iPads in Education

Innovating education with technology.

One Year Later: Assessing the Impact of iPads on Education

The following post is a copy of an article written for a UNESCO sponsored site on education in developing nations.

        Mobile digital devices rocketed to popularity around 10 years ago with the release of the iPod. Mobile computing went mainstream with the release of the iPhone in 2007. With the release of the iPad just one year ago, we are now seeing a significant shift in the dynamics of computer purchase and practice – moving away from desktops and laptops to iPads and other mobile devices. Their cost relative to laptops along with the promise of mobile computing has raised tremendous interest in iPad use in education.

        I don’t believe Apple anticipated the demand for iPads as educational devices. When they were first released, more than one Apple sales representative suggested that iPads were designed for personal media consumption and laptops would be a more appropriate investment for schools. In response to overwhelming interest among educators, I started our online community – iPads in Education – within weeks of the iPad’s release. The site is an online network that provides guidance on educational usage, allowing users to ask questions and gain from others’ experiences. In the past several months we’ve learned a significant amount about how mobile tablet computing may impact education now and into the future.

The Promise

  •  Form factor: Anyone that has used an iPad can attest to its compelling form factor. It just feels right. Light, portable and easy to hold or lay in your lap.  As opposed to a laptop where the upright screen acts as a barrier between people in classroom settings, the iPad tends to be used more organically; it’s small, lays flat and is easily shared and passed around.
  •  Long battery life and instant-on: Continuous, transparent access to information is a key educational goal and these are two core requirements. The long battery life of iPads allows you to charge them overnight and use them throughout the school day without any need to pull out messy power cords or search for sparsely located electrical outlets. Additionally, they power up almost immediately. Teachers have little class time to meet increasing demands and don’t need to be wasting five or more minutes every lesson waiting for students to open laptops, power up and log in or shut down. The iPad simply flips open and it’s on.  Importantly, as with other mobile devices, this also enables natural, almost transparent educational use. You’re more likely to just spontaneously turn to it for information in the course of a discussion. Students can carry it around easily and instantly access and integrate information and tools into discussions and educational activities.
  •  Price:  The cost of computer implementations has been a stumbling block for many communities and countries. The advent of cheaper alternatives – netbooks, smartphones and iPads – are closing the digital divide and making computing increasingly accessible to more people.
  •  Touch interface:  When combined with the simplicity of the screen layout, the touch interface is a key element of the iPad’s popularity. Most notably, you will observe how young children instinctively take to it without instruction – the web is replete with examples. From my own experience, I find that younger children adapt to the interface even more naturally than teens.
  •  Improved digital reading: The crisp quality of the display, especially when combined with the light weight and portability, enables a far superior reading experience than currently exists on desktops and laptops. Along with the iPad’s light weight and portability, this finally opens the door to the possibility of utilizing eBooks in education in place of their far heavier and more expensive paper counterparts.
  •  Integrating multimedia: We live in a society that increasingly expresses itself in images and video. There is an abundance of apps delivering high quality multimedia content to iPads, allowing for integration of fantastic media experiences into educational activities. This is especially applicable to news events where fresh, sharp video footage and images are easily accessible and can spark valuable class discussion.
  •  Special education: Increasingly we are hearing how the iPad has been a huge success within special education. The simplicity of the touch interface is making it an extremely popular device for students with special needs.
  •  Connecting: The educational value of social networking lies in its ability to facilitate the growth of impromptu virtual learning communities - connecting people around the globe to share opinions and experiences. Social networking applications are an integral part of iPad usage – whether connecting users to news events, industry experts or video-conferencing with students and classes in other countries.

Consumption or Production?

Much has been written about the opinion that iPads are great consumption devices but are less stellar at allowing students to express themselves creatively. I don’t entirely agree. Firstly, it isn’t simply a consumption device – it’s an extraordinary consumption device – and the role of information acquisition in education shouldn’t be under-valued. Also, as the application market matures we’re starting to see an evolving depth in the creative opportunities. Music applications, digital storytelling, animation, mathematics … now with the addition of a camera to the second generation iPad and the hallmark release of core Apple applications such as iMovie and GarageBand, the creative possibilities are expanding rapidly.

