mark ( must be the name😜) I agree with your idea of iPad as learning tool. That is its strength, especially within a 1:1 Model, but I get the feeling from some educational quarters that they don’t get it – it’s just the latest gadget to sell the school with and there isn’t enough planning into its implementation.

      The basic premise of the SAMR model has popped up in several PDs and articles but I’ve never known its origin. Went to Puentedura’s blog and already downloaded some good resources to explore. Thanks for the tip.

  9. Thanks so much for such a wonderful thoughts . I appreciate the idea pedagogy

    before technology .i ‘II bring the discussion to my school because we need to enrich these important topics and it’ s really important to think profoundly about the 7 missing

    Thanks again

  10. Has anybody compared with Samsung Tab yet. Generally do offer more functionality but how do they compare as educational tools and or resources?

    • Karyn, while I would actually welcome an opportunity to see the Tab in action and see what apps it has to offer, as we’ve made a financial commitment to iPads I don’t want to have to investigate or manage two completely different operating systems that are still immature in a school wide management setting. But again out of curiosity and fairness in discussing opposition hardware ( I am an Apple user ) it would be interesting to be at a genuine demo to see both compared in real situations. Haven’t seen that offered.

  11. Fantastic post! Thanks for your honesty as you discussed the issue of what an iPad is and isn’t in education. We are currently discussing devices to use for a 1:1 in our district.

  12. These are all the things our district tech director has been saying the past 18 months. I do agree that pedagogy comes first but to really understand the dramatic shift in pedagogy it is almost essential to have an iPad in your hand and those of the students. Just having one in my classroom has opened possibilities I did not consider before, such as student creation for learning rather then creation of learning.

  13. Pingback: Embracing the Chaos of iPadology – Part 3 | Dreaming Weaving Learning

  14. You’re saying the iPad is not a silver bullet? Huzzah!
    By the way, I love iPads and I love them in the classroom.

  15. interesting reading, but I think you’re all rather missing the point.

    students these days (unlike my pre internet generation) are living in a perpetually heightened sense of anticipation. everything now, ‘when I push send,’ ‘I expect the response now.’ ‘I’d better check that again, there should be a reply by now.’ and the failure of a timely response or the disappointment of its content, doesn’t satisfy the feeling of anticipation. the stress of this disappointment grows with every distracting on line moment. back in the mid cretaceous period, we had to wait, be patient, and in doing so, look forward to an event, then experience it. anticipation, realization, then contentment (or otherwise as the case may be). nowadays, its ‘I want it yesterday if not sooner.’ I-devices in schools, is that going to address this fundamental shift in what the internet has done to change our children’s leaning experience from ours? are students going to be accountable for their actions or the electronic outcome?

    ‘I did my the assignment, its there, but the batteries’ flat.’
    ‘dropped it, had to send it in for repairs.’
    ‘couldn’t upload to cloud, the internet was down.’
    ‘somebody nicked it, lost all my work, have to get a new one.’
    ‘working late, spilt a cup of coffee on it.’
    ‘maybe some kind of virus, don’t know why it locked up, just as I was starting my homework.’

    and I don’t even have much of an imagination.

    textbook batteries don’t go flat, coffee can be wiped off. a bit of tape will fix the tear. and paper is a renewable, recyclable resource.

    exercise books are not worth much in secondhand stores. I can type at 30 words a minute, but write at considerably less. takes time, thought. the finished product is unique. might even foster a bit of pride. you never know.

    kids don’t need to be taught how to use an I-device. Explains why they don’t come with an instruction manual. Steve Jobbs made sure of that.

    school is not just about learning stuff. its about learning the art of being able to learn, applying one’s self, concentrating and succeeding academically in an individual and accountable way, that builds self confidence and self esteem. how I-devices enhance or improve that, has yet to be explained to me in a way I can see and understand.

    feel free to enlighten me!

    regards grn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *