IPads in the Classroom: Blessing or Curse?

Apple's recent announcement that they'll soon offer textbooks for the iPad is just the latest move designed to cement the tablet computer's place in the classroom. It's true that iPads offer schools a variety of benefits. Yet the tool also has several key drawbacks, complicating the decision for schools as they consider adopting iPads in their classrooms.

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ipads for education

The Future of Learning?

Without a doubt, students are increasingly reliant upon technology. With each passing year, students are more wired and more comfortable using computers in countless aspects of their lives. This makes the addition of iPads to the classroom a logical move. The iPad is the leader in the tablet computer market, innovative for its simplicity and functionality.

By using iPads in the classroom, schools are offering students practice with the cutting edge of technology. This will challenge students and prepare them for their careers after graduation. Studying on an iPad also provides a multimodal learning opportunity, which allows teachers to reach students who may struggle with less dynamic learning methods. Furthermore, because iPads are still new, they can challenge teachers to modernize as they learn alongside their students.

Spend Money to Save Money

One argument that's being made for bringing iPads into classrooms is that they are, in the long run, cost efficient. Currently, most schools spend significant dollars on desktop computers. An iPad, with its stripped down functionality, is cheaper than a desktop computer. A school could provide students with more iPads than desktop computers for the same cost. Furthermore, costly workbooks and, soon, textbooks can be replaced by online editions that have lower price points.

The iPad is also more portable and simpler to operate. The portability of an iPad means that computers don't need to be bound to a computer lab or the corner of a classroom; this allows more users to access fewer machines in more settings. The iPad's simplicity means the teachers and students require less instruction, thereby mitigating the need for professional technical support and lost instructional time.

BYOD and Class Issues

Many schools want to jump on the iPad bandwagon but can't afford to invest in the new technology on a broad scale. This has led some schools to consider 'bring your own device,' or BYOD, policies. Since more and more students possess their own iPads, these schools are saving money while still utilizing the technology. As a perk, a student who uses a personal iPad will have a stronger sense of familiarity with and ownership over the device than a student using a school's tablet.

Yet BYOD policies deepen the already pronounced divide between students of different economic classes. The student who can afford an iPad can likely also afford numerous other advantages over his or her peers, such as a private tutor. Therefore, it may be better that a school that can't afford to provide students with iPads stays out of the realm of tablets.

An Unclear Future

It's still uncertain whether iPads are technology's future or just a fad. Like numerous other tools before them, such as the Laserdisc, they offer schools clear benefits over earlier technology. Yet, also like the Laserdisc, their long-term usefulness could be inhibited by issues such as cost, fragility and inability to easily work in tandem with other tools.

Even the promise of textbooks is complicated. While Apple will sell digital textbooks at a price lower than printed books, their model will likely mirror that of the music and video files they sell on iTunes. Schools will sacrifice their ability to reuse or resell digital textbooks, as they currently do with traditional textbooks. In the end, the only certain thing about the iPad's role in the classroom may be that it's too early to tell.

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