To iPad or not to iPad?


Is it he hottest tech tool to come out in the last decade, or is it just a less functional and more expensive net book with multi-touch? It depends…

Lots of talk amongst both the general public, and educators, about whether or not the iPad is a “game changer”. I will admit to being an Apple skeptic, and do not own any of their devices, as I’m too cheap, and am willing to tinker with my digital devices and live with a non-intuitive UI (more on that later). My initial impression is that it will not be a device for me, my family, or my computer lab, but even if  that turns out to be true, it may not be the case for everyone.

Flash vs. Apps

A lot of the critique for Apple mobile devices centers around the fact that so many edu-games rely on flash, which won’t run on those devices. Tom Hoffman opines that it may be more critical for kids because they love their flash-based online games.  An analyst on Marketplace discusses why it is such a PITA for website developers to design content as the viewing audience splinters based on their device/platform. But, Leo Laporte points out on TWiT that this is all short-term pain, as Flash is replaced by HTML5, which YouTube is already getting ready for. My thoughts:

  • Flash doesn’t matter as much for the general public now, because you just get an app. My son has acquired my old mobile (not from Apple), and is content with the handful of games I’ve given him from Verizon.
  • It does matter for education. The best online activity sites for elementary, Starfall and PBS Kids, either don’t currently have apps, or have paid apps. The apps available don’t compare to Starfall, et. al. in terms of what they do, or how well they do it. Picture having a class set of these, can your school afford to plunk an extra $2-$5 per app for each iPad? Even as a center, that would add up.  The beauty of apps is that the price point is great, unless you’re buying in bulk. The apps are…apps, not full websites, so you aren’t getting as much, and it costs, while the real Internet version is free.

Creation vs. Consumption

But playing internet games is not the only thing you can do with the iPad or any computer. This would mean that it isn’t a replacement for your computer, merely an adjunct to it (which I think takes it out of the game-changing category, but keeps it from being useless).

  • You could keep your computer center/netbooks, and use iPads in other ways in the classroom.  You could have kids review slideshows with visuals to do vocabulary development (folks are already doing this with Touches, and doing audio and text lessons with Nanos)
  • You can have kids create podcasts. You could do this with other tools that are cheaper, open, etc.

The TWiT show had an interesting point about the iPad vs. a net book, that the iPad is more of a content consumption devices than a content creation one. The touch keyboard (although they mentioned a plug in for a keyboard), the lack of a camera all limit what you (and your students) can create with these tools. I’m assuming that you can do audio recording for making podcasts, as those can be done on the Touch and iPhone. Once again, it means that it won’t be a replacement tool for you computer with webcam, or a stand along digital/video camera.

If most or all you are using it for is typing/writing, maybe the touch keyboard will not prove as big an impediment to students as it seems to be to we adults, but you can get NEOs for $150 these days as the price point moves down for all devices. Frankly, $500 may be a deal for an Apple, but compared to what you get from the competition, it isn’t.

Never underestimate an intuitive user interface…

  • The interface of all the Apple mobile devices is a heck of a lot more intuitive for primary students to use, and will be more “friendly” for non-techie teachers to deal with
  • They are a bit delicate to leave in the hands of six year olds unsupervised doing center activities. They clearly flunk the “Tonka” standard of durability that most listening center equipment (Califone anyone?) for education tries for.

I leave it to readers to figure out where they come out on the UI vs. durability debate.

I was having a discussion with an ed tech integration expert from another local district. I shared my thought that with the exception of  a “tactile” interface, everything I’ve been able to do on my SMART Board can be done with projector and laptop. His response was, yes Alice, you and I can figure out how to do those things, but IWBs are an entry tool for the non-technically adept. Teachers who will not use tech in their teaching will use an IWB, and so it’s a way to transform their teacher that could be done without technology, or the IWB. Essentially, it sugar coats transforming education. I’m also trying to figure out if the tactile does offer a significant advantage in terms of engagement with kids, especially primary, and special education ones.

Maybe that is the bottom line with the iPad, it will make it easy for students and for non-techie teachers, making them more likely to successfully bring digital tools into their classrooms (this same point is made about the target audience for the iPad here). I may never use these overpriced gadgets in my lab/classroom, but then maybe it wasn’t meant for me in the first place. I’ll leave you with that final thought and let you come to your own conclusions.

Photo Credit: Apple iPad on flickr

12 Comments to

“To iPad or not to iPad?”

  1. February 8th, 2010 at 7:16 am      Reply Mathew Says:

    Great article!

