So, here it is, finally, my review of Apple’s iPad. I’ve spent some time with the device, now, and am beginning to not only consider it’s uses in my role as an instructional technology coordinator for my district, but more importantly, its potential role in the classroom.
Setting The Stage
So, here’s where our district stands so far as it relates to this topic: We rolled out our first iPod Touch carts last year at Cape Fear Middle School. Under Craig Lawson’s management and creative approach, the Touches were phenomenal. The implementation in his 7th Grade Language Arts classroom, drew a great deal of attention, and now, as we’re nearing the close of the year, three other schools are on board, and we’re up to five carts.
Philosophically, our district is moving away from the idea of “computer labs” as destinations. Technology is mobile, and we’re fast embracing that shift. Many of our principals are exploring mobile computing purchases for their school, and the three main contenders are netbooks, iPod Touches, and now the iPad. We are in the process of upgrading our wireless infrastructure to accommodate the increasing demands.
The iPad – Professional Use
Frankly, I have hardly put this device down since I got it. So, where does it fit into my daily routine? First off, I’ve only used my netbook once since getting the iPad, and that’s because I needed an extra display at a recent poster presentation I did. Otherwise, I’ve had no need for it, nor do I see a need for a laptop, except for a few rare cases that are due to needing a PC to run specific software.
The iPad is perfect for monitoring emails, sending Tweets, and taking notes during meetings. In landscape mode, the keyboard is fine. I was really surprised how quickly I could type, especially if I put a little trust in the auto-correct. My only frustration with the keyboard is the lack of an apostrophe on the main key set. You can easily access it with what amounts to shifting, but I wish I had the option of replacing the right shift with an apostrophe. Typing will even be easier once my case arrives that props the iPad at a slight angle that’s much more ergonomic.
The Pages App and Keynote App, both of which I’ve downloaded seem to work great. Do they make for an ideal “productivity environment?”. No, that’s what my desktop is for, however, so far, I think they make a great “mobile productivity environment.” Yes, I also purchased the VGA adapter, and briefly tested Keynote’s output ability. It seems to work fine, though I hear there’s some room for improvement when it comes to Safari integration. I also picked up GoodReader for $0.99, and with it, I can access all of my Google Docs and DropBox files for viewing. With Skype, I can make free calls to my Skype contacts, and the iPad’s mic picked up voice just fine. Likewise, since our district recently migrated to Google Apps, I get lots of functionality out of the Google Mobile App.
The iPad – Uses in the Classroom
So, a netbook cart or a class set of iPads? Here are my thoughts. Ultimately, my goal is to push for more student-centered, integrated, differentiated, and creative learning in the classroom. To date, what I’ve seen with netbooks is the same sort of activity we do in the computer lab: type a report, make a PowerPoint, research something online. Not bad, but the projects I’ve seen done with our iPod Touch labs has been much more creative. Storytelling though comics (StripDesign App), game-based learning (The SIMS App and Civilzation Revolution), graphic organizers, and more, with all assignments potentially submitted paperlessly.
The iPad offers all of those apps and more with a much greater screen real estate. The drawback, is that some of our most common uses of computers, for example using web-based monitoring assessments, like ClassScapes, isn’t an option due to a lack of Flash, though other tools, such as AIMSWeb, are very functional.
So far I’ve tried StarWalk (currently, my favorite App), iBird Yard, WeatherBug, and, of course, iBooks, among others. Just as with the iPod Touch, you can purchase apps once and sync them to multiple iPads. The same seems to be true of iBooks as well. This could be huge for classrooms, if it continues to be the case.
As for long-term durability in the classroom, that remains to be seen. Our iPod Touches are holding up fine. Good classroom management is a critical component. Another huge plus for the iPad is the battery life. It’s rated at 10 hours of typical use and many are reporting longer times of use. For the classroom this would free the teacher from the stress of having to plug up and charge between classes which is a time sink. So, far my average daily use drains the battery to about 30-40% by the time I’m home.
Some have mentioned how the iPad significantly changes how we interface with a computer. I agree. I’m doing computer things, but where’s the computer? The best analogy I’ve heard likens the iPad to a window to the Web. I can’t help but be reminded of the student’s “desks” mentioned in the science fiction classic, Ender’s Game. If they’re used properly, I think the iPad could become a window for learning.
P.S. – I created this post from my iPad.