Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Go 1:1 iPad?

In a response to a well written and thoughtful post that I recently read by @jmcconville1000, "Why the iPad is bad for education", I felt compelled to respond from my personal experience of rolling out a cart of 30 iPads in a shared high school environment.

Fundamentally I believe that an iPad can neither be good or bad. All it can ever be is an iPad. I argue instead, that when used effectively and with specific goals in mind, iPads can have a positive impact on education.  Seeing that schools are investing money on these devices, the perspective to adopt is not a combative one, but rather one that explores how to effectively integrate the devices. Whether a school is 1:1, or there is a shared iPad cart, the devices can be used effectively.

Time & Space:
iPad features related to time and space are incredibly important. Booting up a laptop and logging into a school network can take upwards of 3 minutes. The iPad is instant & the amount of time lost preparing the device for use is minimal. You can use the iPad for 10 minutes in class, slide it under your chair for a discussion and pull it back out to complete an assessment on Socrative. You can fit a book or piece of paper and an iPad on a desk, allowing students to combine the best of both worlds. The iPad doesn't block your view of someone's face, they can be used in discussion circles and they pose no distraction. Considering time constraints and battery life, if you plug them in the night before, they will last all day. As Justin Reich, my colleague at EdTechTeacher put it, "These things may seem trivial, but teaching is in many ways a battle against time, and tablets allow much more seamless transition between tech-on and tech-off activities."

The iPad is Not a Computer...
In my humble opinion, the reason why iPads have caught on is because while an iPad is not a computer, it offers enough of the computing feel to make them viable in classrooms. Yes, the keyboard is virtual, but it doesn't take long to get used to typing in either the traditional or text message style keyboard.

The device shouldn't be looked at as a computer, because it isn' is more than that.  It is a:

  • Mobile recording device (audio & video) 
  • Editing device (audio, video, images & text) 
  • Publishing platform (blogs, websites, video, audio and screencasts to YouTube)
  • Digital Notebook
  • Digital Research Platform

I have read the arguments that suggest the iPad is a consumption based, single user device and I no longer find the argument valid. With a shared iPad cart my students have:
  • Published screencasts to YouTube (Explain Everything)
  • Recorded, edited & published podcasts to SoundCloud (Garageband)
  • Recorded, edited & published video to YouTube & Vimeo (iMovie)
  • Published blog posts (Posterous via email)
  • Bookmarked research material to a collaborative Diigo Group (Diigo Bookmarklet)
  • Written papers (Pages)
  • Exported documents to cloud storage accounts (Dropbox & SendtoDropbox)

Sports and social media: Sophie, Mariah, Brendan, Joey, drew by gkulowiec
(This podcast was created, edited and published from an iPad with Garageband)

Take all of the above and throw it together into a device that doesn't need a manual and can be figured out by nearly any student in a matter of minutes and it clearly becomes a viable device for 1:1 schools.  While consumption may be the primary and initial function of the iPad, with a growing list of apps that allow for content creation that can be published to the web, the consumption argument falls short.

One User Devices:
In an ideal world, iPads in schools would not be shared between students. A number of problems arise when these devices are shared.  iMovie projects, GarageBand recordings, and papers written in Pages can be deleted by another student before they are finished. I can only speak to my experience, but I have yet to have students lose any work due to it being deleted by another user.   Education, trust and training on proper use of these shared devices is the key.   When I work with classes using the shared iPad cart, one of the first points I make is that these are shared devices and the way we use them responsibly is to not open, delete or share any work that isn't yours.

To expand on this point, shared iPads can introduce students to the concept of cloud storage. In working with a few classes I have seen how quickly students can adapt to the concept of working locally on an iPad while writing a paper in Pages, exporting the document to their cloud storage account ( we have used Dropbox & SendtoDropbox to export via email ), updating the document at home and then finally pulling the document down from the cloud to work locally again on any iPad from the cart.  Research can also become cloud based and collaborative.  In the movie trailer below (created on an iPad in @katrinakennett's English class conducting Paperless iPad Research Papers), students are conducting research and bookmarking their findings and notes to a collaborative Diigo group.  The process of group research, tagging and collaboration are all fostered because of the use of shared iPads.

 (this trailer was created on iMovie for the iPad...not to be taken too seriously...)

