The Apple iPad has, in many ways, revolutionized consumer technology. People like the iPad because it allows for myriad content mediums to be enjoyed in a very portable package. Schools are quickly jumping on the tablet bandwagon and discussing whether something like the iPad could replace computer labs and laptops. Before making this type of move, schools must consider a number of factors.
The iPad is more affordable than other Apple products, such as laptops and desktops. However, schools can still get some PC-based computers for less money than an iPad. Computers aren’t as trendy anymore, but as an educational device they are in many ways just as functional. In addition, the use of iPads may also require a certain amount of software, networking and support. With portable devices, schools also have to think about damage and theft, which can be a major problem at larger schools.
Consumption versus production
One major challenge with something like an iPad is that it is really designed as a consumption device rather than a production device. In other words, the iPad is better for reading and viewing than it is for writing and creating. Students can certainly produce a wide diversity of content just by manipulating data around the touch screen. However, due to the software limits of many apps, that content may be more rudimentary than documents produced on a computer. I have found success in producing content on an iPad, but I still prefer a standard computer or laptop for some projects. Future students may be more comfortable with a tablet, but I don’t see them being able to overcome certain software limitations.
One of the major challenges faced by schools is how to incorporate the iPad into the curriculum. At best the iPad can augment good teaching and get students excited about a particular subject. At worst, the tablet can be a distraction that does not provide the depth of content needed for the classroom. Teachers must find appropriate materials that allow for actual learning, as opposed to simply using a device because it is there. Textbooks on an iPad can be expensive, and not every subject will seamlessly integrate with this technology. I have seen some educational apps that look very exciting, while others are a bit cumbersome. Such is the nature of technology, even technology that comes in a shiny package.
There is also the reality that purchasing an iPad is not just about acquiring the device. There are also accessories such as keyboards, cases, cables, apps and networking hardware. This can add to the cost and put a strain on technology budgets. Therefore, schools must realize that they are making a bigger commitment than just the device. If schools sign up with a company like Apple, they are deciding to do business with a unique type of company for potentially a long time.
The iPad is very popular right now, but there is no guarantee that this will always be the case. Just a few years ago schools were scrambling to build computer labs, which were followed by carts full of laptops. The iPad is compact and versatile, but it also has some limits. Before schools rush to purchase a large number of iPads, they should honesty assess the pro and cons, and avoid getting lost in the hype of new technology. As a consumer and an educator, I do like the iPad a great deal. It is powerful, versatile, and easy to carry around to a variety of settings. However, it has limits, and I think schools have to be careful that they do not sacrifice productivity for popularity.
The author teaches at the college level and prior to entering the classroom he spent many years in higher education administration. On occasion he also enjoys the pure entertainment of substitute teaching at the high school and middle school levels.