iPads In The Classroom: The Right Questions You Should Ask

single ipad

Arguably, the iPad can be a great classroom tool. However, lately there have been concerns about Apple’s tablet and its current role in the classroom. For instance, many have suggested that some of our schools are making the iPad the center of classrooms instead of remembering that students must be at the center of the classroom. Inevitably, this raises questions about the future of the iPad in the classroom.

Does the iPad foster or hinder creativity? Is it a comprehensive tool or just a mere distraction? Do we use the iPad just because it makes our classroom look cool? Are we missing the forest for the trees here?

The iPad On A Pedestal?

free ipad appsSome of the people who write about using iPads in the classroom, including some leading and influential people in the field of educational technology, are trying to inform educators, researchers, and stakeholders about the worrisome possibility of putting the iPad on a pedestal, so to speak, by focusing too much on logistics and creating an “iPad-centric” classroom environment.

One might argue that these concerns are quite real. There are countless examples of teachers structuring their classrooms and their lesson plans with the iPad in mind, instead of the students in mind. Too often we, educators, forget that our main responsibility, mission, and commitment should be to provide the necessary tools the students need in order to blossom their creativity and reach their full human potential. Instead, we frequently linger towards technology or the iPad not as the means to an end, but as our main objective, failing to remember that the iPad is not why we get up in the morning feeling excited that we are going to school.

The truth is that that no device can match the value of human interaction with real life situations or with other human beings. The iPad can be a tool of immense value in the classroom. However, it should remain just that: a tool that complements instruction, and offers learning opportunities for situations and learning concepts that are impossible to be accessed, observed, or analyzed in a classroom setting without the assistance of technology.

The “How” vs “Why” Of iPads In The Classroom

ipads in schoolsOne of the arguments that keeps resurfacing in the discussions surrounding the iPad in the classroom is the idea that if the iPad complicates things in the classroom, we have to move away from the question “how to use an iPad in the classroom?” and think more in terms of “why to use the iPad in the classroom?”. This is a logical argument because moving from “how” to “why” suggests maturity. That is because if one manages to move past the “how” question, then he/she can begin planning meaningful integration. I remember when my school decided to implement a 1:1 iPad program, we were all about “apps, apps, and more apps”. Later, as our understanding of the potential role of the iPad in the classroom evolved, we witnessed our thirst for new and more efficient apps die down, and our curiosity for other, more meaningful ways of using the iPad in the classroom increased.

We, like so many other educators, progressed from “searching for the perfect apps” to realizing that the iPad is a tool that can provide unique pedagogical practices in our student-centered classroom. As our questions about the iPad evolved, so did our vision about our classrooms and the role of the iPad in helping our teachers create a classroom environment that fosters innovation and creativity. Which brings me to my final point. Maybe asking “why”, and “how”, is not a bad thing after all.

Even more importantly, we may HAVE to ask the “why” and the “how” questions first. Perhaps “how” and “why” are to be perceived as necessary steps we have to take as we go through the developmental stages of our classroom technological evolution and our understanding of the iPad as a classroom tool. If that’s true, then this is good news. Given the fact that the iPad is only 3 years old, and its classroom integration timeframe even shorter than that, one can safely assume that it is still in its infant stage, which can mean only one thing: the idea of the “iPad in the classroom” right now seems to have a great life expectancy. Therefore, the future of the iPad seems bright.

However, it is up to us, educators, to find the best ways to exploit the bright future of the iPad in order to create an even brighter future for our students.

What do you think? Is the iPad a revolutionary agent of change in education, or just a distraction?

Nikolaos Chatzopoulos currently teaches 4th grade Math and Science at Plato Academy, in Clearwater, Florida. He can be reached at chatzopoulosn [at] platoacademy.net

20 Comments

  1. Monica

    May 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Like all new technologies, whatever they may be–electronic, digital, or even analog–, it’s usefullness is only as good as its appropriate match to a specific purpose. What is that using iPads in the classroom is meant to address. When that is forgotten or unknown, you end up focusing on the tool and not the value it brings to accomplishing a job. Educators before setting goals of using this or other tech should ask, how does this help students to achieve x more effectively, efficiently, etc. when compared to another tool? In other words, what is the added value to learning?

  2. Nikolaos Chatzopoulos

    May 19, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Monica, You are absolutely right to ask the question: “what is the added value to learning?”. That is exactly my point. An educator has to know in advance what is it he/she wants to accomplish “effectively and efficiently” as you put it, and use technology in an appropriate manner in order to achieve that goal.

