The Cart Before The Horse: Is It Too Early For iPads In Schools? | iLounge Backstage


The Cart Before The Horse: Is It Too Early For iPads In Schools?

When news broke late last week that Apple is now offering modestly discounted iPad educational bundles—10 units sold in bulk packaging for $4,790, or a $200 total discount—the lack of excitement wasn’t hugely surprising. As we’ve previously noted, average users are going to need to see the iPad for themselves before they “get” it, and those holding off on version one probably aren’t going to be swayed by $20-per-unit discounts—or the opportunity to buy 10 at once. But reader responses to the bigger question of whether schools should be buying iPads have been strongly polarized. Just one example of the comments:

“I feel the iPad is a bad idea for a school. I believe this is due to the fact that the iPad is an entirly new piece of technology. While we have known for two years the qualities and quirks of the iPhone OS and the App Store, we don’t know the same about the iPad. Also would you want your school system paying $4k and up to be glorified beta testers for the iPad’s 1.0 release? If I were a teacher or parent, I wouldn’t be so happy about it.” - hoshieBIOTpod

Whether or not we agree with all of the sentiments in the comments thread so far, this is a discussion worth having. Charles Starrett’s views:

“It’s hard to overstate how big of an impact my exposure to new technology while in school had on my life. I got my start on a Mac IIcx running OS 7, so saying that current software is too buggy to be used in a school setting seems somewhat silly by comparison.

“Touchscreens are going to be an increasingly important tool for art creation, so allowing children who excel in art access to them seems like a good idea. Likewise, kids who are interested/show a talent in design could greatly benefit from playing with some of the apps and work on creating their own tablet-sized, touch-enabled interfaces. And having a couple around for computer science programming students to fiddle with and create programs for seems like a no-brainer. Would they be an immediately important tool for every discipline? No, but that doesn’t mean that a school would be wasting money by buying a few.”

And mine:

“While I disagree with the most negative of the comments, some of the specifics are right. iPad 1G for schools? Not yet. iPad 2G? 3G, or when software has caught up? Sure.

“The question isn’t whether an iPad could be used in a school right now. Of course it can; the iPod can be used at a school. So can a Nintendo DS. Parents and taxpayers in general want to know that what’s being bought furthers the educational mission in a meaningful way, and is worth spending tax dollars on. I can see an argument for replacing all textbooks with iPads—when the software and content is available to do so. If iBooks 2.0 adds meaningful highlighters and in-margin note-taking, it could be huge for textbooks. But getting iPads right now just for the hell of doing so seems sort of pointless.

“There are other applications beyond textbooks—creative tools, iTunes U content, and of course calculators and scientific apps. But you can access them without an iPad, too. When educators can say that the iPad really enables students to do more than they can with existing computers and non-computer tools at their schools—when there is, for example, an iPad-specific painting program rather than the iPhone app running at 2x size—it will make sense to buy them in bulk, and probably way more than 10 at a time. The software just needs to catch up to the potential of the devices, and the devices may need to mature a little, too.”

Readers, what are your thoughts?

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I’m sure there are many children who don’t like poring over textbooks, but would be much more intrigued by the electronic equivalent. Besides, what kid wants to carry 30 lbs. of books?

Posted by Galley in Greenville, SC on March 22, 2010 at 12:27 PM (CDT)


Hardware form factor is not the issue. Hardware revision & bugs are not the issue. It’s software.

I would argue that the appropriateness of any piece of technology in a classroom depends almost entirely on the software used and how it is incorporated into the learning process and curriculum.

As an example, my wife just received a cart equipped with thirty white 13” Unibody MacBooks for her high school Biology classroom, but has so far been poorly equipped by the school to make them a truly useful, compelling addition to the classroom.

If she had a suite of quality native apps offering a hands-on experience for each unit she covers, something great could happen. Students could digitally dissect animals, interactively investigate the components of cells, and get a rich tour of the human body. Write them as games, and the kids will be hooked.

