5 Reasons The iPad Will Stay The King of the Classroom

The following piece is by the amazingly talented Adam Webster, Assistant Director of Learning and Teaching at a secondary school in Surrey, England. He writes for both the Edudemic Magazine and his blog ‘Cageless Thinking‘ (worth bookmarking). This article originally appeared on Cageless Thinking and was cross-posted with Adam’s permission.

1. It’s not a laptop

The biggest and most oft-heard criticism of the iPad usually revolves around it not behaving like a desktop PC or laptop. The people making this complaint are simply missing the point. Apple aren’t trying to make a laptop replacement, why would they? They make a couple of extremely good ones! The iPad is a new kind of device that asks you to think and work differently.

The fact that it isn’t a laptop, to me, is its greatest attribute:

The SAMR model suggests that there are 4 degrees of sophistication for using technology in education:

samr model

As you can see from the diagram (created using Paper by Fifty Three) the most sophisticated levels involve ‘Transformation’. This means using technology to do things that weren’t possible before technology came along, rather than just modifying the existing status quo.

I believe that the iPad makes transformation far more possible, indeed likely, than a laptop. A laptop does the first two stages in the SAMR Model really well. Word processing and all of its tools for example is an outstanding innovation, but it isn’t changing anything except our efficiency and accuracy.  The iPad, its workflow and its apps, allow for real change and makes it easy. Your students will create work that not only wasn’t possible before their innovative use of the technology, but that you as their teacher had never even thought of.

2. Creative workflow

Because the iPad doesn’t run Windows, but its own unique operating system (known as iOS) it works very differently to what many people are used to when they pick up a ‘computer-like’ device. The iPad functions through a clever combination of internet browser (Safari), email and apps.

In the latest update to iOS we have seen far greater connectivity between apps, meaning that they ‘talk’ to each other far more willingly, making the workflow even more exciting.

The fact that you can take a photo using the camera, import this into a whiteboard app to annotate, import it again into a screencasting app to discuss it and then save in a cloud-storage app, simply by following the workflow of ‘open in’ means that what was once cumbersome on a desktop or laptop is now obvious. What required lots of lengthy downloads and expensive, specialist software can now be achieved by quick downloads, with easy to find and very often free or very inexpensive software.

Occasionally though you will hit a brick wall; either you personally will not know how to do something using the device, or it simply won’t be possible. In many ways this is when the device comes into its own. Whilst this can be frustrating, I think that the iPad’s strength lies in the fact that there are always multiple ways of doing things and the setup of the iOS is such as that it encourages you to think about problem-solving in a creative but also remarkably logical way. Students will invariably find their own way around this device and it is highly likely that it will prove to be a different and perhaps more effective path than the one you chose – I know I have found this time and time again!

3. Apple ecosystem

Yes, Apple devices are more expensive than most other devices. But I think it is fair to say that you get what you pay for. If you can find a way to not just integrate iPads into a Windows ecosystem, but to actually create an Apple ecosystem then you will know what Steve Jobs was talking about when he said ‘it works’ because it really does. The simplicity of how Apple devices talk to each other and work together is a remarkable thing.

I have seen the difficulties of working in a Windows environment and how frustrating it is when teacher’s want a specific piece of software, or download and I have seen the hassle vanish in an Apple environment.

apple ecosystem

Undoubtedly this takes a financial and training commitment that few schools can afford, but seeing it in action is to discover a real meeting of efficiency and style.

If this simply isn’t possible, then it is worth knowing that Apple is making it easier for their devices to work with other types of machine.  Apple TV works irrespective of what type of desktop or projector you have and devices such as iPads will work seamlessly on a wifi network even if it is Windows based.

4. Focus on education

Over the course of a year I receive a lot of promotional material from people running training programs for IC T development, ICT in the classroom and best practise with regards to technology in the classroom. Of this mountain of material I would say that 60-70% is specifically to do with iPads or other Apple technologies. Of the other 30%, Apple will feature as part of the package being offered in almost all cases. I don’t remember the last time I received something from a course supplier that said ‘come and try out the latest Windows-based technology that will make your classroom a better place.’ (Perhaps the introduction of the Surface will change this, but its early incarnation is not hugely promising.)

There is no doubt that Apple have invested heavily in education and they want to capitalise on this. I read recently that Bill Gates has given many millions of pounds to education funding as well, and yet over here in the UK, I have seen little evidence of this.