All in One:
Is everything easy to do on an iPad? Absolutely not. The device takes getting used to and all apps are not equal in terms of functionality and ease of use. However, watching students quickly switch between research, writing, social bookmarking, listening to podcasts, watching videos and then returning to their writing is impressive.   Yet writing isn't the only type of content that can be produced. Watching students work in small groups huddled around an iPad as they record and edit their radio show, or watching them take to the hallway during class to shoot scenes of their movie, or watching individual students create collage like images that are then pulled into a screen casting app where they can verbally explain and justify their creation allows one to quickly realize that all of this simply could not be done this intuitively on a computer.  The screencast below was created by one of my students in a Sports in American Society class.  She created a collage using Visualize and then exported the image to ExplainEverything to narrate, explain and justify her choices.

The iPad will not save education. The iPad is neither good or bad, it is and only ever will be an iPad. It doesn't deserve a pedestal and will never take the place of fulfilling classroom discussion and human interaction. Yet, there is a place for this device in our schools.


  1. I agree... instant on, instant off can not be over looked.

  2. Amazing post. I'm so inspired that you took the time to respond to my blog. You are clearly a master teacher. It would be amazing to visit your classroom. Thanks for sharing the video too.
    You have brilliantly found a way to address most of my comments. I admit that the iPad certainly isn't 'bad' and that I was looking for something catchy for my blog. What I really mean is that it is at best a distraction from getting good technology in the hands of ALL students. IMHO teachers didn't need another (no matter how good) device.
    A question back to you. How much would it cost to equip a classroom like the one in the video? A technologically enabled classroom like yours would have 1-1 wireless devices, Interactive White Board, document camera, voice amplification system and funds for eBooks and Apps. Is your school part of the public system and are some, most or all classrooms similarly equipped?
    What I'm wondering about is are they really popular with students in they they bring their own device to school?
    Original post:
    Look forward to the continued discussion.

  3. Well put, Greg. In my experience, those who fail to see the potential of the iPad in the hands of students lack either experience or imagination (or both). That's not to say that the device is the right choice for every situation. There are plenty of good reasons a particular school or district might make another choice, but implicit in commentary like the post to which you're responding is that those of us who have chosen to integrate iPads into our learning environments have somehow made a wrong choice.

  4. As iPads continue to be a buzz word in education, it is nice to hear you say they are not deal breaker devices. We have netbooks for grade 10-11-12 and love that they do everything. But, here's the bottom line - they are not iPads! #SoTrue. Thanks for sharing the good with the bad. I appreciated it. Paul

  5. Greg, I've been contemplating this exact debate, and I'm eager to test it out for myself. My school isn't looking at incorporating iPads into every classroom, but I do want to experiment with one for the sake of determining future applications. My students do a lot of debating in class, and I'd like to use an iPad to record their debates and collaborate with established debate teams around the world via Skype. I hope to be able to put your ideas into practice soon!

    By the way, Skype matches any tax-deductible donations made to the donorschoose project I created for getting an iPad in my classroom:

    If you know of any other folks who'd like to help get an exploratory iPad into my classroom, please let me know!

  6. Greg, I enjoyed reading your blog here. You made some very valid points, however you lost me on the last statement. Let me explain.

    "The iPad will not save education. The iPad is neither good or bad, it is and only ever will be an iPad. It doesn't deserve a pedestal and will never take the place of fulfilling classroom discussion and human interaction. Yet, there is a place for this device in our schools."

    I think I know what you're trying to say, but the wording seemed confusing. The iPad is not intended to SAVE education, it's transforming it. It's opening doors we struggled as educator for years allowing our students to do things they couldn't do before. Not because our students didn't know how, but because the resources weren't there. Every example you stated simply proves this.

    The iPad certainly is not a computer which many confuse the two devices. The iPad is a unique device, however it is good for education. Creating content, publishing work, the ease of researching and noteaking, the apps, the textbooks, iTunes U and iBooks are all just a few reasons why it's better. You have proven that as well with the many examples you mentioned HOW students can learn in the classroom. This certainly goes way beyond what computers can offer.

    The iPad is not supposed to replace conversations, it's supposed to "start the conversations" and further connect the human interaction while having access to everything I (and you) just mentioned mentioned. I think it's important to understand the difference between the two. The role of the teacher is so important in facilitating here.

    There are many educators who don't see how this device is transforming education in positive ways and see it as a fad. The iPad IS good. As a mater of fact, it is great for education Again, you listed many examples why it is good, and better for our students.

    I hope this helps. Keep up the great work and advocating a great learning device!