iFad – The trend for buying overpriced and underused tablet computers for the classroom

More and more schools seem to be jumping on the iPad train to embrace its interactivity and “enhance” the learning for their students but what do these expensive machines actually add to education?

I recently went on an Apple in Education course in Birmingham that was heavily focused on using iPads in the classroom.  One of the speakers belonged to a school (Secondary Academy) that had begun a scheme where each child had an iPad.  These were paid for by parents over a three year period at around £13 per month so a total cost of around £468.

We were shown a video of the children using their iPad’s in general day to day lessons.  Their usage included the iPad acting as a mini whiteboard for a “show me” activity, using the video function to record a movie in PE, to read a Shakespearean play in English and that was about it.  So far not justifying its £468 price tag.

Looking past the relatively basic usage for such an expensive piece of kit we are then being told that using Pages is a good way for students to produce their work.  To an extent I would agree that this is a simple, intuitive piece of software is fine for short, easy activities however without a keyboard and mouse, and ultimately with its reduced functionality, using this for a sustained piece of work is unfeasible, impractical and inefficient at best.

At least once the students have finished their work they can print it and hand it over to the teacher nice and quick.  No, I hear you cry?  What do you mean you can’t print?  Ok, technically that’s not true since if you buy an AirPrint enabled printer the iPad will print quite happily but can you afford to replace you existing printers that work perfectly well just because they will not work with an iPad?  Would you want to?

Ok, so my £468 machine won’t print.  That’s ok I guess, they must connect to the school network and save their work to their documents or to a shared area where I can see it.  Sorry, wrong again.  Another seemingly basic feature that the iPad lacks.  OK, got it, how about I plug it into my PC and download it?  No, sorry can’t do that either…..

So how do I actually assess the work that the students have done on their wonder machines?  Well, they can email it to you or save it to drop box etc.  That’s right you need to download each and every file for you to assess.  Somewhat inefficient and to put it bluntly a waste of teachers time that we seem to frequently have less and less of with each new initiative.

On the Apple in Education course I attended the main speaker showed us some very lovely looking graphs and lots of big figures that proved that the desktop PC would be dead within five years and that tablet computers, namely iPads were the way forward.  I still cannot see anyone being able to use one of these efficiently for a sustained piece of work or something more technical.  The screens are not accurate enough for graphical drawing, imagine trying to design a web page using one or trying write program, what about data entry on spreadsheets or even just using macro enabled spreadsheets?  Will the iPad be the death of Microsoft Office?  Apple would have us believe they will be the death of everything desktop based but I seriously doubt it.

In a world where teachers are being constantly judged through league tables, OFSTED and progress results I am yet to see how using an iPad in the classroom would gain me the ‘outstanding’ OFSTED grade we all continually strive for!  From all the demonstrations I have seen I honestly, hand on heart, would say that you would be lucky to get ‘satisfactory’ or as seems to be the new term of ‘in need of improvement’.   I agree that they do motivate the children, but so does using any computer.  In fact, on any other computer the students are able to print and use flash based software and plug in other hardware and access shared network resources and…. You get the idea I’m sure.

Of late the TES forum has been covered with posters saying that there school has given them an iPad or bought a set of iPads for the students to use now what can I use it for?  It would seem that someone has been the victim of some slick sales pitch or dazzled at how pretty it looks because surely buying something before identifying a need or use is like the tail wagging the dog?

Apple tells us that “The device that changed everything is changing the classroom.”  Is it?  Is this something we’re trying to force into education that doesn’t actually have a place?  To an extent I hope that I am proved horribly wrong and that they are fantastic tool for improving and enhancing the education of our students so that all of these schools haven’t wasted their time and money.   Honestly, I think in a few years a lot of schools will have some expensive looking door stops.

I have recently been trialling a Samsung Galaxy tab.  It can print to our network printers, it can access all our network drives and I can plug in a memory stick or attach it to a computer to transfer files.  For a teacher, this fits into our existing system much better.  However, the previous concerns still exist in that the screen isn’t accurate enough for graphical drawing, you wouldn’t want to use it for a sustained piece of work, you can’t use macro enable workbooks and it’s not feasible for something that is too resource hungry (movie editing, mixing etc).

So, while there are tablets out there that are more cost effective than the iPad and may integrate themselves into your school network more easily I would still carefully weigh up the actual need and benefits of using this technology before parting with your very limited cash.  They look nice and come with a certain amount kudos for the school but I still can’t see how they justify the cost or how they actually enhance and improve the education for our students.

Please submit your comments below.

Craig McKee

Craig McKee is a Year 5 class teacher and ICT co-ordinator in a large junior school in Rugby in the Midlands. He is a self confessed geek and before completing his Primary BEd with ICT, he worked as a computer engineer. Craig is a keen cyclist who has raced in national time trials as well as completed several long charity rides including Lands End to John O’Groats in six days.

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  1. To be honest as an ex-lecturer/teacher I have to say that the use of tablets/lap tops or whatever is opening up even more variations on the ‘my dog at my homework ‘ excuses…my ipad crashed . . . . . I’m no luddite but . . . .

  2. Very well said Craig.

    I spend quite a lot of my time managing the expectations of mass deployed iPads.

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