The pros and cons of the iPad, as said by teachers

James Cain

With a background in the dark side (journalism), James Cain joined Innovate My School as editor in January 2014. Since then, he has worked with educators far and wide to source great content for the teaching community. James is a film and music fanatic, also enjoying books, games and a good pair of Doc Martens. From the Chester-based offices of IMS, James is able to collaborate with / annoy enthusiastic teachers who are keen to share advice, resources and stories with their peers.

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If you’re a teacher working in the UK, there’s a good chance that you use a tablet as part of your work. While we originally set out to publish an article on the different tablet devices available to educators, the response to our questions was so Apple-oriented, we’ll begin with iPads for now.

This article is comprised of the opinions of ten different education professionals, either teachers or former teachers. Twitter profiles are linked to the first use of a contributor’s name.

Preference

Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning (DN): Preference of iPad varies by teacher-type, in my experience. PE teachers particularly value the form factor of the iPad mini, and the ability it gives them to use something pocket-able to capture video. They can also take the register wherever they’re teaching, and then sling it up to a display when back inside without any setup time. Similarly, for anything practical where a teacher wants to use the iPad as a visualiser, the mini is much easier to operate one-handed. The larger iPad, however, is better suited to the teacher who works in a more traditional classroom environment. The greater screen-estate really helps if annotating or drawing, and the ‘average’ teacher certainly finds a 10” a lot less fiddly than a 7”.

Jules Daulby, English, Drama and SEN secondary teacher (JD): I have tried the Chromebook; I liked it, but broke it and missed the touch screen. I did have an Acer tablet, too, but the battery was a problem, and it was less intuitive than the iPad.

Carolyn Hughes, assistant headteacher (CH): I have used Android tablets at home, but would not consider them for work as they are less responsive, slower and have fewer features. That’s only based on experience with a few Androids, though - namely Samsung, Archos and GBook.

Rachel Jones, teacher & e-learning coordinator (RJ): I use iPads in my everyday teaching, as I work at a 1:1 iPad school. The first and third year students all have personal iPads, and so it’s the expectation of the school that these be used to enhance learning. We will be rolling out the device across the school in time, and we felt that this was the correct device to use in school as we tested almost all of other potential devices; the iPad provided the best platform for collaborative learning, which will innovate the way we teach, and the students learn. When not at work I also use my iPhone and MacBook, as they integrate well, as well as facilitating the sharing of apps and the creation of iBooks and iTunesU courses.

Pros of the iPad

Poppy Gibson, Year 5 teacher / ICT coordinator (PG): The simple, touch-screen interface on the iPad means even the youngest pupils can use the devices, with the simple one circular button to return to the home screen.

CH: The iPad has accessibility features such as disabling the Home Button, multitasking gestures and gesture access via camera movements. It’s also got a wider range of recommended apps for education that are more professional. I have found many Android apps to be full of ads, americanised and just not the same quality.

Juliet Robertson, education consultant (JR): Its pre-loaded apps are a useful starting point, especially Photo Booth for a variety of lessons along with the camera and video. For outdoor work, there is a mini version as well as a bigger size.

David Andrews, computing and 1:1 learning specialist (DA): Pupils can be creators of content - not just consumers of content. The iPad can be used as a cross curricular tool to support teaching and learning. Apps can be combined easily as a cross-curricular tool for the pupils to demonstrate understanding.

Rory Gallagher, MFL teacher and deputy ITEC (RG): The iPad has Doceo and other ed apps, plus great functionality and ease of use.

JR: There’s the simplicity, too. It's easy to work out what to do with an iPad.

Matthew Banfield, Worcester Primary PGCE student (MBa): Guided Access: This feature is brilliant. I initially discovered a problem when giving children handheld devices, they were using apps they shouldn't be and just messing around a little. What Guided Access does is allows the teacher to lock the devices to a certain app and also allows them to control how many features the children can access. This meant that there was more control over the lessons and the children were staying on task.

RJ: The battery life and robustness of the iPad is excellent. It has a consistent interface for teachers, and it’s easier to provide training on specific platforms for staff development.

Matt Britland, Director of ICT (MBr): The iOS ecosystem updates every year, and iOS8 looks outstanding. It’s available on all iPads apart from the 1st generation. It isn’t a fragmented ecosystem, like with Android.

DN: The iPad has a superb, gate-kept and reliable range of educational applications, with workflow and teaching tools being really quite mature now. The apps teachers use are rarely about content.

DA: It’s ideal for letting pupils develop their speaking, listening and communication skills - spoken language is a crucial part of pupils’ development and underpins progress. The device allows the pupils to quickly capture images and use these as visual cues which they can orally record their voice via a number of innovative app to support the writing process.

CH: It’s also more intuitive, with features such as swipe navigation in Safari, which makes it easy to use bookmarking and the like.

MBa: The iPad has a wide variety of apps that have been purpose-built for education. All of which are very easy to use and easy for the students to become familiar with. They’re extremely portable (as are all tablets), but in my case I used an iPod touch for some of the work in PE. This was great, because the students could hold it in one hand whilst also doing other things, and it didn't get in the way.

RG: It’s great to have the ease of transfer between iOS products - I have an iPhone, so that’s handy for me.

MBr: The sheer number of apps available to support teaching and learning is superb. Not only apps for consuming content, but apps for creating content too. iTunesU and iBooks Author are also great.

