It’s Time to End the Device Debate

As a school leader in a 1:1 iPad district, I am always interested in the perspectives of those in other 1:1 educational settings. Whether they use iPads, Chromebooks or any other web-enabled device, there is something that can be learned by paying attention to the conversations in these environments. Two of the more thoughtful pieces on the topic which were recently written come from Tim Holt and Joshua Kim.

device debate

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The Device Debate: Creating vs. Consuming

Tim, a Director of Instructional Technology from El Paso, Texas, gives a strong account of how iPad can be used as a tool for creation. He clearly details some of the concrete ways that the often-defended tablet can be used to produce videos, music, drawings, and works of art that move well beyond consumption. Kim, on the other hand, offers a unique perspective as an educator who has recently transitioned from supporting an iPad environment to using a Chromebook as his primary device. In his post, 3 Reasons Why Chromebook Beats iPad in 1:1 Programs, Kim gives the following three reasons for the superiority of the Chromebook:

  1. Chromebooks are for creating, and iPads are for consuming
  2. The App vs the Web
  3. The Google Ecosystem for Collaboration

The most viable of these three reasons from Kim is the final one, the collaborative tools that are inherent in the Google ecosystem can be accessed seamlessly on a Chromebook. While iOS device access to Google tools continues to become less and less of an issue, schools that want to focus primarily on Google tools should look no further than Chromebooks. However, I would like to challenge Kim’s first two points. As he notes in his discussion around his first point, the consumption versus creation debate with iPads and Chromebooks has been made countless times by those on both sides of this discussion.

Apps vs. Web

While I agree partially with his point that everyone he knows uses a laptop as a complementary device, I think that there is a line that we can draw here in regards to the age of the learner. From my experience, our younger students are less and less concerned about a laptop and much more comfortable with a tablet as their primary device. In fact “The App vs the Web” conversation is not as simple as purported. The point here implies that iPad is rendered useless without an extensive arsenal of apps. This implication falls short in a world where companies are doing everything they can to offer a web-based mobile experience. If the point here is that we need to encourage end-users to not become “app-dependent,” then I agree wholeheartedly, but the notion that iPad is not a multi-faceted device in the absence of apps is false.

This also goes for the idea that iPad is not valuable without internet access. Of course, it needs to be noted that the Google Chrome environment is also one that offers an endless list of extensions and apps. Personally, I have no strong emotion tied to one device or another. In fact, as a learner, I get a great deal of satisfaction by figuring out how I can get my daily tasks done on any device that is placed before me. In fact, my main takeaway from most of these debates regarding one device or another is that those of us in schools need to steer clear of strapping on the blinders that can come along with one platform or another. We need to ensure environments that are adaptable and allow learners to accomplish their tasks with whatever devices are available. For all intensive purposes, devices are now basically disposables after two to three years. It is time to dispose of the debate on devices as well.

Looking to learn more about iPads and Chromebooks? EdTechTeacher offers app recommendations for all devices. They will also be hosting a number of FREE, LIVE webinars for Back-to-School in the coming weeks.


  1. Karen Janowski

    August 8, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Thank you for adding your thougths to this issue, Patrick.

    Just as “one size does not fit all” when it comes to classroom learning and instruction, one device does not fit all. When considering the appropriate device, one must consider the student’s needs and the tasks they need to accomplish, considerations often overlooked. The device selected necessitates more than one option, depending upon the student’s needs.

    An example – A few years ago, I was asked to work with a middle school student with a physical disability. His school gave all students 1:1 laptops (platform doesn’t matter). Unfortunately, for this student, this was an unsafe choice as he had a progressive muscular disease, resulting in balance issues when walking. Add to that, carrying a laptop and his backpack with the textbooks. He was at risk of losing his balance and strength, due to his physical disability. I recommended an iPad for many reasons, not the least of them, the instant access, light weight, portabilty, long battery life and especially because all his textbooks, binders and work could be easily transported from class to class. He refused the recommendation as he did not want to be seen as different from his peers. One size (device) did not fit this student and made his school day more difficult and exhausting.

    Our classrooms are filled with similar examples. If we recognize learner variability, we appreciate the need for flexibility and choice. Device decisions MUST take into consideration students’ needs. Dogmatic selections benefit few.

  2. Darrell Hugueley

    August 8, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I teach Plus classes (reading enrichment classes) with only 12 students, but I still can’t divide those students into three computers, only two of which work, and only one of those of which will connect to the Internet. It is way past times to have district-level conversations about how to make connectivity available to more students. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Andrew Walls

    August 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I completely agree! In addition, the context of the school and the reaction of staff is never considered. This is something I find frustrating. It seems that every other week you hear about a school stopping 1:1 because there’s “no impact”. Then you read on and discover no one really had a purpose or a vision for the device. I ended up blogging about it today actually. Great to see other people are thinking the same way!

  4. Jody Stevenson

    August 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    I disagree with your thoughts under the “Apps vs Web” section. I teach tech classes to K-5th. Our district just got rid of the PCs and we are now strictly a 1:1 iPad elementary school. We have lost the ability to visit fantastic award winning educational websites. Sure there are apps but there is usually a cost. Digital Passport is one of my favorites that I won’t be able to use anymore the app costs $3.99!

    • T Spackman

      August 15, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      How did you lose access to the website, when iPads come with a web browser? As long as your school provides wifi internet access, you can always visit the website instead of using the app.

      Just use Safari on your iPad (or even Google Chrome, which you have to download).

  5. MEC

    August 8, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    I was given the opportunity to have a class set of iPads in my classroom last year. Our district also supports a BYOD environment. Unless it was required for a student to use an iPad (like a quiz) I would let them bring any device they were comfortable with. It was nice to see students use a range of devices from laptops to kindle fires. If the students are comfortable it makes for a better learning environment.

  6. rbouman

    August 10, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    It would be great to have some tech support feedback on the same article focus. There’s usually 3 focii for any major device adoption shift: financial, pedagogical and technical. I would like to see some tech feedback for the secondary schools. How managable were the devices? How did the ‘duty of care’ impact on choice making for a device?

  7. Joel Adkins

    August 11, 2014 at 8:40 am

    The device debate rears its ugly head way too often. It is as if we acknowledge the idea of multiple intelligences with differentiated learners for classroom instruction yet we want to limit them to one specific device. I agree with your statement on getting tasks done no matter which device is in front of you. As more resources become cloud-based with collaboration resources to work on every platform, it seems the need to debate a device is going the way of the Palm Pilot.

  8. Sam Bruzzese

    August 12, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Too much time and energy is wasted debating the merits of one device over another. At Lester B. Pearson School Board we allow the schools to choose Chromebooks and/or iPads based on their needs. We have learned that the most important factor in determining the success or failure of any technology initiative is the amount of time devoted to the teacher’s professional development. The PD should focus on how to use the technology (regardless of the platform)to transform teaching and learning. If one thinks of Chromebooks and iPads are “portable media creation devices” (EdTech Teacher) then one can plan the PD on the 4 C’s consumption (digital citizenship), curation, communication and mostly importantly creation.

    In an ideal world I would want kids and teacher using both platforms depending on what needs to be accomplished.

  9. Toby

    August 13, 2014 at 10:55 am

    I find that when you focus on a methodology, such as challenge based learning or autonomous learning, then which device the students use to receive and create content doesn’t matter and having a variety of devices in the room is actually a good thing.

  10. Steve

    August 17, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Just by the way it’s not a two horse race.