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Why iPads? II

In response to my post, Why iPads?, Miguel left a commentary with questions, including:

... don't you ever concern yourself with the expenditure of precious funding, money being spent on iPads when an inexpensive netbook will do the job? And, what percentage of those who invest in these device initiatives actually spend time planning them out?

 Another point to ponder is the lack of professional learning that accompanies implementation of iPads...simply, the "there's an app for that" strikes at the heart of what educational/instructional technologists do, making the products created with an iPad the equivalent of low-hanging fruit. The iPad becomes the easy tool to use and students/teachers/staff never learn how to do much more than that.

... I suppose education will always gravitate to the most expensive, easiest to use technology available, creating scarcity of funding. After all, we could buy Apple //e computers and achieve much of what passes for basic computing skills with those obsolete computers...and save money.

... BTW, this comment was written on my iPad as I sit at a university waiting for UIL Competition to end. I wouldn't have brought my laptop, and the netbook adapter would have been too much. The iPad...well, book-consumption, media-viewing, creativity device. haha (Jacquie Henry's comments are very good on her blog along these lines as well.)

Miguel, you answered your own questions in your final paragraph regarding why students should have iPads rather than netbooks.

Your comments brought a couple things to mind:

  1. Cost of netbooks vs iPads. The iPad 2 is now selling for $400. Yes, you can find netbooks for less - but not a lot less and the cheap ones are very low powered. You get a lot better device for an extra $50. And compared to laptops, iPads are a steal.
  2. Say what you want about "proprietary" applications and Apple uber-control over what runs on the devices, the damn things just work. I don't think I've had to trouble shoot my iPad (and I have the first model). Ever found a netbook that you can say that about? I don't have enough experience with Android or Windows tablets to know if low support also applies to them, but somehow I doubt it.
  3. Probably the biggest reason for iPads, ironically, is what I initially saw as their biggest drawback: these are great devices for consuming content. If I have a netbook, I also need an e-book reader if I am going to read for sustained periods of time. Magazines and textbooks are better displayed. And what I once saw as a content display device, has turned out to be a pretty darned good content creation device as well - shooting and editing movies and photographs, creating Web2.0 content, and making music. I don't like typing on my iPad, but then I'm not 12 years old either. I bet I'd get really good at it if that's all I used. 
  4. When it comes to boot-time, battery life, and, I'm guessing, durability, iPads have it all over netbooks. Even Chromebooks are slow at 8 seconds compared to the "instant on" of the iPad.

Miguel, don't confuse cost with value.  

The major objections many educators have (especially old school IT directors) is the lack of "control" one has of these devices. These need to be user-managed, not school-managed tools. This is a radical mindshift for most of us. 

But we'll get over it.

As I mentioned in my first post, I also worry that iPads are not being deployed with an overall educational strategy. But let's be real - what technology has been? 


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Reader Comments (16)

I think the difference between the netbook and iPad really depends on the kind of use the device is getting. Each can really increase efficiency in certain businesses. I know that iPads are becoming increasingly popular in children's education, most likely due to the iPad's minimalistic approach to navigation and aesthetic.

(Note - this comment included a link to a specific iPad app and I don't know if this was a teacher or the app creator who left it as a commercial message. I am fine with recommendations from practicing teachers, but in this case I could not tell. Doug)

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam

Doug - if you keep posting these types of articles I will likely go and buy one...

I am planning on getting one before the middle of the summer anyway, and hopefully getting my school to either buy it for me or go half and half. Funny how so may people talk the talk but are not willing to walk the walk - especially when the person who wants the technology is the technology teacher.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

In my district most people getting ipads are receiving them after having attending PD about using them. Even then it was hard to hit the road running last year. This is my 2nd year with Ipads and I moved from 4th to 2nd. My students have been both consuming and producing more this year than my students last year. They see the Ipads more as tools rather than entertainment devices in class.