Some Considerations

  •  Sharing: iPads are intensely personal devices that record your digital footprint – logins, preferences and more. There’s no login process. This makes them difficult to share. A 1:1 iPad implementation requires very different planning than an implementation that shares iPads among students. My hope is that educational app developers will see the obvious need for sharing in schools and add login layers to their apps.
  •  They aren’t laptops: You can’t manage iPads in the same way as laptops. Imaging and synchronization processes, content management, application purchasing – they all raise specific issues that require thorough discussion and planning. Planning your deployment is an essential first step - both from a technical and educational standpoint. 
  •  Keyboard: The touch screen keyboard is not popular with all users. I find that it’s more than sufficient for smaller typing tasks such as emails, notes, blog posts and more …. but I believe we’re approaching the end of qwerty typing in computing. The popularity of tablet computing may end up stimulating development of alternative, more efficient input methods that also utilize voice and video.
  • Flash: Several popular educational websites require the use of flash and these are not currently available on the iPad.
  •  eTextbooks: At this point, the promise of eTextbooks still exceeds the reality. There aren’t enough quality books available in digital format and frankly, most still stem from a model that is built upon their physical, paper counterpart. It’s not enough to simply translate textbooks to digital files - we need new models that utilize the media and interactivity capabilities available on iPads. A digital textbook should be cognizant of what the learner has mastered and where he/she needs assistance. It should customize the content to the reader’s strengths and weaknesses and report the student’s progress to the teacher. Effective use of multimedia – interactive multimedia – will become core elements of new eTextbooks and eCourses. There have been some excellent first attempts and eTextbooks and eCourses will improve as the market matures.

The Immediate Future

  • The app market will mature and we’ll move from single task, short session apps to more sophisticated offerings. The release of GarageBand and iMovie are important steps in that direction.
  • The barrier to entry for creating and distributing eBook content will become lower. Increasingly, teachers and communities will create their own eBook content.
  • Social reading is an imminent phenomenon that combines the reading of eBooks with social networking. When reading eBooks users can connect to friends and other readers, asking questions and sharing notes or opinions. Apps such as Inkling are a bold first step in that direction.
  • While the iOS browser is adequate it still lags behind desktop offerings. As mobile continues to expand we can expect a consolidation of desktop and mobile systems and browsers resulting in better mobile web editing, more collaboration tools and support for a wider range of web technologies.


Finally, it’s still a free-for-all in the mobile tablet market. The huge popularity of the iPad is spawning a wealth of new applications and cultivating the development of a host of competitive products that will only serve to strengthen the overall educational value of mobile tablet computing. 


Sam Gliksman


Twitter: @samgliksman



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Comment by Oliver Sicat on April 28, 2011 at 7:30pm

Hello, I am curious to know if the iPad has made an impact in the efficiency of teaching and learning and not with learning itself.  For instance, are any of you with 1 to 1 schools finding that you are communicating more efficiently with your students by just having access to email?  Are you distributing paperwork using the iPad and having them write on it like paper using uPad (or something like that)?  Are you collecting information any easier?  


As a principal considering going 1 to 1 next year I feel like this will be a major benefit in itself.  But I haven't seen it done in classrooms yet.  I envision it working well in the classroom.  It has worked well with my PD with my staff as I do not have binders any more nor do I ever print out any paper.  So far so good but wanted to see if this has been done in classrooms.   

Comment by Alicia Bankhofer on April 11, 2011 at 12:11pm

Hey Sam, thanks for your post.

I've highlighted your thoughts in my own post here: http://justanotheripadblog.com/ipad-app-reviews/education/why-the-i...

Btw here in Austria we've seen 1 iPad pilot project started last October - things are slow here as you can imagine. There are hardly any e-textbooks available yet. This will certainly change in the neat future. 

Comment by Sam Gliksman on April 11, 2011 at 11:49am

Sandy - many of the points that you bring up stem from the way the iPads are being implemented..

As outlined in the blog post (and others on the site), iPads do NOT currently function well as shared devices and much of your frustration boils down to the need to share them. Logins are often automatically cached and therefore sharing becomes difficult. I've had numerous discussions with publishers and app developers about the need to add a login layer to their apps to enable easier sharing.

The most important factor is planning. You cannot manage them in the same manner as laptops. As stated, synchronizations, updates, app purchasing - they require special procedures that may not currently be in place. The same applies to the way the iPads access your wifi network. These are needs that need to be addressed in the planning stage. The assumption that you can just slot in 60 iPads and manage their deployment as you would laptops will lead to problems such as the ones you have listed. Take a look at the planning document that is on this website ... 

It will be difficult to address educational goals when you're continually struggling with implementation problems.  

Comment by Sandy Munnell on April 11, 2011 at 10:29am

After less than one school year implementing iPads, I can't say I'm truly excited by them. While Sam makes a sweeping description about the technological features of this tablet and many predictions, he doesn't have anything to say about instruction. Are instructional goals met? What needs to happen in that area to show the value of implementing iPads over say laptops or netbooks?

My school division made the decision to go adopt digital textbooks for social studies for 2010-11.  All textbooks are reachable via Blackboard.  Students whose household didn't have internet access were given the books to take home; all others use the ebooks via BB. 

