Devices in schools

devicesI recently read a @donaldclark posting (Read the full post here) commenting on the “debacle” of deploying tablet devices to schools where he feels that laptops are the devices that should have been “purchased in the first place”.   He states that “while ipads may be appropriate for young children, they are not suitable for older children who need to acquire writing and other more sophisticated skills using tools that don’t work on iPads”.

I disagree with his point of view, believing that tablet devices do have a place in schools including secondary schools.  I do however add a note of caution here in that the deployment of devices has to be carefully considered and issues such as staff training, IT support, change management, consultation, etc need to be carefully considered.   I would suggest that any “debacle” associated with a US state wide or other deployment of devices, be it laptops or iPads, relates to a failure to fully appreciate and address one or more of these areas.

Reading Donald’s post the main item I pull out as his reason for not having iPads in schools is that they are “poor for writing”.   I will acknowledge that iPads are poor for typing and that this links directly to writing.   I have even recently been trying out an iPad Pro 9.7” with the smart keyboard and still find the device poor for typing due to the available real estate for the keyboard resulting in cramped keys.    I am not sure if this is better on the larger scale iPad having not had the opportunity to try this however I doubt it will be much better as the keyboard is unlikely to have the same feel associated with a proper laptop keyboard.      So if we are asking students to produce written content and then assessing then by their written, or typed, response then the iPad may not be the best tool.    This to me is acceptable as equally a laptop isn’t as suitable where the evidence we want to generate is video or photographic evidence.   The iPad, or laptop for that matter, could never be the only tool used.

This brings me to Donalds other point with regards his comment on the iPad device as a consumer device for consuming media as opposed to for producing media.   Having seen the devices in the hands of students facilitated by enthusiastic and creative teachers, however, I no longer believe this to be true.    Students are able to make use of app smashing techniques to combine multiple apps to create new and creative content often with unexpectedly high quality output.    I will admit that the content they produce isn’t often written content, tending to be more towards either audio or video content and mayve herein lies the issue.   If we expect students to produce evidence of higher order thinking the way we have always done it, via written content, then yes the iPad is not ideal, however if we allow our students to be creative in how they evidence their learning and therefore accept video, audio, animated, etc responses then the iPad fits the bill perfectly.    Students can prove their understanding of complex writing concepts through explain everything for example.

My focus has always been on the iPad as a tool for learning and I continue to stand by this.    I believe it CAN be used as a tool to learning about writing and about coding, another area identified by Mr Clark as a weak area for ipads, however when it comes to the skill of producing writing and of producing coding, I would suggest that maybe the iPad isn’t the best tool.    With this understanding it is acceptable then the progress with iPads in a school on the understanding that the weakness is addressed through other methods, including possibly other technology which is available with the school.    I wonder how many iPad 1:1 secondary schools still have IT Labs with devices with keyboards for this very reason.

For me the biggest danger is sweeping generalizations.   The iPad was never the one answer to tech use in schools and the error made by so many was to adapt it as a one size fits all answer.    Equally we can’t say that iPads shouldn’t be used or are ineffective within schools as there are many schools where they are being used very effectively with students.    Although I generally disagree with Mr Clarks post I will close with a point of agreement in his statement of “do the research”.     The critical issue is to examine what you hope to achieve and to ensure that you have, within your own school and own plan for using EdTech, considered all the aspects of a deployment including staff training, change management, consultation, etc. and not just the shiny new device to be deployed whether it be a laptop or an ipad.





Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

4 thoughts on “Devices in schools”

  1. My main worry with iPads/similar tech in schools is that the nature of touchscreens tends to lead to lead to fairly short-attention activities, swiping from one screen/app to the next. Do you think that can lead to further problems with inattention and short attention spans in our students?


    1. I see the iPad and other similar devices as a tool and therefore the usage is critical to success. As such if inattention is a concern I would either be setting a substantial task for students to undertake using tech or I would consider the use of a different tool, which may include a learning activity where tech is not used.


    2. I posted on that very issue recently. You can read the post:
      I think it is all a case of balance. The touchscreen device is a tool but shouldn’t be the only tool. We want to take advantage of the quick feedback provided or supported through the use of technology, however we also need to teach students to be able to undertake longer pieces of work or tasks.


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