Without special software, however, she’ll struggle to figure out how to give her students a rich, engaging learning experience with the internet, YouTube, and Office - powerful tools, yes, but too general. These easily lead to distraction and off-task activity, which, without Apple Remote Desktop, she’ll have a hard time policing.

Anyway, I think the iPad hardware can offer an improvement to the classroom just like laptops can - multitouch and ‘coolness’ may even make them more engaging - but it will entirely depend on the apps teachers are given.

Schools must realize that hardware alone won’t do much to enrich the learning process. What is needed is for textbook publishers (or creative independent App Store developers) to invest the time it takes to create great apps to complement traditional curriculum.

Posted by Jerrod H. in TX on March 22, 2010 at 1:09 PM (CDT)


I think the Ipad and other devices like it will gain massive popularity in the next 10 years. But the schools are always A decade behind in technology in terms of computers, at least in my school. Heck, the original labels are still on the school computers and they say windows 98 on them. They take 5 minutes to boot, and freeze all the time, even when using simple applications like word. They have been upgraded to windows xp though. In time, they will upgrade to devices like Ipad’s. Just be patient.

Posted by weirdalguy360 on March 22, 2010 at 3:06 PM (CDT)


I ordered 2 iPads for an in-school trial. There are already plenty of usable apps for school use, (I use many on my iPod Touch.) and I suspect there will be many more coming in the next few months.

Before any commitment to a technology, you determine its effectiveness and usability. The reason there are few typewriters in schools anymore is because computers are better at more tasks, including typing, though usually more expensive. Yet, at the same time, its easier to pull out a standard-ruled notebook and a pen for some work. If the iPad is used in schools, you will have to factor ease of use, number of tasks it can perform, and cost for that performance.

Posted by Steve on March 22, 2010 at 3:16 PM (CDT)


I think it would be great if I could get my student’s books downloaded to it and just keep it at home so she doesn’t have to carry all those books home every day for homework purposes.  Her back is worth way more than the value of an iPad!

Posted by Shelly on March 22, 2010 at 4:44 PM (CDT)


It’s too soon to know what niches the iPad will fill. Every product makes its own market and sometimes the results are surprising. Who expected the iPod Touch to be a gaming machine? Steve Jobs said he didn’t.

Most people are trying to fit the iPad into the current markets. This is why there are so many articles on “Will the iPad replace the NetBook market?”

My own guess is that the iPad will appeal to people who do not use computers now. But, we cannot know how rapidly the iPad will sell.

Much of the rush will be when the second generation of hardware is released, perhaps in time for the Christmas rush. Eventually, the iPad will become commonplace and could replace text books in schools. But, how soon is anyone’s guess.

Posted by Louis Wheeler on March 22, 2010 at 5:14 PM (CDT)


It’s hard to see a lot of districts buying ipads at this time, considering that many of them are cutting teachers and programs, and cannot afford to update the textbooks they already have.

I know in the district where I work, they’re talking about removing computers from classrooms because they can’t afford to service them anymore.

Posted by Dick Bacon on March 22, 2010 at 8:40 PM (CDT)


Come on the iPad is a great idea for Schools of today . The problem with Schools today is they dont take that risk and buy new technology for students .

Collage Students pay up to 500 to 700 dollars on books , Books that they have to carry around all day long making there backs hurt and most students have back problems before there out of school .

Middle Schools to High Schools pay about 1000 dollars a year on new Books for students . Tax payers money . Not even saying the amount of trees they have to cut down every year to make these books .

There is something to say about having a product like the iPad in Schools . Teachers could really us them to make sure there students are doing work .

Email - Students could now turn in there Home Work that night , or even a few mins after having it done . Keep in touch with other class mates and even ask there teachers questions over school breaks about stuff they might have learned .

Books - This one is a big no brainer . All books ( English , Math , Sci , and History ) could be stored on one iPad . Meaning KIDS wont have to walk around with a backpack filled with millions of books and hurting there backs . Plus side of the is English Classes and History classes could give book reports on a recommended BOOK and the students could DOWNLOAD that book with in mins . Enjoying reading on a new leave .