Apple and Google both offer programs for educators who are keen to demonstrate what their products can do and having attended conferences and meetings with such people present, it is clear that the investment in finding these representatives who are, or have been teachers, makes a real impact on you as a delegate.

It’s great to hear stories of how others have made technology work in their classroom and it makes you want to go out and achieve the same thing.

5. Aspirational

apple think different

If teachers don’t understand that Apple’s slogan doesn’t just apply to their technology, but the way we teach with technology, the battle to prepare students for the world will be lost.

It may not sound entirely convincing to say, but the truth is that Apple products are highly desirable and respected. Students want to own iPads and iPhones and anything really that starts with ‘i’. This makes a difference when introducing new technology and more importantly, new pedagogical strategies.

To do so with a device that they want to engage with makes the learning process better. In a recent questionnaire to my students, one commented that ‘materials that were learnt using the iPads are remembered better.’

It’s a simple reality that if you give someone a way to do something that they can relate to, engage with and enjoy, they will do the job you give them better.  Students are vey workman-like when I give them laptops. They know what is ‘expected’ and they get on and do it. When I give them iPads, I don’t know what they’ll produce at the end of it and often neither do they. If that scares you as a teacher then iPads are probably not the right device for you. If this excites you, then try and get hold of just one. Hook it up to an Apple TV and see what you can do with a few apps and a newly revitalised class,


  1. Niels Jakob

    January 3, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Don’t forget, that one of the most important things students have to learn today, is the ability to choose between different tools for different tasks. With an iPad they are limited to choosing tools that are accepted by the App Store people. With a laptop they are free to build their own tools, or to choose among many free, webbased and cross-platform tools.

    The iPad is not a replacement for a laptop, I agree. But many schools running 1:1 projects use the iPad as a replacement for the laptop. And that’s a shame, cause the iPad will, in my opinion, never be a good king of the classroom – it will only be a king who restrains students’ from learning what’s most important.

    • Peter Jang

      January 15, 2013 at 7:20 am

      Indeed. “Ecosystem” is just another word for “lock-in”.

  2. john Hobson

    January 3, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Yet another PR job for iPads with not one bit of evidence to justify the hype. The author confuses a brand with the technology for a start. Tablets may be transformational but until someone actually produces quantifiable evidence the jury remains out. Plus why would educationalists trap themselves in the closed overpriced world of iOS?

    • NJM

      January 3, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      Absolutely. Moreover, an inaccurate comparison of apps with windows-based laptops. Compare the best with the best, not a straw man.

  3. FalKirk

    January 3, 2013 at 8:01 am

    “why would educationalists trap themselves in the closed overpriced world of iOS?”

    First, show me a non-ad based tablet that is cheaper.

    Second. Some reasons why education may want to be “trapped” in iOS. 1) Better integration between phone, tablet and notebook; 2) easier app creation and distribution; 3) less fragmentation between devices; 4) higher quality hardware; 5) More software options (almost all education specific software is targeted for iOS first).

    Other computing options should most definitely be considered. But let’s not dismiss the obvious advantages of using an Apple device just because of your hatred for the company.

  4. sandy

    January 3, 2013 at 8:52 am

    ipads are requiring training programs because they are fairly new not necessarily because they are more proficient. Just as when pc’s were fairly new, people needed training for those too.

  5. Gene

    January 3, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Apple is to be commended for causing disruption in education, and that is certainly beneficial. I thought the SAMR chart was interesting. Beyond that, there are so many distortions or fractured rationale about how ios is superior (despite the crazy cost differential), it was hard to read and take very seriously. It does seem like a PR job for Apple, as noted above.

    @FalKirk – not sure what you mean by ‘non-ad based’ tablets but there are plenty of fully functional 7 and 10 inch Android 4.0 based tablets out there that are about half as expensive as an iPad, so when (total) cost IS a consideration, it *seems* reasonable to look closely at the Android platform. Where the rubber hits the road is in apps, of course, and I seem to find all the apps needed to support students learning (and, yes, up the SAMR scale) on the Google Play. I think the ‘there are so many thousands more ios apps’ argument is rapidly becoming spurious. Total cost of ownership is key; again, Android should not be dismissed.

    Oh, and regarding the cool factor, the 3 classes at my school with a 1:1 Google Chromebook program seem to love their devices and get a phenomenal amount of creative work out of them. People should look hard at the Chromebook – 100% internet based computing. The future (in our case, the present) is the cloud!