The most frequently used apps in my classroom are number battle (kids compete against each other to solve straight computation problem - winner gets to Mr. Potato head his/her competition), Imovie (Kids make small videos), and Book Creator (students plan out and illustrate stories. They take pictures of the stories and import them into Book Creator, They then type the text in the app on top of their illustration. Finally they publish it to the other Ipads in the room (via e-mail) and to our blog.).

Our blog that has some published work is

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

Just to challenge your thoughts Doug, are you saying it is OK, because it really never has been done with an overall educational plan? Isn't it your job to make this something better this time around? Does your board, administrative team, faculty and student body expect (or hope) that you will make this about better this time?

Is it your job (or anybody's) to simply provide technology and hope it makes things better.

Two great posts on this topic:

Tranformative Leaders don't see it as a Device Discussion:

Larry Cuban on why it doesn't matter that research shows sketchy results:

So... in your heart of hearts - is it worth the investment? Should we lay off teaching staff so we have enough money to buy a mobile device for students?

(and I only ask, because I struggle with the same issues)


April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoel VerDuin

After almost a year at our school with 1:1 iPads for juniors/seniors, I concur with your statements, Doug, but want to add more.

Not only has the iPad meant that the students have internet access constantly during the day, meaning (from a librarian's standpoint) they have access to answers to their questions during any class and can do research "on the spot," but ours have also become useful production devices.

Our students are using the camera and Keynote pretty heavily in various classes. For example our American Sign Language class uses the camera to film short lessons and then installs the video into Keynote where they might be explaining a concept or illustrating a story with their signing.

Our Latin class went out in the hallways and read Latin poems to random passers-by and filmed their reactions (pretty hysterical). Other classes have used them for creating Puppet shows, our Vietnam project videos, etc.

Our statistics teacher took them out in the parking lot with the sheriff where they put on "distortion drunk" goggles and then measured how well they could walk, documenting it in spreadsheets on their ipad while out in the parking lot.

Not only can the device be used as an ereader and content consumption device, but tablet technology allows it to be used easily for mobile learning in ways that a netbook device just wouldn't work.

Our students also used it for composing storyboards for a video, using neu.annotate to annotate pdf's from their class, read and highlight novels for class on them, and more.

And importantly for our students, they feel more organized.

The cost, the instant "on", the lack of troubleshooting and tech support needed are also all big plusses for our students.

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

I really believe tablets are the direction we are headed with student devices, but why does the Apple iPad dominate the conversation in so many cases? I just bought a Samsung Galaxy Note as a combination phone/tablet after years of owning (and hating) my 1st generation iPhone. I have used others' iPads, and while they are really easy to use and have a shallow learning curve, apple devices tend to be so software and app dependent that users generally have little or no freedom to tinker with the devices. I learn a great deal from tinkering, and I feel that Apple and iTunes create a horrible user experience (it took me 8 steps to move my contacts from my iPhone to my new phone, because iTunes does not play nicely with gmail or yahoo mail) when trying to get apple devices to interact with the rest of the universe.

Netbooks were a kind of neat idea when they came out, but they appear to be on the way out, being largely replaced by iPads and other tablets that have more power, comparable costs, fewer moving parts, and a "wow, cool!" factor that netbooks never enjoyed.

While I am not a fan of Apple or its products (or its proprietary, exclusive business model, or its company practices, its software, or its leadership....),

...the iPad is a trendsetting device that has changed the way we interact with content, both on the creation side and on the consumption side. While tablet computers are likely going to be where student devices are headed; hopefully not every district in the country goes Apple. We need students, teachers, technologists, and librarians who can think for themselves and go beyond iTunes for answers. Apple appears to not encourage users to do too much independent thinking, despite many of their advertising campaigns. When we start seeing more open source apps and a loosening of Apple's chokehold on their devices and software, their products and services might be more appropriate for the educational market. For now, we need (the freedom) to tinker.

April 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLen Bryan

Hi Kenn,

If you buy one and experience buyer's remorse, I'll take it off your hands!


