Thursday, June 21, 2012

iPads in Education: How and why? Or why not?

Since the iPad was introduced in 2010, it - along with other tablets - has been increasing in popularity both inside and outside of classrooms. To many it is seen as a very exciting educational tool that opens the classroom to a whole new set of opportunities.

I myself have owned an Android tablet and recently switched to an iPad 2. The major impetus to my switch was because of the popularity of the iPad in education. I wanted to be familiar with the device that is changing the landscape in many schools.

I know that schools and school divisions are buying iPads, and I want to know:
  • what is the goal behind buying iPads for classroom use?
  • how are iPads being used in classrooms?
  • is there any data to support their use?
  • are they being used in higher education settings?
To explore these questions, I found a report put together by Alberta Education. It can be accessed here:

What is the goal behind buying iPads for classroom use?
  • to provide all students with the opportunity to succeed - helps to differentiate
  • to increase student engagement
  • to meet every students' needs every day

How are iPads being used in classrooms?
  • beneficial for dyslexic students because font size can be increased
  • writing through story apps rather than just pencil and paper writing to engage more students in the process
  • used as an assistive technology - positive because it is the same technology used by the other students
  • promote self-efficacy through customization features
  • promote risk-taking - eg. students who often are reserved all willing to share their creations on the iPad
  • bridging the literacy gap - "disabilities disappear" with the iPad in the students' hands because it offers a variety of media rather than just written
  • Sign 4 Me app to facilitate communication between a deaf student and his classmates
  • translate work into other representations
  • language acquisition
  • assessment with a faster feedback loop and more differentiation - as and for learning

Is there any data to support their use?
NOTE: The Alberta report recognized that they have no actual quantitative data showing that iPads increase students outcomes or scores
  • this article cites two studies on iPad use in classrooms
    • kindergarten students in Auburn, Maine who used iPads scored better on every literacy test
    • 78% of students who used the HMH algebra app scored proficient or advanced compared to 59% who used the textbook version
  • the article above questions whether or not it is really the iPad making the difference, or if it is rather the teacher who is more engaged by being a part of the study, and therefore, has improved their teaching

Are they being used in higher education settings?
NOTE: The Alberta report only discussed K-12 schools.
  • I found a few articles discussing iPad use in higher education. Here is an example:
    • used in a variety of ways including:
      • providing iPads pre-loaded with class texts and required applications
      • to improve engagement and to allow faculty to explore new teaching methods
      • to integrate specific apps, such as Wolfram Alpha

Overall, I am a little bit disappointed with what I have found. The Alberta report was a very good read, but provided very little in terms of actual strategies or data to support their use. I was happy to hear about all of the ways the iPad can support students with disabilities, but I was hoping to read more about how it is being used by the "average" student. The information I found is all very positive on the use of iPads, but at this point in time I don't think I am convinced enough to say to a school or division that they should invest thousands of dollars to implement a 1-to-1 system. I would definitely recommend it as a support tool, but not a tool to put in the hands of every student based on the high cost.

I would need to do further exploration to see if any schools have tried implementing cheaper tablets, such as the Kindle Fire, and whether or not similar results were found. The report was very adamant that the touchscreen was a huge reason why the iPad is such an engaging tool, so based on that I would assume that other tablets would be just as engaging. The app library is much different, though, and many are perhaps less user-friendly for children. These tablets also lack the allure of the iPad, which may be a contributor to the increased engagement. Food for thought, anyways.


  1. I'm not surprised you haven't found a lot of evidence-based, data driven decision making about the adoption of iPads. Many technologies are adopted for many reasons, and in my experience not all of them are rational or based on student or classroom needs or improved learning outcomes. Instead, they are purchased, and the rational and needs are built afterward to justify the purchase. That's not necessarily bad. If we waited for evidence of efficacy for every purchase we wanted to make, every innovation we wanted to attempt in classrooms, we would never get around to buying anything!

    About 1000 years ago (exaggeration - more like 30), Bob Heinich made an important observation about the adoption of educational technology. He said we always ask teachers to justify their use of technology, and expect them to defend whether they use will result in improved learning than what they would have done otherwise. But we never ask the same question of teachers who don't use technology. We never ask, "So, tell me about your lecture/discussion plan today and how it is better than any other way you might have taught the lesson." In EdTech, we're often put on the defensive.

    I wonder if it isn't enough that we identify some affordances of new technologies and say we want to give them a good try. Our experience and instincts as educators tell us we might be able to generate some excitement and do some cool things if we have the tools to experiment with.

    Just being provocative, but should we really need to demonstrate that new technologies will result in better learning outcomes before we can adopt them?

  2. I am not suggesting that we need to first demonstrate that the tech provides a better outcome in order to adopt them because that would be impossible, but it would be nice to see actual results from those who have adopted them. I have been holding onto the Alberta report for a while excited to read what it said, but most of it came across as an Apple commercial for me. I already know that kids love iPads, similar to their love of cell phones, but with tight budgets are they worth $500 a pop plus necessary apps? Is one-to-one worth it or is one set per school enough? Lots of questions that were missed in that report and seem to be missed in general right now.

    I do appreciate your Heinich reference. It helps to put things in perspective. The only issue is that "your lecture/discussion plan today" doesn't cost the salary of another teacher to implement! That's why justification is needed.

    Do you know has Apple provided any schools with tech/iPads free of charge in order to explore the use in education?

  3. Excellent post! We are looking at iPads in our program, and we haven't found much data either. Rick's comment about justifying our use of tech helps (maybe that will be our data). However, as more schools are using them, more data will appear.

    It will be interesting to see where this goes in the next few years. I have heard that many schools around the world have totally switched to tablets as it is actually cheeper in the long run (or so they say, and can afford).