  3. Lesley

    May 19, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I have been reflecting a lot on this very topic! We have had a great inaugural year with our 1:1 program following a few ideas: start with why, creation over consumption, learning is creation, etc.

  4. Daniel J Ayres

    May 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Absolutely – so long as the focus remains on the support and progress of student learning, iPads have the potential to transform… I also suspect the tablet revolution we’re experiencing is having a significant, wider impact on teacher development, as the workforce moves to ‘keep up’ whether or not they are in schools in which tablets have been distributed.
    DJA

  5. Kendra Grant

    May 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    The fact that we are asking questions as we integrate technology into instruction is an important one. We definitely need to move away from the “50 Cool Apps” mentality and focus first student learning. If we don’t we risk merely replicating existing practice albeit with a “cool tool”. Personally I like to begin with frameworks such as Understanding by Design or Universal Design for Learning, design assessment of, for and as learning, build in instructional strategies that positively impact student learning, create engaging and relevant learning opportunities, and then use some select technology tools to support a variety of learning task and address learner variability.
    As co-chair of the UDL Playground as ISTE this year, we have focused on just 9 apps to support the 9 guidelines of Universal Design for Learning. Focusing in on rich tools to remove barriers to learning is just one way educators can ensure that the starting point is students and learning, not technology. Come join us if you are at the conference this June.

    • Nikolaos Chatzopoulos

      May 20, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      Kendra, you are correct to state that asking questions about our craft and the technology tools we use is the right approach. New technologies in general, and the iPad in particular, (due to its immense popularity), must be disruptive technologies that offer unique learning opportunities. Otherwise, there is no real reason to be adopted in the classroom.
      I am very interested in UDL, where can I find more info on that? I would love to join you at ISTE but unfortunately I wont make it to San Antonio this year.

  6. Peter K

    May 21, 2013 at 12:06 am

    App based learning can be a hindrance, as most have strict guidelines on how they are interacted with, unless it’s a music based app like drum machines or DJ mixers, most carry a very linear path to a single outcome. In my son’s school here in MN, they use the Whiteboard app frequently to interact and participate on the classroom board. But I feel that using an Airbook (which he’ll receive Senior year) holds a larger creative destiny for him. You can be so much more creative on a laptop than a tablet. Even though Apple would sell you the opposite.

  7. Carol Watson

    May 21, 2013 at 6:34 am

    I’ve been saying this for years about all technology–not just the iPad. Many administrators want teachers to use technology in the classroom for the sake of using technology and then, there are teachers who are afraid of using technology and use this as an excuse. We have to keep our goals in mind and be honest with ourselves. Can the students do the same activities and get the same results using paper and pencil or does using iPads (other tablets, laptops, etc) enhance their learning, engage more students, and give them another sets of skills using another tool?

  8. Essie

    May 21, 2013 at 7:23 am

    An interesting article – thank you. There is a great deal of hype surrounding technology and the reality falls short of the promise. Evidence indicates that teachers generally adapt technology to fit familiar practices of teacher centred learning. It is perhaps to be remembered that much of the technology we use wasn’t designed for education so we need frameworks that act as a design analysis tool. Teaching and learning designs using technology should be shared with the profession and further evaluated and refined – its about being ‘learning led not technology led’. My question would be – does education know what it wants from technology? There needs to be more research as to how technology actually changes teaching practice and the way learners learn.

    • Nikolaos Chatzopoulos

      May 21, 2013 at 10:30 am

      Essie, Thank you for your input, you made some really good points. Yes, some of the technology we use in the classroom was not designed with education in mind. Therefore, we do need some, at least basic, theoretical frameworks that provide guidance. That is why stimulating discussions is so important.
      I don’t think there is a single answer to your question: “does education knows what it wants from technology?”. I suppose, one might say “education wants to be improved”, but that’s a general statement and doesn’t really offer any substantial answers. Eric Schmidt of Google said once that “innovation never comes from the established institutions”. I believe this is often true. True innovation in education will most likely not come from technology developed by an education institution or provider. It will come from technology designed and developed for a different purpose, used by people who figure out an intuitive way to use this technology in education.