    My .02 cents (or quid).

  6. Adam

    January 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you for your comments on my article. I have found them really interesting.

    I wanted to take the chance to repond to a couple of your thoughts.

    Firstly, I don’t think it’s fair to say that I have confused the brand and the technology; my point is simply that the brand holds a lot of sway (and this is because of the technology that it produces as well as the way it markets itself) which can be useful currency in the classroom. As ‘Gene’ points out though, clearly there are others who are having really positive experiences with other devices and that is to be expected. The Chromebook is a great device. For me it doesn’t offer versatility in the way I want my students to learn, but nonetheless, they will be the answer to some people’s prayers and reading about these successes is crucial in making your own decisions. It is naive to think that there is a one-for-all solution as each school has a different set of criteria.

    I have no interest in acting as a publicist for Apple; I simply wish to tell my story, which is one that has been defined by this technology, it is therefore entriely approriate that I would wish others to attempt what I am doing as I think it works, it is no more sinisiter than that, and I think it’s slightly bizarre thay anyone would think otherwise.

    As for ‘evidence’, it’s out there. Just ask schools that are using these devices, be they iPads, Chromebooks or anything else. I have pasted an excerpt from an article in the Daily Mail about Honywood Community Science School which has launched a 1:1 iPad program:

    “He added: ‘Exam results at the end of our first year of using tablets were the highest in the school’s 48-year history.
    ‘Attendance has risen and we’ve seen our lowest rate of fixed-term exclusions for ten years.”’

    At the moment, in my opinion, the iPad is the device that offers students the access to the best learning tools available. Some of these are available on other platforms, and this is good; I’m not advocating an entirely closed environment, but many of the apps either are not avialable, or simply don’t function with the same workflow that the iPad offers and to me it is the workflow that sets this device apart.

    Niels – you’re absolutely right about many schools launching 1:1 programs and not having a clue what they’re doing, but there are always peopel that are going to ruin the party aren’t there! I take your point about choice, but on the other hand, giving them what you believe is the best device for their learning journey should not be seen as a disservice and perhaps mimcs what they will encounter in the workplaces of the future.

    Thanks again for all your comments.

  7. Zakariyya

    January 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I think I can’t say it betrer than John Hobson. A PR exercise badly flawed by a wrong mix of technology with a single brand.

  8. Hilal Al Hnanaei

    January 4, 2013 at 1:50 am

    I somehow agree but iPad can’t be the king of classroom because it’s very expensive to have and it’s very limited in resources and applications compared with laptops.

  9. BDK

    January 4, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    This is not true. With iOS 6, you don’t even need a computer. The iPad and iPhone can be wholly independent of a computer right out of the box. I have a friend that doesn’t even have a computer and uses his iPad for everything.

  10. daibarnes

    January 5, 2013 at 3:18 am

    This is not good. You cannot say evidence and not cite it or say there’s loads out there. It’s an ethical issue. You must state the evidence. Equally, in the comments you state that other devices do just as well but only apple does for your context. That’s not right. The devil is in the detail and, I presume, the detail you’re familiar with is Apple. Not chromebook or surface or nexus. You can speculate but do you know? I would be delighted to hear about you detail. What evidence do you have that learning has improved because of your apple solution? What data supports your claims? Have you done questionnaires to pupils sbd teachers and patrnts? Nothing else matters. My main concern is that you are writing to promote your own work which does not backed up/substantiated and therefore you are expecting your audience to trust you. As most of the commenters point out, they do not. Again, I encourage you to share pupil outcomes or feedback evidence before you make such great claims.

    • Peter Lydon

      January 8, 2013 at 6:33 pm

      Totally agree. It’s one thing to say a school using iPads has seen x,y,z improvements but without a control group, one can not conclusively say it was the result of a particular action or innovation. iPads and other tablets are still in the early-adoption phase and as with all new technology in this phase, the volume of hype tends to cloud the reality.
      A transformation and redefinition of work can occur in many ways and a regular laptop can do this, for example, in developing student-centred independent learning. The alternative is to state that no change can occur without an iPad!

  11. Eric Patnoudes

    January 8, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    If our job as educators is to prepare students to be ready for college, career, and life in a ever changing technological society, then Apple is not the answer in education. I would love to see the statistics on how many companies use Apple products vs pc. Microsoft has always dominated the business world and until that dramatically changes I can’t see why would any school distribute Apple products with this is mind.