A while back, I wrote an article to answer a question I am asked frequently by educators: “If you had the opportunity to do a 1:1 initiative, would you opt for iPads, netbooks, or something else altogether?”
At the time of that writing, I had just obtained my first iPad, had spent a lot of time with netbooks, and had a pretty clear answer: get the iPads. I believed that the size, power, and ease of use to fit a student well. For some…
In the time since, I have evolved my understanding. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest I was premature. In my defense, it was a good call at the time. It was all new and most of what I believed about the iPad is still very true. Still, I need to readdress the question. I think there is more to say on the subject.
My school district has invested heavily in iOS devices, purchasing several carts full of iPads and iPods. Observing how these are used in the various settings for over a year, a few things have become clear:
1. The older the student, the less appropriate the iPads seem to be. Older students tend to do a lot of typing, and iPads are just not suited well for heavy typing tasks. Another drawback for iPads is the difficulty in saving, sharing, manipulating source material to/from the internet. These types of tasks are still much easier on a desktop or full laptop.
2. Given the choice, older students frequently show preference for the iPod, due both for the ability to thumb-type (which they prefer to the artificial typing experience of an iPad), ad for the ability to have room on the desk to use it while working with books and papers.
3. Younger students prefer the larger interface and the portability of the iPad to a laptop or iPad. The little fingers struggle with tiny keyboards and laptops are too bulky to sit on small laps.
4. Upkeep and mass programming remains a real challenge in managing iOS devices. We now have one staffer whose entire morning is dedicated to updating applications and upkeep on iOS devices. iPad carts require over twice the man-hours in maintenance than the carts holding 2006 MacBooks.
5. The shine has worn off of the iOS devices in a big way. Students lost interest in using them for the fun of it, and they have become less of a incentive.
So, if asked if I would recommend iPads or Netbooks for a 1:1 initiative, at this point I do not think I could bring my self to endorse either. Netbooks remain limited by space and quality, and iOS devices are not for everyone. So what should schools invest in? Well, if they feel they must get a school-supported machine in the hands of every student, rather than supporting BYOT initiatives (I’ll be writing about this soon), I would recommend the following:
PreK-6: I would continue to support iPads or Android Tab tablets for each student, with a continued steady dose of lab time to work on desktop or full laptop computers.
7-12: I would recommend a combination of an iPod and MacBook Air, or similar Android/PC devices. A tethered combination of full computing power and mobile device is crucial at this age level.
While the price tag on the 7-12 plan is well above the cost of the netbooks or iPads, the student would actually have what they need for the classroom. I do not see the advantage of paying 1/4 the cost to get 1/4 of what students really need. I do not believe it scales that way. If it were about textbooks, paying 1/4 of the price would not get you 1/4 of an excellent textbook, it would buy an inferior learning tool all around. I would rather a school district invested in getting the best technology setup for its students and have to wait to roll it out fully than have a district invest all its funds in an inferior tool and be married to it for years.
I welcome your own comments on this continuing debate.