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

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

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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