Wholesale Adoption of iPads by Schools a Mistake

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: The following article first appeared as a comment on Morgan Sims‘s “Mobile Technology Finding a Place in the Classroom.” -Editor]

I do not desire to rain on anyone’s parade. Every technology has potential usefulness. Tablets with gesture-based interfaces have captured the imagination of very many people, some of them educators. My grandchildren both have iPads and do so much with them that it staggers the imagination. They’re just four and six years of age. Yet, the iPad is not an educational panacea, and neither is any other technology.

iPad mini and iPad with Retina display, retrieved from the Apple Store 7.11.13.

iPad mini and iPad with Retina display, retrieved from the Apple Store 7.11.13.

Consumer technology must come under special scrutiny. How well does it adapt to education? How easy is it for education to adopt? 

With the iPad, we have a tool with much greater cost than alternatives, more than twice that of a Chromebook, for example. In some settings, the extra cost may be worth it. I see it as being especially useful in K-3, but would see similar value for an Android tablet. Keyboards and mice don’t work so well at the lowest grades, not that students cannot master them, just that keyboards are rather unnecessary at that level and that gestures are easier to master than a mouse.

Samsung Chromebook retrieved from the Google chrome site, 7.11.13.

Samsung Chromebook retrieved from the Google chrome site, 7.11.13.

As the grade level advances, these tablets retain value, but alternatives that cost less can deliver more. I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro. I would be hard-pressed to do so on an iPad.

School districts are experimenting with all sorts of devices. One is standardizing on Chromebooks. Another has chosen iPads. Yet another is selecting a low-cost Android tablet. Some stick to low-cost laptops but are considering alternatives.

Nexus 7 (Android).

Nexus 7 (Android), retrieved from Google Play 7.11.13.

I don’t really see the rush, the extreme hurry exhibited by districts to buy expensive iPads, and forgo other expenditures to do so, when this development in computing devices is still playing itself out. The next great device could be announced tomorrow and could put iPads on the shelf until Apple manages to come out with a newer model. Manufacturers are scrambling to entice consumers to their particular device, while almost entirely ignoring the problems that schools face.

When a school chooses widespread adoption of a consumer or business product, it’s taking a risk. Often, it’s bowing to parental pressures at the same time. While we should applaud schools for overcoming traditional education inertia, we should also realize that some of these new things are just fads or early examples of an incompletely developed new technology.

The fact that so many districts are going in so many directions indicates strongly that we don’t know where these trends will end. Until we do, I think that wholesale adoption of iPads by high schools is a mistake.

My specialty is science. I have yet to see a great science app for high school on an iPad. Mostly, they’re just games, animations, and other ordinary stuff. My disclaimer here is that I run a company that puts out an online science application that I consider to be great and am currently porting to the Chromebook, iPad, and Android tablets. Vendors have to cover all bases eventually. I’d rather not have to spend all of this money on fads, but major customers are demanding it. The result will be higher prices.

9 Responses

  1. […] By Harry Keller Editor, Science Education [Note: The following article first appeared as a comment on Morgan Sims's "Mobile Technology Finding a Place in the Classroom." -Editor] I do not desire to…  […]

  2. […] Wholesale Adoption of iPads by Schools a Mistake | Educational Technology and Change Journal. […]

  3. […] Read More: Wholesale Adoption of iPads by Schools a Mistake | Educational … […]

  4. […] By Harry Keller Editor, Science Education [Note: The following article first appeared as a comment on Morgan Sims's "Mobile Technology Finding a Place in the Classroom." -Editor] I do not desire to rain on anyone’s parade.  […]

  5. Hi Harry

    Your post is particularly relevant in Italy too, where the ministry of education just back-pedalled on going the whole hog from paper to digital with massive adoption of iPads.

    So I socially bookmarked it in https://groups.diigo.com/group/ltis13/content/wholesale-adoption-of-ipads-by-schools-a-mistake-etcj-harry-keller-2013-07-11-10038396 (1) where it has triggered a lively discussion. In Italian, but Google translate should give the gist.

    (1) I.e. in the social bookmarking group of a permanent online workshop about internet technologies for schools that grew out of a cMOOC about same, both lead by Andreas Formiconi. See links top right of http://iamarf.org/ .

  6. […] Consumer technology must come under special scrutiny. How well does it adapt to education? How easy is it for education to adopt? With the iPad, we have a tool with much greater cost than alternatives, more than twice that …  […]

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