I don’t actually hear as many people asking the question, “Why iPads?” as much as I used to. It seems that in the last year, the value of ‘the little tablet that did’ has been solidified, and there are fewer asking why. What I do hear now are the questions of whether competitors or other technology could be as valuable to education. I believe that the iPad is a solid investment for schools and districts for many of the same reasons that prompted me to see them as viable initially, though there have been some developments I think few of us could have predicted at the onset of this technology. So, here are my top five reasons that iPads are still relevant, and so far, the best option for educators looking to add technology to their education environments.
Ease of Use
The iPad is a simple device to use. I have had them in the house throughout the entire life of my youngest son, and it is at times easier for him to use than many toys that were designed for his age group. While I would never look to a device to replace physical toys, puzzles and the like, as these items have important developmental functions, the fact that a toddler can pick up an iPad, find an app and use it effectively speaks to the lack of ‘training’ these devices require. As I will discuss further, the physical use of a computer should not be the limiting factor in being productive or learning with it, and laptops and certain other tablets still require an inherent knowledge of operating systems and processes to use. iPads do not require this sort of training, and as such, an iPad loaded with quality content is accessible quickly and easily.
I read a great deal about the Apple ecosystem these days, and little of it is positive. People don’t like being tied to a single hardware producer for accessing their content. While I see the value of having the ability to move to other product distributors, I also see the immense benefit of knowing that what I purchase will always be there. I know of few technology companies that have the ‘staying power’ of Apple. I think of the money I spent in university on Palm device software that are now defunct, and it makes me thankful for an ecosystem like Apple’s. I know software is vetted effectively, that it will continue to run on the hardware it was designed for, and that I have a managed process of accessing that software. My Palm software years ago was purchased individually, and if a company stopped producing updates or distributing the product, you had no recourse save from the developer themselves. Apple is really trying to make the system simple for users, and though it also comes across as controlling, it does have benefit to the consumer. So much benefit in fact that others have tried to emulate this ecosystem from its inception.
I have spent many years around portable electronic devices, and I appreciate more than many the difficulties of large-scale deployment (or small scale deployment for that matter) of devices. Apple has created tools and offers them freely to manage, mirror and distribute to devices for large scale deployment. There is an interesting subset of companies now devoted to micro managing images and deployment that may be very useful in some situations, but Apple is willing to support through software, knowledge bases and even direct expert support, the use of its devices. As consumers, it is easy to poke at the giant and say they are not doing enough, but Apple does offer for free many of the solutions that other companies leave to secondary companies. That said, all of the setup and implementation I have done I have been able to do without Apple support directly, which again speaks to the simplicity of the Apple systems in setting up and managing their devices.
I’ll be honest, I see many more Android devices in the wild than I used to, but I also think that it was only a matter of time until I did. Some people have different needs than an iPad for their tablet use. However, invariably when I see devices used in a professional setting, it is an iPad. Culturally, the iPad is a device that is relevant and used. Some will scoff at using cultural relevance as a reason to make a technology purchase, but I saw the same thing said as a reason not to purchase Macs when Microsoft Office was leading the pack. If it is what business, media and the general public have embraced, we in education should at least be looking at the possibilities it holds as the tool our students may best prepare themselves with for the future.
The iOS app store is the most active development environment on the planet right now, and there are literally new creations daily for educators to test and use in the classroom. While other platforms can offer new apps daily as well, the sheer number of developers working in iOS makes it the standard today. While this may not always be so, I want the newest and most varied selection of tools to use in my classroom, and iPads offer this.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I am encouraged that I have recently talked to who had reasons of their own about iPads in education. What I am also encouraged by is the value of the iPad mini to the educational sphere, with its own list of interesting benefits, it offers a new form factor to the mix of iOS devices. I see it as a welcome addition, particularly in the ability to run full-size iPad apps in a smaller device.
What do you think of iPads in education? Has the technology peaked, or do you think there is still something ‘magical’ about this device that so changed the landscape for educators.