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6 Reasons Why We Should Be Using iPads

Vineet Madan, vice-president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education eLabs, spends time developing ways that technology can improve learning among college and university students. He recently talked about the reasons why iPads are ready for the college classroom.

K-12 schools across the country (and just down the street) are putting huge chunks of cash aside for 1-to-1 iPad initiatives.

Madan argues that iPads are tailor-made for the university level. But are they really ready for K-12?

I think they are. And to paraphrase Madan’s college arguments:

iPads Are the Best Way to Show Textbooks

iPads are capable of displaying incredible ebooks featuring images, video and audio. You just can’t do that sort of thing with a normal textbook. Learning about the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders. With the tap of a finger, kids can watch it, trace their finger over it, get historical footage, links to other articles and listen to period music. The result is a more integrated learning experience, much more engaging for kids. Madan says “this isn’t the future — this is today.” Textbook companies, museums, non-profits need to start working together to make this happen.

And when there is text, the iPad allows students to highlight text, take notes in the margin and access a dictionary directly within the book itself. Teachers can even start creating their own texts as ePubs and post them in Apple’s iBooks app.

Kids Are Ready for Tablets

While iPads have been around for just over 14 months, kids have been using smartphones for years and understand touchscreen technology. The iPad 2 also has cameras and video that kids use all the time. The appeal of the iPad to K-12 students is obvious: They’re much easier to take to, and use in, class than a laptop. They’re lightweight and start up instantly. Longer battery life means that students don’t have to worry about carrying a charger with them. When classrooms don’t implement what has now become “everyday” technology, we’re doing students a disservice.

iPads Can Raise Test Scores

We’re beginning to see early research suggesting that the use of iPads (and other mobile devices) is raising test scores. When kids are engaged, they learn better. iPads are engaging. The right iPad app in the hands of the right kind of teacher makes learning a no-brainer.

iPads Have the Software to Be Competitive

When the first iPads came out last year, I wasn’t convinced. Creating stuff on the iPad was difficult and clunky. But companies are pouring time and money into creating useful and powerful software for the iPad. In addition to the thousands of exciting educational apps available, iPads are fully compatible with online teaching and learning platforms, such as Blackboard.

iPads Integrate With Education IT Trends

Schools across the country are being forced to cut corners and save money in all sorts of ways. One way is to move away from traditional productivity suites like Microsoft Office to cloud-based tools like Google Apps for Educators. iPads have been specifically designed for this sort of computing, given their portability and options for constant connectivity. With iPads and cloud-based systems, students can work just about anywhere and make sure that their work is saved in a central location and accessible from all of their devices.

iPads Are Becoming More Available

Madan suggests that one of the primary reasons that iPads have been slow to penetrate the education market was their limited availability. Apple is working on its assembly / supply chain issues and more iPads will be the result. Increased competition from Google and other tablet companies should also start to drive down prices.

Is the iPad a silver bullet? No. Will it solve every education problem? No.

And I’m sure there will be unintended consequences as their use becomes more widespread. But to ignore their possibilities doesn’t seem right, either.

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13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Awesome review of why schools need iPads! I totally agree! I’m trying to get one myself! Do you think you could help spread the word about my Donors Choose grant so I can get an iPad for my classroom?

    May 24, 2011
  2. At my work, they’ve given us iPads to use and I’ve found some good uses for it, but I do worry that in the high school environment, it would be tough for daily use. Normal word processing is difficult for me at least, using Pages not Word for iPad, so I wonder how much of an inconvenience that would be. There are other ways I’d like to use it though.

    On a pratical note, our state requires a 15 inch screen, maybe 17 inches, for online testing. So we’d have a problem with that unless if the state changed it’s rule.

    May 24, 2011
    • glennw #


      You’ve hit on two of the problems that our districts are trying to solve. Word processing can be difficult (though it seems kids deal with it better than I do) and what to do with state assessments. Right now, our state assessment will not even work on iPads because of browser issues. So . . . for schools that are going 1-to-1 middle school and high school, that’s going to be the biggest problem to solve.

      But I think because of ease of use, cloud computing and cost, iPads will be the next netbook. Apps will get better, software will get better and I really do think that the typing part won’t seem like such a problem, the more we use them.

      (But I have always been a hunt and peck typist so the keypad doesn’t bother me that much.)


      May 24, 2011
      • I’m also interested in the chromebook by Google. That could be a good option, as well. There’s no reason why we cannot have iPads in elementary school.

        May 25, 2011
      • glennw #

        I’d like to play with one of the new Google netbooks. Maybe more durable?

        Am working with admin from three different districts next week who are all going to some sort of 1-to-1 iPad plan. Will be interesting to see how iPads survive middle school kids.


        May 25, 2011
  3. ShawnGVSU #

    As a soon to be teacher I am taking a class on educational technology. I have seen some of the apps that are available for Ipads and they seem worthwhile. The question that I have is: Is this worth it? The Ipad is great, but the cost involved in setting a classroom up with these devices will run in the thousands of dollars. What is to say that two years down the road something better will come out that replaces the Ipad and the school is stuck with obsolete hardware. Do you think that this product will be here for the next 5-10 years? Or is it going to head the way of the netbook?