I received a grant from VADOE to explore how iPads could be used in the classroom with 3 9th grade World History teachers and 335 students with 60 iPads.  The ebook we tested came from Pearson, the largest textbook publisher in the country - also the largest standards-based testing company as well.  Pearson ported their text book to an "app" then made review quizzes and games as apps as well. If Pearson has a successful book as an app, others will probably follow. The publishers are still trying to figure out how they'll make money on etextbooks, hence the lag time with books for tablets and mobile devices.

The Pearson book (app) can be annotated and notes can be posted to a page to personalize the book if each student has a login. This is a great tool for teaching close reading.  But here's the hitch with using the iPads as a shared device: the last student had to log off their account before the next student logs in. Getting students to do that at the end of the period, and then collecting the iPads before the bell rings sounds like it should be a simple task. Truth is, its tricky. Kids are inconsistent.

Because the iPads couldn't go home with the students, the benefits of annotation were lost to them when they had reading assignments as homework or review for a test. So there was no gain there.


When comparing one classroom using the textbook set kept in the classroom and the iPad classroom using the etext, no teacher in the pilot felt the students with the iPads were performing better, just the same as, or, in some cases, less than their counterparts using the print version. The less-than-their-counterparts students were the ones easily distracted by what else they could do with the iPad except read their chapter.

As a creation tool, the iPad is sorely lacking as a performance tool when it is a shared device.  Kids can't figure out how to save, where to find their work because file management as they've been taught it isn't the same on the iPad. And then there's the issue of the kid that starts working on another kids' Keynote.  Many web 2.0 tools are flash based. Some of the most powerful, like VoiceThread isn't available for use on the iPad.  Ah, the frustrations of not having flash.....

We did have one great project on the iPad with StoryKit-an app for the iPod Touch. But StoryKit was intended as a high school app, so its limited for high school students.

We use Google Apps for collaboration - again, a no-starter on the iPad.

There are network logistics to work out as well. For instance, Doceri which Sam has touted as a great tool for the teacher/student to use to model something to the class via the classroom workstation and projector (ala IWB) won't work in my building because Networking won't open up the needed port due to what they believe are security risks. So I can use none of the Sync, or Air Display type apps in my building until our networking department sorts out configurations/security issues.

Finally, updating them is not a task a teacher will take on unless they are an enthusiastic nerd.  I have one teacher who will devote the hours needed to update the iPads. But the others want nothing to do with it. And I can't say I blame them.


And did I mention, no Flash?


So what is good about them? Right now the best thing: instant on, no login required.

The second good thing is the ease of moving from one activity to another; ie, a Google Earth activity to a TurningPoint check for understanding, to a wiki work session.

The wow factor has worn off, but the students still enjoy using them, but given the chance to go to the computer lab to do a PowerPoint or use the iPad for Keynote: the computer lab wins out.


At this time, the 3 teachers and myself see value in continuing to use the iPads; believe that if we were in a 1:1 environment and had a less restricted wifi network that the value of the iPad would be so much better.  The reality is it is difficult to enthusiastically embrace the iPad because our high-stakes testing environment doesn't reward innovation. Innovation takes time to nuture and grow and there's not enough time in the school year to prepare our students for the standardized testing and do new things that are messy and chaotic.  The second reality is funding. 1:1 is a long way off.

There are many many teachers interested in our project in my building who have expressed interest in using them after the grant time is concluded. My base teachers are volunteering to have one unit of study prepared where the iPad is an integral piece. These lessons will be observed by the other teachers who would like to use the iPad but have no experience in doing so. In this way we think we can get to some best practices for the use of the iPads.

We are working at finding answers to these questions:

What type of professional development is needed for implementation?

Will the iPad effectively support differentiation in the classroom?

How do we leverage what students already bring with them into our school? Can we incorporate their personal devices? If so, how?

Do we need to revisit our AUP for mobile devices?

How can we ensure fair and equal access to the iPads?

How can we continue to gather feedback on our continued use of hand held/ mobile devices? (these questions were borrowed heavily from another project: http://ipadpilot.blogspot.com/p/project-info.html)

Comment by Karen Barley on April 10, 2011 at 10:55pm

Hi Sam,

Thanks enormously for that overview and reflection.  I think the Ipad has so much to offer education and the fact that Apple perhaps didn't consider this means there is a bit of catching up to do.

My thoughts:

Sharing:  I have an IPad per student in my special needs classroom.  I actually like this because my kids have ownership, responsibility and protection of their own ipad and it is fantastic because these kids take such great care of their Ipad it is actually quite sweet.  They take it out everyday, use their special cloth to clean it every day.  The use their case and make sure the Ipad goes back into their own spot. 

