The iPad: Changing Education for the Better?

In the brilliant, and certainly emotional, ‘Year One’ video at the launch of the iPad 2, Apple would say that the arrival of the iPad in 2010 was the arrival of a new category of product – something significantly different to what has come before.

Something different should make a difference.

Apple highlighted the dramatic effect that the iPad has had in a huge variety of industries; from the medical profession, right through to education. Is this change for the better, or is money simply being wasted on gadgets that would be better spent on textbooks (50 textbooks to 1 iPad).

Can the iPad be a profoundly positive influence within the education system?

Laptops for All

When I was at secondary school (high school) my school decided, in its wisdom, to begin bringing laptops into the classroom. In certain lessons throughout the day these hulking trolleys of thick grey machines would be wheeled in and we’d fight to make sure we got one – there were always a couple of kids left wanting.

Me, being a studious child, would inevitably endeavour to write up notes and begin essays – only occasionally being distracted by the web (partly due to the shocking regularity of wireless cards failure). Nonetheless, I can categorically state that the introduction of laptops dramatically reduced productivity in the classroom and hindered our education.

I’m not ungrateful, I understand the good intentions of those behind the scheme, but the presence of those heavy, and distractingly loud, ‘portable’ computers was a call to anarchy for many in the class. In addition, the upright angle of the screens made it almost impossible for the teacher in charge to get the attention of the class, let alone maintain control…

The Difference

In what way would the mass introduction of iPads have a more positive effect? If technology got in the way before, surely it’s not worth the transistors it’s comprised of – at least in the educational sphere.

There are, of course, a significant number of important differences between the laptops I have described and the iPad (and iPad 2). Before I analyse the potential impact of the iPad in the current educational field it’s worth noting a few things that would make a huge difference in the classroom:

  • Battery life. 10 Hours is more than enough for a full school day, what could be more annoying than having to find a handful of chargers in the middle of a lesson!
  • Maintenance. The beauty of the iPad is that it needs almost no tech support once it’s up and running, schools and teachers would be in sole command of their technology.
  • Intuitive interface. The iPad is ridiculously easy to pick up and use, particularly in comparison with the kind of laptops described earlier – children would be at home in minutes.
  • Saving. Almost every app on the iPad is effortlessly forward-thinking when it comes to saving, there are no save buttons. There is virtually no way of losing work!
  • Self-contained. The simplicity of the iPad would be immensely valuable in an educational setting, the usability of its self-contained system is at the fore.

For the Better?

Looking at every argument for and against bringing the iPad into education would be a daunting task, and for the purpose of coming to a more definite conclusion I’m going to leave one key point out of the equation.

  1. Cost. Obviously this matters, school budgets are notoriously tight. Are the benefits worth the outlay? Will buying into rapidly developing technology look like a mistake in a years time? These are questions for another occasion.

In comparison to any other technological advancement over the past ten years I believe the iPad stands out as the most perfectly suited for education.

It’s personal, but not large (or bulky) enough to truly be a barrier to teaching from the front. The sheer scope of quality applications available is stunning, as is the potential for entirely contained projects – students creating presentations and creative projects seamlessly.

iWork Lineup

The simplicity of the technology, as regards the maintenance and intuitive interface, makes it ideal for any length of lesson. While some children will inevitably get distracted in the classroom, I truly believe that the iPad (properly configured, without Angry Birds) is an engaging enough piece of technology that it will, in most cases, enhance the attentiveness of students.

There will always be fundamental arguments over the most effective methods of education, and that’s a good thing – we should be protective over the education system, many of the changes made now will only be seen in evidence in many years time.

Even in light of this I, personally, think that bringing the most inspiring and intuitive elements of technology into the classroom can hardly damage the thinking of students and teachers alike – as W.B. Yeats once said:

Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.

Your Thoughts

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts – simply post a comment below! Do you think the iPad can change education for the better? Are there some huge drawbacks I’ve missed?

This discussion has barely scratched the surface, a look into the specific positive applications of the iPad and the rapidly developing range of educational apps available will have to be for another time…