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Laptops vs iPads Revisited

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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Laptops vs iPads

I have to say that I have no idea where I stand on the issue of what kind of mobile devices we should be putting in our classrooms: laptops or iPads? Mobile phones? Something else? I cannot afford an iPad, so I have not really had the chance to look at one, or not long enough to do it justice, and likewise, my mobile phone is so archaic, I have never really used a smart phone, so I cannot really judge how useful it might be in the classroom.

I have embedded a poll in this blog, so that you can have your say, and I would love for you to comment. My school is in the process of making this decision, and we are desperate for quality input!

I do feel there are certain criteria we need to bear in mind when making this decision.

Equity. Firstly, we need to ensure that whatever we do conforms to standards of equity and equal opportunity. We need to ensure that all students, rich or poor, have access to mobile computing devices, and that this access is equivalent. This said, we need to ensure also that we do not move at the pace of the slowest, so to speak. Equity and equivalence does not necessarily mean a one-to-one correspondence. Just because student A can afford a really fancy device, and student B must be contented with a device supplied by the school, does not mean we should shy away from introducing a mobile computing programme. To do so does not benefit student B in the least. We do need, however, to make sure that student B’s device is adequate for everything required of it.

Access. To my mind the greatest factor in ensuring equity is that all students have access to their mobile computing devices for equivalent periods of time. I cannot see a programme which includes trolleys of devices available only during school time as constituting equity. Access must include home use. This would be my second criterion for any mobile computing programme in a school. Trolleys of laptops or banks of iPads available for occasional use will not really be effective. Access needs to be 24/7 to be effective. Given that schools can often command a better price by buying in bulk, or through some kind of subsidy programme be able to offer devices at a better price, this is an arrangement that is likely to be popular with parents.

My reasons for arguing that 24/7 access is important lie in the fact that so much of the pedagogical argument in favour of using mobile computing devices in class rests on the notion of any where, any time learning, of standing the classroom on its head, doing what used to be done in class at home, and what used to be done at home in class. This requires students to access content from home, and requires digital authoring at all stages, home and at school. Laptops, or iPads on trolleys just don’t meet this requirement!

Versatility. The third criterion is that whatever devices we use, be versatile enough to perform a range of digital authoring tasks, whether based on software programmes, apps, the networked drive or the Cloud. It doesn’t make sense to me to base a mobile computing programme on simply the ability to take photos, shoot video, answer a poll or tweet an answer! Students will need to create documents, will need to perform digital authoring tasks of all kinds, text and graphic-based. Versatility will also include the ability to embrace a mixed economy, a variety of solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Reliability. Whatever solution is found will also need to be robust and reliable. Murphy’s Law states that any lesson involving technology will involve minor catastrophes ranging from power failures to network outages, but this aside, devices used in the classroom will need to be supported by a sufficiently rugged infrastructure to minimise down-time. This includes issues such as being able to re-charge batteries and having technical support on an ongoing basis.

Security. In a perfect world one would not need to insure against theft, loss and so on, but any mobile computing programme will need to think very carefully about liability and lines of responsibility and ownership. This includes questions of acceptable use and corporate responsibility.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in 1:1 Computing, Hardware, iPads

 
 
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