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Laptops vs iPads Revisited

01 May

IMG_9707A number of years ago my school looked at the question of whether to introduce laptops or iPads as part of our IT strategy. The junior school went for iPads and bought a class set which can be booked out when needed, but in the senior school our response was more cautious. We felt that iPads did not give us the kinds of opportunities to enable students to author digital products we were after, and that laptops were too expensive. We have therefore been adopting a BYOD policy favouring a mix of pupil-owned smart phones and laptops enabled on our network, with a small number of school-owned netbook computers supplementing the desktop computers in our media centre and computer rooms.

My gut feeling at the time, after limited exposure to iPads, it must be admitted, was that iPads favoured consumption rather than production and hence were unsuitable at a more senior level. The apps that I looked at seemed suited more to presentation of content than to digital authoring. And my question was, since laptops could do both multi-media content presentation and allow for powerful authoring programs, why would one choose an iPad over a laptop, even given the extra mobility of the iPad?

As the holidays loomed, however, I booked out an iPad to play with – just to see if my views had changed, of course! It is a wondrously sexy machine, I have to say. It sits easily in your hands, and is sleek and seductive. The touch screen appears fabulously Science Fiction to someone of my generation, and the rotation of the screen still wows me every time! But that is pretty much where the wow factor ends, I’m afraid. I can see that it is useful because of its weight and size, and if all you need is to surf the Internet, or view content, it is great, but the moment you need to do anything, it becomes a cumbersome monster of a machine, as clunky and ham-fisted in execution as it is sleek and sexy in looks. When trying to activate the right part of the touch screen I kept getting it wrong – the calibration seemed slightly off. There was not enough storage on the machine to download files either, and typing was an absolute nightmare, especially where I needed a mixture of numbers and characters! I found typing my passwords the worst!

I tried to use Garage Band, but couldn’t because there was not enough memory! And for me that clinched it. My views have not changed. I can see that iPads are useful pieces of kit, but their expense is not justified in terms of what they can actually deliver in a classroom. If a student has one that’s great, but I would not recommend a school going out of their way to purchase them.

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6 responses to “Laptops vs iPads Revisited

  1. Laura

    May 2, 2014 at 3:23 am

    I’m thrilled that my principal recognized the value of laptops over iPads. My students use laptops to write (a lot – I’m an English teacher), but we also use them in Digital Media classes and a student-run broadcast news program. My students are doing some fabulous work that I don’t think would be as effective on an iPad. They are truly authors and creators — much more than consumers or posters. But – again kudos to my principal – the science department at my school is finding iPads to be great for their curriculum. I think it’s all about what works best in which classrooms. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all tech for everyone, right?

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    • Dorian Love

      May 2, 2014 at 6:39 am

      I agree – we need a mixed economy. I prefer laptops, but others prefer iPads. In my school I see just about everything being used, smart-phones, iPads, laptops, desktops, Apples, Windows, etc.

      The big issue is always cost. To my mind laptops give you bang for your buck because they are more versatile.

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    • Dorian Love

      May 14, 2014 at 8:25 am

      In my experience what works in one context doesn’t necessarily work in another context! It really is a decision each teacher needs to make, but because it has whole school implications it isn’t easy. That’s why I always propose a mixed economy!

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  2. Steve Covello

    May 1, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Dorian – I have had a long history of media production using both desktop and laptop Macs, and I was shocked to discover that my iPad (v1, 2009) had NO DESKTOP!! How naive I had been. After messing with it for a while, I concluded that it was completely useless for the kind of work that I did and was about to return it. I relented on the prospect that my kids (3 and 5 at the time) might have some use for it. (They did, and still do).

    Since then, I concluded that the iPad does have production capability, but not necessarily in the tradition I had come from. I still have no use for it to do rendered out/exported file-based composing. But I have found that the iPad is a superior interface paradigm where interactivity is the primary mode of engagement, usually in a realtime situation. Thus the “production” mode in this scenario is more defined as producing something NOW as opposed to something to published later.

    For example, my son wanted to perform a live version of a Kraftwerk song where the voice is tuned to a robotic voicebox timbre. The app design, connectivity, and interface mode was perfect for doing what he wanted to do. We had no need to produce a publishable file as we might have done on my laptop.

    The iPad has advantages in mobility, geo-location, and realtime manipulation of an application interface in ways that laptops cannot do. As an instructional designer, I look strictly at how a technology or communication medium can be *advantageous* in a given situation. From this perspective – like evaluation of any other tool – the iPad ought to be utilized where its features are best suited.

    Given the wide range of engagement one might encounter in the breadth of a K-12 curriculum, I am not surprised that the iPad falls short in certain situations. Thus, I don’t see the question as a “this vs. that” argument. There is a wrench for every nut, but no one wrench can turn them all.

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    • Dorian Love

      May 1, 2014 at 10:50 pm

      Such valid points! Thanks for this assessment!

      My point is about cost – they are so expensive!

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