A 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.