Why (Not How) We Should Use iPads In Education

Last November, Justin Reich, our co-founder at EdTechTeacher, wrote a piece on his Education Week blog, If You Meet an iPad on the Way, Smash It. The piece came out the morning of the first iPad Summit in Boston and put iPad use in schools into perspective. As Justin explained in the piece, “If the nitty-gritty details of iPad use distract us from our larger mission, then we need to smash them. If we get too lost in the “how” of iPads in classrooms, then we need to stop and ask ”why?” Why iPads is a critical question that must be addressed, and the schools that are making the decision to introduce these devices into the classroom are hopefully examining the why before the how.

The ‘How’ Question

Edudemic-GregOnce the why question has been addressed, and once the devices are in hand, the how question needs to be solved. On a basic level, there is one concept to keep in mind that does not involve technical know-how of apps or an iPad. “Verbs not nouns” is the mantra that can keep the iPad classroom from turning into a classroom about iPads rather than a classroom with iPads. In a recent discussion on #1to1techat, @8Amber8 posed this idea that immediately caught my attention:

The Important Thing To Consider

The concept Amber presented resonated with me, because it not only neatly encapsulated where many classrooms go wrong but also how to right the ship. While the how question is critical, and requires a basic understanding of the apps being used in the classroom, the device itself is never as important as what can be done with it, or in many instances what can be done without it. The critical idea to keep in mind is that the focus should be on the action, not the app or device itself. In many ways, the “verbs not nouns” concepts aligns nicely with Justin’s perspective on smashing iPads.

Answer This:


But what can teachers and students actually do once iPads are in place, and it is time for students to create, demonstrate, collaborate and publish? There are endless list of apps available online, but only a handful focus on the verbs, on what students can do rather than on the app itself. AtEdTechTeacher, we have created just such a page to help teachers in iPad classrooms keep the verb in mind. Organized by what students can do with iPads, the iPad As…page places the priority on tangible ways that students can create, demonstrate and collaborate.

I still thoroughly enjoy the discussions and debates about the why: they are healthy and necessary. However, I increasingly find that I enjoy the how question a bit more these days. At the upcoming iPad Summit in Atlanta, I look forward to learning from educators from around the world to find out their answers to these how questions.


  1. Robert Schuetz

    April 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Interesting post. Google is a verb isn’t it?!?

  2. Dane Barner

    April 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    “How” I believe is individual. It’s going to vary by room. “Why” includes the whole group. It is the vision to guide all teachers through implementation and, hopefully, transformative teaching (I know transfomative isn’t a word, but it works). School districts focus too much on How and If and leave by the wayside Why.

  3. Fraser Baker

    April 12, 2013 at 1:49 am

    If “the device itself is never as important as what can be done with it” why does the article continually refer to an iPad? This device is not a one size fits all solution, an iPad is a tablet, not a device on to itself. Until you stop glorifying the product, the device will still be the main focal point of integrating technology into the classroom rather than what can be achieved by the students with technological advances provided to them.

  4. Alan Mackenzie

    April 12, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for a very interesting blog. The device (whatever it is) should always be one of the last considerations, for far too long the technology has tried to steer the education rather than the other (proper) way round. I wrote a small paper on this very issue for schools that may be considering a BYOD or 1:1 device initiative; it looks at a number of educationally led considerations before looking at the technology.

  5. Julia Colby

    April 15, 2013 at 7:09 am

    This post has opened my eyes about the graduate course I am teaching. When you have teachers who have never used an iPad state “I am not sure what I would use it for” — you can tell them all the great ways you can use it but referring to this post and the iPad As… page will be very helpful. My next class was going to focus on ideas. I think I will start with the iPad As… page and work from there. Usually I show the app and list what you can do. This flips it around. First, I want to check every category and make sure I have at least one of the apps listed on our iPads.

    Obviously, as others have noted, the device shouldn’t be the focus; however, it has to be the focus if that is what you have in your school. Wouldn’t this list be awesome if it had ideas for various devices (although many items can be used with multiple devices). I am supporting iPads at this point so I am glad Greg chose the iPad.