Typing Classes - Instead of a teacher needing to have every student to find a FREE computer to work on , they have there own COMPUTER to now work on . All the schools would have to supple is the KEY BOARDS for that class room or for all class rooms so the students could Plug right in once they sit down .

How would this work for the Students and Parents out there . Well not that hard of a choose . Schools could set it up where the Parents might pay LESS for the iPads ( lets say 64GB WiFI only version 699.99 ) , Instead of paying for the FULL Price , they pay for Half the Price ( 350 dollars ) . If the Parent cant pay it in full the schools could do a payment plan deal . 20 dollars a month or so . That ONE iPad could take a student threw a few years of SCHOOL , and would only need updates on the Software .

Wifi with in the schools would be that hard either , Each Class with there own WiFI setup or even the whole school with a WiFI setup wouldnt be hard to imply . Kids on Launch could play games , Email friends or keep in contact with there teachers at all times . This is a Plus in my eyes .

For Collages it wouldnt be that hard either , Using the iPad for classes would improve allot of stuff , the difference would be that come classes or students would still need a Laptop for other uses with in classes of might rather do there home work on there PC or laptop .

The main problem with American Students today is that we aren’t using all the tools in front of use to teach them to be better in life . Technology is the way the schools need to go in all class rooms , but they also need something to take with them in life . iPad or other products like the iPad could teach students that Reading and Learning could be fun again .

Most kids today don’t want to learn cause it isn’t fun , the iPad or other product could turn that around for at least a few students in each class room . Teacher could also interact with there students on a new leave , and assign new home work with out having to worry that the student cant get the help they need . Any problems and a student could now E-Mail the teacher there questions .

Posted by PITBULL831 on March 23, 2010 at 7:24 AM (CDT)


I think the jury is still out on if iPads (or any computing device) would save money on textbooks. I work for a very large school district and just went through several weeks of meetings with textbook publishers and costing print and online textbooks.

In every case the online textbook was significantly more expensive relative to the print text. (Not sure where the $1,000 dollar figure comes from, most textbooks are 70-90 dollars and they last 7 years)

Higher-ed textbook publishing has a very different business model so it may be a different story, students buy their own textbooks and only keep them for a semester. In K-12 we buy the books for the students and typically keep them for around 7 years. (And no, most of the major textbook publishers do not automatically give you the latest content just because its online.) An additional challenge with the iPad is that nearly every k-12 textbook publisher’s electronic textbook is currently a Flash based eBook.

School Districts have more than a decade of experience(and academic research) on 1:1 laptop initiatives. Most of the positive(and negative) statements about the iPad could also be said about those efforts. The real questions for schools looking at the iPad are:

-What affordances does a device like the iPad offer that is not possible with existing traditional mobile devices.
-Do these affordances translate into any actual educational benefit,(or cost savings)?
-How is managing/supporting a device like an iPad different from managing a traditional computer?

(on the last one it could be argued that it more user friendly, but it is also true that things like syncing and licensing of paid apps for large quantities of iPads are hampered by the fact that the iPad was designed for consumers, not institutions)

Posted by JimS on March 24, 2010 at 10:30 PM (CDT)


I agree with the article; I think iPads would be great for schools - in the future. I think it’s a bit too early for most schools to truly know how they can and will be used in the classrooms. There are some great ideas floating around, but until we get them in hand, we really don’t know.

I hate to throw in a sour note, but times are hard and people are desperate. The children in my neighborhood would be mugged on a regular basis if it was known that their schools supplied iPads to the students. Thugs usually don’t care about a book bag filled with text books. But a possible iPad? They could easily resell it or even use it themselves for entertainment purposes. Insurance costs would have to be included in addition to the cost of the iPads.

Posted by marsha on March 29, 2010 at 2:35 AM (CDT)

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