Hi Kimberly,

I'd be curious to know what your PD consisted of. Just how to turn the thing on and use it or if it included some real ways to use it with kids.

Your link to your blog didn't work for me. Sorry.

BTW, I think you are a pretty creative teacher!


Hi Joel,

Don't confuse acknowledging something happens with approving of it happening or having control over it happening. I'd much prefer a plan in place, but I am also realistic enough to know that that doesn't always happen and the tech department sometimes had to come in and mop up the mess afterwards.

I've long seen budgeting as an ethical issue, so I identify strongly with you as you as ask about buying devices or buying staff time. Balance???


Hi Carolyn,

Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful uses of iPads. I am just amazed at how they bring out the creativity in teachers and kids more than any device I have seen in my career.

I hope Miguel reads this.

Thanks again for the comment.


Hi Len,

While I am hesitant to say this, I think you are in the minority regarding wanting the ability to tweak and customize. Most educators just want any device TO WORK and don't feel they have the time to fuss with it much. To me, this is the biggest selling point and benefit from giving up control to Apple and accepting its proprietary formats.

I hated all my smartphones until I finally got an iPhone4. Now I can't seem to live without it. Yet I know plenty of die-hard Androd phone users too.

Thanks for the POV. You are not alone!


April 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Wow, I'd completely missed this extension to the conversation while getting ready for an iPad deployment (smile). I am currently playing with iPad augmented reality apps and it's blowing my mind (the dragon coming out of the wall, dragons flying around the office). I'm convinced and appreciate the fodder for extending the conversation!

Thanks so much, Doug, for sharing your perspective. It is very helpful as my own evolves!

@Carolyn, please clarify. Are your students making videos with iMovie on iPad then dropping it into keynote? I'm a newbie and would love to know how to drop video into the iPad version of Keynote.

With appreciation for the learning conversation,
Miguel Guhlin

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin

This response to my question above came from Kimberly:

On Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 12:45 PM, Kimberly Herbert <> wrote:
For the first set of iPads., it was a week long course, the first weekend of summer vacation. You had to compete to be accepted to the program. INTERACT is all about integrating tech into your class room. You take the course, then your campus team gets a set amount of money from the district to purchase the equipment your team feels will best suit your campus.

Then you go back to your campus, use the equipment and show your staff how you are increasing student engagement and learning. You train people on your campus. The principal can see what is working and use that to make informed decisions for campus level purchases.

The 2nd set of IPads was from Imath similar it was a week long course on improving math instruction. Tech was one component of the training. We were able to experiment with different ways to integrate iPads, I touches, blogs, and other tech. We also had good conversations between elementary and secondary math teachers. Then we followed up and had meetings during each district wide PD day for the year.

Our CITS have really worked on the social networking way of sharing information. They all blog ideas. They use #icafelc on twitter when showcasing projects from around the district, letting us know about PD we might be interested in, and they answer questions we post with the hash tag.

To see more or to contact the CITS go to

Kimberly Herbert

April 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson


How did a Linux die-hard like you turn into such an Apple fan boy? ;-)


April 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Uh, may I remind you my presentation machines have always been Macs (though they all dual-boot to Linux)? In my blog, I wanted to investigate the iPad, taking the angle of not supporting it at all and then allowing myself to be convinced over time. To that end, I've been a newbie learner, picking up stuff all along the way. The key realization for me in regards to the iPad was the different workflow needed to get things done...I can also use my iPad to present, to project, watch video, read, etc.

Just as when I made my transition from paper books to a Nook ereader, it took some time. I am not often an early adopter...I have to "wrestle" with the technology a bit to seize its benefits...just call me "Israel." ;-)

I still have reservations about iPads in schools for the simple reason that buying iPads often mean investing in technology over people in these tough economic times. Technology, as someone pointed out, has become the trojan horse for school reform, granting efficiencies that cut out teachers. iPads are part of that movement.

