Friday, January 29, 2010

Why iPads Are a Good Choice for Students

There is a lot of back and forth between the education community that uses technology in the classroom over Apple's newly announced iPad. While the impression I get is that most are disappointed with its lack of a few critical features (camera?) I still believe that the iPad can be successfully adopted and implemented in schools.

I am writing this post as a counter to Russ Goerend's post. I have agreed to contrasting the iPad to three other tech tools; iPod Touch, a generic netbook, and a MacBook. I would compare them, but it is the differences that are significant for this particular post.

iPad versus iPod Touch

First up is the iPod Touch. The iPad has been said to be just a big itouch. There are some obvious differences such as the ability to purchase Keynote, Numbers, and Pages which have been optimized to work with the touch screen. This allows students to create presentations, documents, and spreadsheets. While these are very basic technology tools, they are also tools that most adults in the business world have to be able to use. Because these can be rather text extensive the new keyboard docking station that will be available for purchase will make creating written content on the iPad much easier.

The second difference is the size of the screen. Not only does this make using the iWork applications usable on the device it also makes using it possible to use it comfortably as a reader. I have two readers on my iTouch and while they are usable for short periods of time, I would not want to need to rely on them as my main reading device. The size of the screen also makes watching content much more pleasurable. For example, my school subscribes to Discovery Streaming which allows me to create student accounts where the students have access to all the video content. If Apple decides to allow the Flash plug-in to work on the iPad even more content will be able to be used by students.

Finally, the price difference is significant. The iPod Touch starts at $199 and the iPad comes in at $499 for its cheapest model. When you consider the screen size and the newly available applications I believe it is worth the extra money.

iPad versus MacBook

The Macbook is a great tool for use in the classroom. It has everything a teacher would like for a student computer. The built in photography and video creating software is great and relatively easy to learn. How does the iPad compare? First lets look at batter life. Apple claims that the Macbook has a 7 hour battery life. Since this is a best case scenario I am going to assume that only one application is being used at a time. I can also say from experience you won't get 7 hours of video life on it. The iPad has been touted as having a 10 hour battery life and Steve Jobs said you can watch videos on a plane from San Francisco to Japan. Compared head to head using Apple's own site the iPad has a 3 hour longer life. This will allow it to have a long enough life to make it through the day at school even when the battery has started to lose its punch.

The Macbook starts at $900 from the education store. We don't know yet if there will be education pricing for the iPad, but the Macbooks is still about twice the price. You can outfit almost twice as many students with the iPad.

Finally, in my opinion the most important distinction between the two is the operating system. The iPhone/iTouch os is much more user friendly and intuitive that the Macbook's. My four year old can operate my iTouch without any prompting from me, but there is no way she could do even simple things on my Macbook.

iPad versus Netbook

I feel a little unprepared to compare
the two because I don't have any hands-on experience with a netbook. That being said, I am familiar with the size, form factor, and most importantly the operating systems. Netbooks happen to be great tools with a few drawbacks. What makes the iPad seem to be robust is due to the inability to multitask. Because netbooks run full operating systems that allow multitasking you can quickly bog the processor down with too many open apps.

While netbooks can create content with video, I have yet to read a review where someone recommends it. Most do have built in webcams which allow for picture taking or video conferencing. According to Apple's site the iPad has the ability to connect it to a camera or a SD card. I don't think that video conferencing is a necessary tool for each student to have all day access to.

Finally the nod again goes to the iPad because of the operating system. I won't reiterate my above arguement, but I can address Linux here. I have recently installed Linux on a couple computers in my lab to try them out. While I can say it works much better than it did two years ago when I last played with it, it still is pretty hard to navigate. If I have trouble with it I am sure my students will too. The ease of use for the iPad again gives it the edge.


John Hadley Strange said...

The easier it is to use, the more likely current teachers who are not geeks, perhaps not even "technologically literate", are to use a device that connects all the time to the information cloud. If that is correct, then maybe we can see teachers move from a memorize and "burp-back" approach to hands on, project based, problem solving teaching.

So the most important impact could on teachers rather than its impact on students.

Well, I can hope can't I?

John Hadley Strange said...

My friends and fellow Twitters, @wmchamberlain, @RussGeorend and I (@drjohnhadley) were Tweeting fast and furiously about the iPad the day after its unveiling a week ago. Informed only with a few details and no experience, we nevertheless offered our pronouncements about the iPad and its future use in our hands and by our schools and students. I suggested that we should have a debate and offer it as a podcast, but then I got busy and did not follow up with my suggestion. Russ and Bill did, however, each posting on his blog. Russ went first with Please don’t buy your students iPads and, of course became the target for Bill and me. With a podcast, there would have been more debate, and we might have changed each others minds, or at least changed sides from time to time just to enliven the debate. But stuck with print (well, electronic print), our debate is much more serial in nature. Bill went second with this post, Why iPads Are a Good Choice for Students and I get to take dead aim at both of them in The iPad: So Easy to Use Even a Technologically Illiterate Teacher Can Use It. After we all have the iPad in our hands I will try and arrange a real debate and record it for posterity as a podcast. Until then, you are stuck reading these three commentaries. You have now read Bill's. I invite you to read Russ' post as well as mine.

Mr. G said...

Hey, Bill,

You make some solid points. I'm not going to pretend that you don't.

If we have the money, though, I'm all about getting more tools in the hands of more kids. That's why I'd choose iPod Touches or iPads. It's also why I'd choose netbooks and Touches over iPads. Kids keep Touches in their pockets. They use their netbooks to create. They get out their Touches to consume. Win win.

I hate to rehash my whole argument here in your comments. I just think that the iPad attempts to straddle the consume/produce line, but it falls over to the side of consuming. I don't want schools to fall over that same way.