Deployment:  The biggest issue I had was setting the IPads up.  Not having licenses for a set of Ipads within a school system, or even for an office is a problem.  The school will be purchasing another 50 plus for the rest of the students and I'm going to be the person setting them up...I'm wondering how I am going to make this work.

Application:  As much as some of the apps are great, I prefer apps that do more than one thing.  One of my favourite apps is the Montessorium Number and Alphabet apps.  They have more than one component, are hands on and interractive for the kids. 

I also like applications that can be tailor made to suit your own needs. I think Math Board and Spell Board are an example of this.  Mathboard, can be as easy or difficult as you want to suit your student's levels and similarly Spellboard, you can add your own spelling lists and you can also add your own voice to these lists....just love this.


Protection:  I would like to be able to protect the items in Pages, Keynote and Numbers.  One of the problems I am having is that my students can delete files in all of these applications.  There is no way to keep them in a folder to keep them safe.  I would also like to have folders....after you have created 20 plus keynote presentations, it is time consuming to have to slide through to find the one you are looking for. 


On a positve though, my kids are enthusiastic, engaged and working way above their previous abilities.  Teachers and parents are seeing the gains made by my kids.  I think the Ipad is a brilliant piece of technology for kids with Autism.....the interactivity just suits them so much.

I think the educational value is endless and used to complement other curriculum teaching tools can make incredible changes to a classroom.  I actually can't imagine going backwards now and not having this technology to assist me teaching children with autism.



Comment by Brian Wasson on April 9, 2011 at 8:06pm
Thanks for the review, Sam. I posted a blog response to your list. I am not anti-Apple products, but I don't think the iPad 1 or 2 are the game changers in edu, yet. There are too many unanswered questions, variables, and deficiencies to warrant spending several thousand on them (and the support of them through professional development). Schools should get a whole bunch to take for test drives, but it should not be 'the' device for students. APpreciate your thoughts on my post here.
Comment by Marco Marchant on April 9, 2011 at 7:59pm


My Name is Marco Marchant. I'm the current ICT Coordinator at one of our three campuses in Victoria. We are a K-12 school and we are looking at implementing PLDs (Portable Learning Devices) into our school curriculum. We were recently visited by two companies, Apple and Harris Technology and they introduced their tablets. Some of us are very excited about the iPad but wanted to see what was available in the Android range that would suit our education goals. 


We were left with more questions to ponder about than expected, especially in the area of security and whether we should make them a personal or school-based device.

We certainly see that the tablet will make its way into education as opposed to netbooks. I have done extensive reading about how the iPad 1 and 2 are making their way into many schools and the success it is having with particular students.

Our IT department is concerned about the lock down of these devices. Android seemed to be a little loose on the subject whilst Apple seemed to have a number of security layers implemented into the iPad.

From Apple's perspective, as we all saw, the iPad was seen as a student driven gadget rather than teacher driven. A constructivist approach whereby students are owners of their own education. We have concerns in that area. Nevertheless, we see a lot of potential especially when implemented in students with learning difficulties.

Our IT management seemed to look for measurable outcomes in the implementation of these devices; whether they would increase learning to the point that students would get higher grades. Also whether the investment would not result in a 'white elephant'. That is to say that over the "hype" period it would be all good but once the novelty wears off it would just be a wasted device and hence a loss.

Our IT department is very much based on a Windows platform and have the ability to control various aspects of the internet and student usage. They feel that with these devices their control may suffer and our school may be susceptible to a breach of the Acceptable User Policy.


I am aware that the iPad and tablets per se are bringing a new dimension to our education which we haven't dealt with before. As yet I have not seen cases where schools are experiencing a negative effect in their implementation of the iPad or similar tablets.

I seem to think that Android are not up to scratch in their deployment in the education area whereas Apple have taken it very seriously.

One question that I would pose is "Do we need these devices?" Will they actually improve our student engagement and learning thence improve their results? Or am I looking at this through an old paradigm?

Comment by Sam Gliksman on April 8, 2011 at 5:01pm
Check out Inkling and the HMH Fuse Algebra course Moira. They are both good examples of where we are heading with eBooks and courses.
Comment by Moira Bauer on April 8, 2011 at 4:37pm
Thank you for starting the site. I am very interested in e-books for education and if, as you are predicting, the IPad gets us more e textbooks sooner that would be great. I am very interested in the idea of interactive books.
Comment by Gonzalo Garcia on April 8, 2011 at 10:30am
Could not agree with you more. Your assessment of where the iPad began and where it is today is spot on. It has moved from more of a consumption device to a creation device with the introduction of the iPad2. When I was asked what tablet, if that, we wanted to implement in our 1:1 roll out for South Kent the deciding factor was actually the backbone and educational resources provided to us by Apple vs the non existing side of the other major competitors.


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