  9. Anndrew Jones

    May 21, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    IPads are just another tool, but a proprietary one. I think computers (and specifically tablets) in school can be very useful, specifically for those children with learning difficulties. The issue, like most things, is not the tool but the person or persons that use them. So I will leave that to educators that know more than I do. I wish to raise a separate point. IPads are expensive, proprietary and a luxury brand that really should not be seen as the default. There are many tablets that actual offer better value and functionality. We should be looking at any device so Android tablets, Microsoft Surface, or other tablets that offer upgradability like HP and DELL etc. Buying a iPad is like buying a Merc minibus instead of a Ford. Both do the same job at differing prices. So lets not get brand focused. What apparent is this phenomena of buying iPads for schools seems to be most predominant in State funded schools. Lets not teach our kids that top branded products are the only choice and lets spend tax payers money more responsibly. Finally lets change these articles so those that do not understand technology realise that it is not just iPads that are used in schools. They are not the only option if you wish to implement tablets for the right reasons in schools so look at the others too, like Surface with PowerPoint, Excel and Word included.

    • Nikolaos Chatzopoulos

      May 21, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      Andrew, I see your point about the cost of the iPad. However, the tablet you suggested, the Surface, is even more expensive. IIt starts at $499, and the cost of the pro version can climb up to $1,000 per unit. One might argue that the Nexus, or the Kindle, or the Galaxy Tab are appropriate, but there is so much more you can do with an iPad, simply because Apple has integrated education into its ecosystem, although the new move by Google to open a Google Play for Education store might change the dynamics.

  10. jennifer armstrong

    May 21, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Sadly, no mention of the dangers of wireless technology, especially for children. It has been proven by so many sources world-wide that there are no safe levels of radiation for children. And yet we keep surrounding them, & ourselves, with chronic exposures to low levels of electromagnetic radiation. Please check out the facts & findings of the bioninitiative report, updated in early 2012: www dot bioinitiative dot org. Sections 12 & 20 are especially interesting considering this article.

  11. George

    May 22, 2013 at 8:49 am

    You are right on topic here. The only thing I would change is every time ipad is used in the article replace it with “technology”.

    • Jeff Dunn

      May 22, 2013 at 10:20 am

      Good call George, thanks! (Agreed)

  12. Hamish tobias

    May 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I think that they are a distraction, teachers and students get carried away with using. Someone in my class always thinks we are going to use the iPads, and just forgetting about books.

  13. Jeff Marshall

    May 23, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Yes, let’s pick the right tool for the job based on need. Sometimes it will be digital, and sometimes it will be a rock. Most of the teachers I know limit the use of the computers in their class so that they are really filling the role of typewriters, encyclopedias and image collection machines. I think The iPad encourages the use of technology in a much more flexible role. I especially like the ease with which it becomes a digital “creation” tool. Are you familiar with Paper 53? Wow. The iPad is a more personal devise and it fits nicely with a student-centred work space. Is its personal nature limiting? I like how you noted that as we have settled down to the iPad we’ve quenched our thirst for the multitude of apps that are available. No worries, here: the users will figure it out: as you noted, we’re still really in beta.

  14. Deb

    May 25, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Hi All,
    Great to see that some of the respondents here really “get it”! The iPad is NOT “just another tool” and there is actually really good reasons to tailor lessons around its features because it is the perfect example of a piece of technology that 1. Engages (there is no denying the very real engagement of the touch interface) and 2. Enables students to create with technology in a way that wasn’t ever possible before! That is the beauty and simplicity of what the iPad affords students in classrooms. No longer is it about the teacher’s comfort zone but about the student’s ability to explore, acquire skill and create products of high quality using higher order thinking skills in a completely engaging way and planning their projects from mind map to final product and ready to broadcast to a global, authentic audience! It is time for us teachers to modify our requirements, decide how to steer the ship and then hand over the steering wheel and let the kids get on with navigating for learning. They will amaze and delight us at every stage!

  15. Thapelo

    May 29, 2013 at 5:34 am

    iPads in classroom…very very good tool..it has been design to bring classroom in the hands of a students where he/she can access helpful and useful programs if proper educational apps are installed.(there one called NearPod).we have students who are very shy/afraid to participate in class but during the session where ipads are used in classroom where each student have ipad to use,teachers can easly share that session during discussions.More interaction, so Education cant not be left behind when technology grows everyday.

  16. Maria A

    May 31, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Using Wifi all day is dangerous radiation even more for children. You should google this subject. Many countries have banned wifi from classrooms already.