And, though there are many free apps on iPad, to get the ones that really have a high level of functionality for productivity, you have to pay money. One example includes the Mail app, the Gmail app, both of which are free but lack the ooomph of iMailG HD app. However, you could get much of the functionality of the iMailG HD app on a netbook running linux using Thunderbird and no charge except for the hardware.

Still, adoption of new technologies in schools is also political. I embrace iPads because, as you point out, you get what you pay for with the iPad...literally. But I also embrace iPads because they are the latest technology and to not do so is inconsistent with my role as a tech director to support technologies users rely on.

Thanks for allowing me to trot out my inconsistencies and have them dissected. It is helpful to lay these whispering voices to rest.

WIth appreciation,

April 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin

Hi Miguel,

You are the most thoughtful and introspective person I know working in and writing about technology implementation in schools.

That's why it's so much fun to jerk your chain now and again!

Coming to ISTE in San Diego this June? I hope so.


April 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Miguel (and others)-

Sometimes we pit the argument as not wanting to buy devices instead of funding people--in our case, the iPads were funded by bond money for technology which CANNOT be spent on staff. So in this particular case, the money we used could not have been used on staff.

One of my favorite things about using tablets (like the ipad) is it's pretty "user resistant" in terms of messing it up, and also in our district, we've been allowed to be "owners" of what is on it, rather than being dependent on our technology dept. to install any upgrade, new software, etc. So it's certainly given everyone involved more ownership and control.

If anyone is interested, we have a blog about our deployment and use this year:

Miguel, regarding Keynote, it is very easy to insert video into a Keynote on the iPad. You shoot the video with the iPad; then when you are in Keynote, you press the "insert image" icon, grab the video and place it in your Keynote.

As far as advanced email apps, you have to remember that most teachers aren't that particular. Our teachers are just thrilled to have their email working on a mobile device, and they typically use the regular mail app on their iPhones, so they aren't expecting anything more elaborate (and frankly, it works fine).

We have a list of apps we started with on our blog--I would say the workhorse apps (many of which were free) are neu.annotate (which has allowed us to cut paper costs by $30,000 this year), GoodReader, AudioNote (free or paid), various free photo tools, like Crop, and then the Apple suite of Keynote, Pages and Numbers, which our teachers are really using as workhorses, much more than when they had desktops, ironically.

We bought two "sets" of wireless keyboards so that if there is a need for keyboards, teachers can check them out.

There are more logistical details on our blog, btw.

Now that the iPad is on the cloud, it has also made the deployment even easier.

I think part of the change for us too in having tablets is the portability, but also that it's a new type of device with new applications, and it's created a more collaborative, teacher-learner atmosphere on our campus, and it's also given students a sense of responsibility and creativity as they figure out how to do what they need to with a new type of device.

My two cents worth ;)

April 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

HI Carolyn,

Thanks for responding to Miguel and the other blog readers with such concrete, pragmatic information and the link to your website. You're the best!


April 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Say what you want about "proprietary" applications and Apple uber-control over what runs on the devices, the damn things just work. I don't think I've had to trouble shoot my iPad (and I have the first model).

There's a lot to be said in terms of the educational value between proprietary (why the scare quotes?) and free/open source applications/operating systems. There's also a lot to be said in terms of the educational value of having the freedom to choose what one will run or not run on one's own device. There's also a lot to be said in terms of the educational value of actually doing some troubleshooting instead of seeing it as an obstacle to learning.

Personally, I think every student should have a machine they can hack. Until they do, trying to get an iThing in their hands represents a backward set of values. Hackable hardware and an Internet connection should be the goal.

May 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Hi Peter,

Wow, great to hear from you. Your thoughts always challenge my thinking.

I like the idea of a machine kids can hack, if it is their own device and doesn't need to work on a continuous basis for other education purposes such as writing, research, collaboration, video editing, e-book reading, CMS access, etc.

I think I'll make your comment a separate post, if that's OK, and get some reader feedback. Your POV is well worth thinking about.


May 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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