    May 25, 2011
    • glennw #


      Good questions. Bottom line for me? Yeah, it’s probably worth it. The cost per unit is not that much more than even the cheapest netbooks and is less expensive than traditional laptops.So if schools are concerned about creating connected students, financially it makes sense. And there’s always something new coming out but I do think that the basic touchscreen technology is here to stay. Operating system updates, new software, new apps and third-party add-ons will continue to make the iPad a tool that has more staying power that a netbook.

      Durability is a question I have right now but with no moving parts, no keyboard, etc, it seems as if they will last longer than a lot of the netbooks that I see out there.

      I think we need to question everything that we do in education – basically, what should we be doing so that kids learn best. And while iPads are not a silver bullet that will solve every problem and fit every situation, right now I think that iPads are part of the answer.

      Thanks for the comment!


      May 26, 2011
  4. Jeff Layman #

    Gotta disagree with you here, Glenn. Here are a few reasons:

    1. Flash. The dead horse of Apple, right? Until they come to terms with using Flash, there’s too many valuable things online that are unusable.

    2. App Dependency. This is totally debatable, but you’re pretty limited to using whatever app developers make. If they don’t make an app that suits your need, you’re stuck.

    3. App distribution. Have you tried synching a class set of ipads? It’s a mess. Plus, buying apps and distributing them legally is a tremendous hassle.

    4. Apple witholds features from products so you’ll buy the next product. See iPad -> iPad2.

    5. 2-4 lead me to believe that Apple has no real interest in getting into the education “game.” If they did, they’d be much more willing to compromise on issues like device cost, account & app sharing.

    Here’s where I DO see them fitting in education: K-2.

    What makes the iPad unique is its tactile nature. What better age to develop those skills than k-2? They are learning how to write letters, draw shapes and myriad other things that play perfectly to the strengths of the iPad and it’s available apps.

    Here are two VERY comparable products with much more utility for k-12 education:

    May 27, 2011
    • glennw #


      Thanks for pointing out some of the drawbacks to the iPad.

      We can agree on a couple of things! Flash is a problem, no doubt. Not sure how that will all play out and not really sure what Apple’s thinking is on that. I do hear tech guys talk about the benefits of HTML5 – seems like the market will drive where that goes. I am also a huge believer in the potential that tablets have among younger kids. Just yesterday, a colleague told a story of her 18 month old grand-daughter sliding open an iPad, opening an Intro to Letters app and tracing the alphabet.

      But while the iPad is fairly app driven at the moment, more and more pieces of “software” are being developed specifically for the iPad or being adapted for its use. A recent example? Comic Life, a piece of software used by many teachers and students in the traditional sense, is now available as a fully functional iPad “app.” Again, the market will drive development and I think more “traditional” software will begin appearing over the next few years. And even in the traditional world of laptops and desktops, we’re app / software dependent. You picks your platform and you takes your chances.

      We have been experimenting with Apple’s Volume Purchasing Plan to install and sync apps on larger numbers of devices and it seems to work fairly well. Could it be easier? Yes. But even with tablets alternatives / touchscreen netbooks, there will also be challenges with cloning / ghosting hard-drive images to large numbers of devices.

      Bottom line? As I said in my post, iPads, other tablets, netbooks, paper and pencil (or any piece of technology, for that matter) are not silver bullets. And there will be unintended consequences (like iPads not able to be used for state assessments because of the Flash problem). Without great teachers and effective classroom strategies, it won’t matter what we use.

      But I do want kids to be prepared for what comes next. If it’s an iPad, great. If there’s something else that works better, great. And it’s discussions like this that help me find the answers, so thanks for a great comment!


      May 27, 2011
      • TinaM #

        As a teacher who has been 1 to 1 with tablets and lap tops for the last four years, I have struggled the most with Flash. Yes, there are a few sites I use that have flash, but the big problem with flash + PC’s + high school students? games. Online gaming is a big distraction for students, and most of them require flash player to run.
        I am excited to try the 1 to 1 iPads next year. We decided that if the technology updates too fast and the whole idea is a failure, we can send our iPads to the elementary students to help them enhance their learning. But being from a small school district with little to no funding help from the state, the iPad might just help us keep our students learning important 21st Century skills.
        Thanks for the article. It helped me find some useful bits of information for parents and our community.

        June 2, 2011
      • glennw #

        Thanks for the comment!

        I hadn’t thought of the online games Flash issue on the iPad being a good thing! It might solve some classroom management issues. Good luck with your 1-to-1 project next year. Would love to hear how it goes!


        June 2, 2011
  5. I have just developed an IPAD APP for World/Global History.
    It uses color coder flash cards to engage the students but includes mini quizes after each card (if they want) to test their knowledge. Check it out
    Global History Facts In A Flash (In the Apple Store)

    June 3, 2011
  6. I agree that iPads could have a potential use in the classroom, but the problem is that you couldn’t really keep students off of other sites while they were using their textbooks online. FaceBook, etc. I do think it would be super for actively engaging them, since you could have questions and games and so forth to assess their learning while they read or study. Also, unless the school provides them, it would be tough to get every student an iPad for use. For college students, they could probably make much more affordable textbooks for use on iPads, than the actual college books! I teach at a university and get lots of free textbooks, but also have to hear about the students who have a hard time (especially adult students going back to school) paying for the overpriced books.
    Great article!

    July 29, 2011

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