    I believe that a classroom would need to purchase an app only once to load it on all sets of iPads synced with that computer. So the expense is not $2 per iPad, it’s $2 per classroom (assuming an app costs $2). That is obviously different from traditional software licensing.

    However, that doesn’t change that you can’t view Starfall on your iPad. I do not imagine the iPad replacing the classroom computers we might already have. There would still be at least a couple computers in the back of the room to run Starfall. The iPads, however, would allow more students to participate in blogging, word processing, or conducting research at the same time and in any classroom location that was convenient.

    It is a bummer that you can’t run flash and I do hope that’s worked out in the future. But if all teachers wanted to do is run flash games on their electronic devices, I don’t think any technology would warrant the expense in terms of impact on student achievement.

    • February 8th, 2010 at 10:26 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

      My experience with iTunes is that it limits you to 5 syncable devices, which would work for a small set for centers but not a class set. That was with music, so let me know if it’s different.

      There are much cheaper writing devices out there, netbooks at half the price, NEO keyboards at less than a third. Doug Noon has kids doing their writing for blogging on NEOs.

      For “field notes” in research, the NEOs are the only ones that compare in terms of portability. Depending on the netbook, you can get up to 6 hours of charge, and four would be enough for most class situations.

      The only advantage I’m still seeing is the UI. NEOs are pretty darn simple, but less visual. Netbooks run Sugar (XO), Linux, or the dreaded Windows.

      • February 8th, 2010 at 2:50 pm      Reply Mathew Says:

        With DRM music there was a limit of 5 computers (not iPods) that could play DRM licensed music and each iPod could only have DRM music from no more than 5 computers.

        Any music purchased now is DRM free but even the DRM free music could be synced to any number of iPods connected to one of those 5 computers. The apps don’t have that DRM licensing (assuming they follow the iPod Touch model) and so I believe you need to buy your app only once on a main computer and then sync all iPads to it.

        Aside from the user interface (which is a major benefit) the iPad operating system is so simple that it will require little technical troubleshooting which is a major advantage over existing laptops.

    • February 8th, 2010 at 1:51 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Oh, I doubt that flash will be worked out cause apparently Steve Jobs thinks it’s the anti-Christ. HTML 5 will be the solution, but ya gotta wonder how long edu sites will take to move over to that. The TWiT piece has more about that.

  2. February 8th, 2010 at 2:23 pm      Reply Diana Kenney Says:

    Hi Alice!
    Thanks for the thoughtful post! I’m not convinced that the iPAD is the “next” big advancement in education. Right now netbooks are leveling the playing field in many of our schools. They are inexpensive and multi-functional. Here’s another article for you to check-out on iPad vs. blio ereader.

    Hope all is well,
    Diana Kenney

  3. February 10th, 2010 at 11:03 am      Reply Jon Says:

    There are programs for remotely controlling your PC from the iPod touch (which will work on the iPad). Set up your PC to your projector, remotely hook your iPad through downloaded software to your PC using WiFi, and now you have a touch enabled smartboard type pad with the screen in your hands. You are no longer connected to a teaching station and you can write directly on the iPad screen and it will appear up on the projected screen (with more free software of course). Also, because you can remotely hook your iPad to your PC anywhere with WiFi, you can be using ANY program that is on your PC on your iPad. Your PC has a usb, can multitask and can see flash. Presto! A truly mobile device that can easily go anywhere, that is touch enabled, and can do anything your PC can do. I am not focusing on what this product lacks (flash being the biggest hit to me), but instead looking at the possibilities it opens up.

    • February 10th, 2010 at 11:11 am      Reply Jon Says:

      …of course this is for the teacher using the iPad for instuction and teacher tasks, not for student usage in stations and such. I just wish there was flash support, then they would work great for student usage. We’ll see how fast HTML5 comes and how many people switch over.

      Though at the moment, I don’t know if I would want to put a $500 dollar machine that is made of glass in the unsupervised hands of a primary student.

    • February 10th, 2010 at 11:18 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Nice suggestion! Cheaper than an IWB too.

  4. February 10th, 2010 at 11:18 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

    My impression, and it’s from this very small comment pool and a couple of IRL conversations, is that for folks in Apple districts, like Mathew, it is their potential netbook equivalent. It doesn’t have flash, but it is a lot more intuitive, and cheaper than a Mac COW.
    For folks in PC districts like myself, and I think Diana is as well, it doesn’t compare price point-wise with what we can get from a netbook and is less functional because of flash. I would NOT rule it out though in those districts for the use Jon lists, AND for teachers who need a friendly UI to deal with.

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