Mobile Devices in Schools: iCame iSaw iPad

Just catching up with some of my PLN reflections … I wonder if I took on too much when I chose to work in 2 schools for 5 days and two nights per week, as well as doing the PLN? No – I don’t think so.  It was going OK until I decided to work 4 nights a week and start looking for a permanent position for next year! But I digress (as always) …

The Infobrarian household bought an iPad a few months ago to find out what all the fuss was about. We sort of understand the way-sexy-cool features that had people queueing up for them when they first appeared, and they are a lot of fun to play with. Let’s face it, for someone like me who is always doing something with my iPhone, having all that extra screen real estate has to be good – and it means I don’t have to get my reading glasses as often. I scored hundreds more on iPad Flight Control because I could at last see all those helicopters!

So what else impressed us about the iPad? Is it just a very big iPhone, or is it the tablet the MacBook should have got but never did? Is it going to revolutionise the way Mrs Infobrarian teaches chemistry? You could be excused for thinking the iPad really is the Next Big Thing. Plenty of schools have rushed out and bought them, either as class sets or in some cases, 1:1 across a whole school. There are hundreds of iPads-in-the-classroom blogs, and iPads feature at most educational technology conferences. What is it about the iPad that makes it the “one-stop shop” for education?

I’m going to argue that it isn’t – at least not for many teachers. Lots of the literacy and maths apps are great for students learning to read, and for forming basic number concepts, but I’ve yet to see an iPad app that can replace the sort of software needed in secondary schools: Sibelius for music, Adobe Illustrator in art, CAD programs in Design Tech, MYOB for accounting. While touch screens are great tools for teaching early primary school writers, this feature becomes less important as learners develop: many teachers would agree that the same applies to interactive whiteboards. A few other concerns and limitations have been raised by online forum participants:

  • it’s not possible to image a whole class set of iPads – you can do it with laptops.
  • the lack of Flash and Java
  • it’s more difficult to drag and drop content between apps on an iPad
  • printing is dependent on wireless connectivity
  • data storage is severely limited
  • data input is less flexible (no USB or SD card ports)
  • sharing of data between devices is restricted and cumbersome
  • iPads may be more susceptible to damage

I haven’t tried an Android tablet, but I think they would have many of the same constraints. Miss Infobrarian has used a tablet PC in Years 5-8, and it’s a long time since I’ve seen her use any input device other than the keyboard. I was in big trouble tonight – when helping with homework, I pointed to some graphs on her screen, and accidentally moved them out of place!

So we’ll keep enjoying our iPad, use it as an e-reader and a handy mobile device, but I can’t see it having a big impact on the educational lives of the Infobrarians.


3 thoughts on “Mobile Devices in Schools: iCame iSaw iPad

  1. Thanks for the interesting post.

    I think the iPad is really part of a continuum from smart phone to personal computer whereby you have two dynamics running in opposite directions – always-on convenience (strong at the mobile and iPad end, not good at the PC end), and complexity of task (not so great at the mobile/iPad end, but good at the PC end).

    And the mobile/iPad apps model is very specific to use – you can do pretty complex things, but only really specific ones. Rather like the way a Phillips screwdriver is great at screwing in Phillips screws, no good at normal screws, and really bad as a hammer.

    I suspect that time is the other dynamic which will have an impact in this arena. Just as the iPad created a different approach to the tablet (smaller, lighter), which marked a new point on the continuum, convergence of device types may allow for new hybridised forms of devices which will prove to have value.

    And the truth is, you only know you need something once it has been invented, you start using it and it becomes genuinely indispensible.

    I reckon we must have thought that about the wheel once upon a time 😉

    • Thanks for these comments – I love the screwdriver analogy! Yes, these iOS devices can do some amazing things, but they are useless for some other reasonably basic things. The continuum is also a very helpful way to explain where they fit.

      You’re right about mobile devices and the wheel – from what I remember (I’m really old for an infobrarian) it was criticised because it would make people lazy, kids would only use it for games and not real work, and it would make schools unmanageable unless everyone had exactly the same school-issued wheels.

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