DN: Its ease of use, the simple way in which it works and its fluid integration into many aspects of daily life (such as email, reading, social contact) help make the iPad the first device that has a genuine chance of overcoming the Change Management hurdle that has torpedoed every other technical incursion into schools. Everyone gets it, basically, and fear levels among teachers (a genuine problem) are lower than with other technologies.

DA: I love the technology as it allows the pupils to easily share their work to an audience, such as with a blog, Twitter, via QR codes, other classes, parents and carers in the community, and so on. It helps them to increase the incentive to produce a high standard of work. PG: I’m a fan of iBooks Author, a free app, which is great for making multi‑touch books for iPad or Mac. iBooks Author allows teachers to create appealing materials tailored to each lesson and class level. The iPad has great battery life, too; they often only need to be charged every couple of days, depending on how much they have been used.

JD: The iPad is intuitive, easy to use and fast. It’s got a wide range of apps, doesn't go wrong so I rarely need IT support, and I love that it's all in one package - camera, video, email, docs, TV and radio. Students can produce high quality, interactive work easily. 

RJ: It also has an excellent range of educational apps, or apps that can be used for education, as well as access to iBooks Author and iTunesU.

DA: Work doesn't have to left on the device or need to be saved to the school's network: cloud storage, such as Google Drive and Dropbox, offers a cheap solution to storing pupils' work. An alternative is to set up a blog to upload content created on the iPads. Not only is this a cheap solution, but if used correctly it can become a platform from which pupils can share their work to an audience, increasing the motivation to produce a higher standard on work.

DN: The iPad’s also got really high-quality and reliable screen-mirroring. This is the biggest win for me. The fact that a teacher is no longer tethered to the front of the room by the IWB or PC that’s wired to it means that lessons become very subtly, but very definitely, different in their feel. You find teachers routinely teaching from a seat at a table alongside a group of pupils and lessons become much more participative and pupil-led. The device seems to enable teachers, both metaphorically and literally, to work alongside pupils.

DA: They can be timetabled to teach 'iPad lessons': The best outcomes come from when the iPads are used as a cross curricular tool, and are used when they're the best tool for the job in the classroom. For example, if the end goal was a persuasive piece of writing, the iPads could be used to support the writing process by designing a game, creating posters, adverts and jingles. This project could form part of a business and enterprise project in which pupils share their finished games and persuasive work with another class.

Cons of the iPad

JR: The screen is difficult to read in sunlight. Apple have yet to work out that humans are not vampires.

JD: It has a very breakable screen - I now use a Gumdrop case which lets me drop it, spill tea on it and lets students scratch it.

MBa: Teachers are very aware of the time it takes to maintain tablets, e.g. making sure they are charged for the next lesson and stuff. My experience of this is that teachers don't want the extra hassle in their planning time. There are products out there that allow you to charge multiple devices at a time using charging stations, but again, money comes into play.

DN: The price is a disadvantage. A decent (Air, 32Gb) iPad is still too much money for many schools. Anything less brings obsolescence risks and storage problems. Also, the email client is truly appalling, and manages the seemingly impossible task of making you long wistfully for those happy days when you used Outlook to manage your correspondence. This may be fixed in iOS8, but I’m not holding my breath.

MBa: The price of any tablet is going to be a concern for schools, and rightly so, as tablets don't come cheap! There are schemes out there working with schools to help improve technology in schools, but they can't help everyone. This is where I found that iPod touches were pretty good; they are cheaper and can near enough do anything an iPad can.

RG: I’m not a fan of the price or the speakers. It’s also tied into the iOS system.

CH: The iPad is controlled by iTunes, and iPads are expensive. Also, it’s not so easy to create your own apps without a developer licence, etc; on the other hand it means there is less junk out there, and the app store has credible apps less likely to crash.

JR: Finding advice on the Apple website and accessing support can take a while; it's like being lost and walking round in circles sometimes.

JD: Apps are all via Apple - I find this means companies have little contact with clients. This is very different to computer software, including feedback.

DN: The locked-down ecosystem isn’t ideal. Perversely, I see this as a risk, as the best learning environments are probably a combination of many different parts from multiple places – both iTunes U and Google Classroom, not either / or. However, schools can find it hard to navigate how these things interact, and often resort to ‘Apple stuff plus email’ as their workflow. This, of course, makes moving to a different hardware solution quite tricky, should something better come along.

JD: The word processing isn’t great - I still prefer a laptop for writing lengthy pieces, and also for some of my students who need speech recognition. The program Dragon with laptop is a better option. Also, the memory; my first iPad ran out quickly, and I had to request a second device with more memory.

PG: iPads were designed to be personal devices; with the incapability to enter logins, personal information can't be stored if pupils are sharing iPads.

JR: Even the best of protective covers eventually lets in dust and a bit of water, so outdoor use still has to be given a little more thought regarding care of the device.

MBa: As I previously mentioned, children can get distracted by devices, using features that aren't connected to the lesson. Thankfully, Guided Access helps in combating this problem.

RJ: Setting up the AppleID can be problematic for some students, although this is hopefully changing with the iOS8 update.

MBr: They’re expensive compared to some other tablets, and they don’t have a USB port. There’s also no split screen multitasking at this time.

PG: There’s no Adobe Flash Player or Javascript, which means many online games and activities cannot be played on the iPad. There’s also no USB port or SD/camera card slot.

RJ: Wi-Fi needs to be strong and consistent in schools, so the network needs to be especially robust to support them as 1:1 devices. Display and mirroring requires a resilient network too, and is not yet as smooth as it could be, which can cause some teacher problems.

Do you use iPads in your teaching work? Let us know in the comments.

(Image Credit)

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