While for some teachers, iPads in the classroom are already a familiar part of everyday life, as of Pearson’s 2014 Student Mobile Device Survey, only 16% of students attended schools that provide tablets 1:1. For all the news stories and chatter in the educational industry about using iPads in education, many teachers haven’t gotten a good look at just what the technology can do for their students.
But there’s reason to believe that could well change in coming years. The same Pearson report found that:
As much as the opinions of students should be given heavy weight in these conversations, many of you will reasonably also want to see evidence of results.
And that’s just a small sampling of the many examples they provide in the report above. Apple may not be an entirely unbiased resource in this conversation, but they probably have greater access to data and feedback on the subject than any other organization, making their results worth checking out.
While some teachers and school districts are finding that iPads aren’t for them, we’ve seen enough evidence to suggest that teachers will continue to encounter them in their classrooms in the years to come. For that reason, we want to address some of the main concerns about tablet use in the classroom, as well as offer some tips that may serve useful if iPads do come to play a larger role in your classroom.
iPads in the classroom can help teachers track how students are doing, enable more personalized learning, introduce students to tools that encourage more creativity and collaboration, and make assignments more interactive. But you’ve probably already heard most of the benefits. What about all those nagging concerns?
Any introduction of a new technology in classrooms comes with a certain amount of risk. Software flaws, Internet outages, usability issues – no teacher wants to find herself awkwardly dealing with a tech problem in the middle of an important lesson. With iPads, you have to worry about battery life and the logistics of making sure everyone has access to the same apps and knows how to use them.
A little preparation can go a long way. You may need some help from your IT department or administration on this, but making sure you have enough available outlets to charge the iPads during class or overnight is important to ensuring your kids can actually use the devices in class. To avoid some of those awkward tech troubles during class, spend time with each new app you consider using before introducing it to the class to ensure that it works well and you know how to address any issues with it.
The iPads must be stored in a place where they won’t be damaged and they’ll be reasonably safe from theft. Ideally, you also want to be able to leave them charging overnight. All together, that’s a pretty tall order.
A locked classroom door overnight should help with the security issue. And if your budget includes enough for an iPad charging cart you’re pretty much set. If not, you’ll have to get a little creative.
Luckily, you can find several different approaches to putting together a DIY iPad-charging cart online. Here are some that may be helpful:
You’ll have to be careful that the solution you go with is one that students can use without harming the iPads, but you may be able to get around the cost of an expensive iPad cart.
Kids make mistakes and even if you go to great pains to express to them the value of these devices, there’s no guarantee one won’t be dropped or misplaced (adults do plenty of that themselves). A 2012 study in the UK found that, while teachers and parents had mostly been concerned about theft, that turned out not to be a problem. Whereas 5-7% of the tablets issued broke. Schools have to expect that some of these costly devices will break within the first year of use (and more within the second, and so on) and have a plan to address the problem.
You probably can’t do anything that will ensure 100% of the devices make it to the end of the year. What you can do is:
If you’re handing students a device they can use to access Facebook, the web, and any number of games, how can you expect to keep their attention on the topic at hand? Students get distracted and always have, but a tool with endless access to games and social media seems to many teachers like courting disaster.
There are ways to lock the device from the more distracting apps, so students can only access the ones you want them to. You can also aim to provide lessons that require a level of engagement that makes it harder for students to get distracted. If they’re regularly asked questions, given quizzes, or otherwise expected to engage with the class or materials, they won’t have as much room to wander from the assigned content.
Some teachers don’t find that they add much to the classroom. Maybe they are more of a distraction than a learning aid, or maybe the good old-fashioned methods of teaching just feel more natural and effective. Technology is only a tool; how useful it is in the classroom will always depend on the teacher and how they use it.
Consider seriously what you want to get out of tablet use before making the investment (or encourage your school district to). Your goals may be better suited to the apps and functionality available on one of the other brands of tablets than the iPad, or you may find that tablets just aren’t what your school needs right now after all.
A lot of teachers have found success using iPads to increase student engagement and enable more opportunities for creative and interactive assignments in the classroom. That doesn’t mean it automatically makes classrooms better. As with any other technology, teachers and students will only get those results if they find an effective way to put the devices to use. As more and more schools experiment with iPad use though, teachers can share their experiences and tips so that future classrooms can better implement the technology to improve student learning results.
Editor’s note: This article is a revision and combination of several older Edudemic articles, updated and re-analyzed to reflect the latest innovations.