The Advantages of Using iPads in the Classroom

One question that is often asked when discussing iPads in education is why? What is the big advantage the iPad has over a laptop or desktop computer? Obviously, when doing high level word processing like writing research papers, the physical keyboard and larger screen of a regular computer is better than the iPad. Also, let's face it. The iPad is designed as a consumer product not as an educational tool. So why use the iPad in the classroom?

I can think of three key advantages that could make the iPad a game changer.
  1. Multimedia: Yes, every laptop now has a built in webcam, microphone, and the ability to play video. But the iPad with its portability has much more. It has a second camera to take pictures and the video and audio capabilities are seamlessly integrated into the device. Let's say you have a movie making project. Normally, you would need a video camera to take the video, a wire to transfer it to a computer, and a computer to edit and publish the video. The iPad can do all of this in one device. It makes digital learning not just a special project but something that could easily be incorporated into any lesson.

  2. Touch: You cannot underestimate the power of touch. I remember a half dozen years ago when Smart Boards started to transform education and soon became ubiquitous in every classroom. What was the big advantage of the Smart Board? Yes, the ability to project images and video was a big plus but this could be accomplished with a simple computer and projector. The Smart Board added touch. Now the teacher could control the lesson from in front of the classroom not just hunched over a laptop. She could write digital notes or manipulate objects on the board and call on students to do the same. It was transformative. Now imagine such a device in the hands of every student. That is the iPad. One critique of the Smart Board which I agree with is that it still supports teacher centered learning. That's why teachers love it so much. They are still in control with the giant touch screen at the front of the classroom. But what about a more learner centered approach where every student interacts using touch? That is the iPad. I believe that the video clip below from an Apple iPad commercial wonderfully illustrates the great learner-centered potential touch offers.

  3. Apps, Apps, Apps: The greatest asset of the iPad is in the apps. Apps are analogous to computer applications but highly focused and personalized. The best iPad apps harness the unique features of the iPad; like the ShowMe app which uses the touch screen and microphone to easily create Flipped Classroom videos. Or the Evernote iPad app which not only allows the student to easily take and share notes but also allows her to embed pictures into her notes so she can photograph the teacher's board and add audio notes so she can record the teacher if typing notes becomes too difficult. Or even the built in dictation app on the iPad keyboard which is very accurate, allowing a student who has great ideas but is not yet a strong writer to compose her thoughts on "paper". These apps utilize the power of the iPad to allow a student to perform educational tasks which cannot be easily accomplished any other way using a latop. I have embedded a slideshow that lists some of the best apps for various student projects.

I welcome your feedback on other advantages and (disadvantages too) of incorporating iPads into the classroom.