1:1 iPads and Happy Accidents

I am a high school teacher, and in our high school we currently have a 1:1 BYOD laptop program. It has its plusses and minuses, but I’ve always wondered how the experience of teaching in a laptop program might compare to teaching in a tablet program.

Due to some last minute complications in our schedule this year, I got the opportunity to do that. I was asked to teach for a number of weeks in our middle school this year, which is in the second year of a 1:1 iPad program. Having the opportunity to teach in a dedicated iPad program has made me much more of a tablet enthusiast, and I’ve begun to think the iPad (or any reliable tablet) should be the preferred option for schools going forward, even in comparison to a laptop. Two things became incredibly apparent during my eight week sojourn into middle school. I thought I’d share them, as I think they may be helpful to anyone out there considering either a laptop or iPad program.

1. Contrary to my beliefs prior to teaching in an iPad class, the iPad is a device that is much more conducive to classroom management. I was incredibly surprised by this, but it boils down to a few simple reasons: first, the iPad is a much more agile device than a laptop. The issue that consistently came up for me had to do with the physical barrier created by laptops. Some (not all) students used that to bury themselves in what was happening on their screen, be it Facebook, online games, whatever, with the ready excuse of “I’m taking notes!”  As a teacher, I wanted to encourage usage of devices to take notes and perform other tasks, but was always uneasy with the number of students who would get lost in their screens on a regular basis. The iPad was much easier to manage in a classroom. Because the device sat face up on student desks, it was clear when they were taking notes and when they were not. Additionally, I could ask all students to flip their iPads over on their desks if I wanted more focused discussion, knowing that (due to the lack of any boot time) students could immediately turn them back over and take notes at any moment.

This difference was made painfully obvious when, in my time teaching a longer research project while in the middle school, students asked if they could use laptops in class (as the laptops made multitasking research much easier). I let them bring laptops in (provided by a cart) for days in which we would spend the majority of time doing research. However, I would usually spend the first 15 minutes of these days with the students discussing homework from the previous night, prior to giving them research time. In letting them bring laptops into the classroom, the engagement in class discussion (even for 15 minutes) dropped dramatically, and I found that a number of students could simply not handle having laptops on their desks without wanting to open them. The difference in their self control with iPads versus laptops was, in my brief eight weeks of class, simply remarkable, and was something I had absolutely not anticipated.

2. Although many want desperately to make this happen, as of right now the iPad does NOT replace a laptop or desktop, especially when considering long-form writing work. However, the iPad can adequately replace textbooks, graphing calculators, video and still cameras, notebooks, planners, binders, and whiteboards, and for light research (the kind you might do in small groups in a given lesson), it is tremendous. The iPad is a device that could be used for 90% of the work a student does in a school year. However, for that other 10% (mostly involving heavy writing and/or laptop specific Science apps), access to a laptop is a necessity. For those inclined, this is where Chromebooks might come in handy. To have these available on days in which heavy writing is necessary would solve virtually all of the (current) inadequacies of the iPad in schools. Furthermore, the combination of an iPad Mini and a Chromebook would cost roughly $575/student, only $75 more than an iPad, and half of the cost of a Macbook Pro.

There were a number of other takeaways I had from my experience teaching with iPads, but I’ll save them for another time. Regardless, the experience with iPads has made me much more open and excited about the possibility of using these devices at the high school level.


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