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Advantages/Disadvantages of the iPad Classroom

Jordan Catapano

One of the newest approaches to using technology in the classroom is called the 1-to-1 initiative. Many districts across the country have begun to equip their students and faculty with iPads: One iPad for every person.

This at first appears very exciting and is a novel way for using technology in the classroom. After all, some of the most advanced technology for reading, learning, and communicating is literally at our fingertips. However, simply providing everyone with an iPad and saying, “Learn!” will not automatically make the world a better place.

There are many advantages to providing iPads to everyone in school. But using technology in the classroom doesn’t automatically make rainbows appear. Any district considering implementing an iPad 1-to-1 program, or any teacher who will be part of such a program, needs to consider both the pluses and the minuses that come along with the change.

The Advantages of iPads in the Classroom

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  • Immediate feedback and all-class participation. iPads allow for smoother communication and transmission of materials between teachers and students. Instead of trading stacks of papers with one another – and taking the necessary time and resources for this process – we can exchange files. This can drastically reduce the amount of time spent grading paper materials. Also, there are numerous apps that allow for electronic quizzes, submissions, and supervision. This means that academic processes can be more quickly assessed or analyzed. Apps can score multiple-choice quizzes immediately and post results; teachers can see which students have submitted assignments right away; or teachers can even receive analytics about when and how long students are working.
  • Simplify the collection and retention of materials. Students are notorious for claiming “I lost it” or “I was absent when you gave that out.” When they have iPads, however, they can’t use this excuse: All materials are available electronically at all times. This is also true when it comes to their own work. Students can often create their work on their iPad, then use the iPad to store it or submit it to their teacher. Papers are easily lost or destroyed. Electronic files last forever, and both the students and the teachers can permanently retain all work and materials. This is especially helpful during any type of research process. Now students can collect and organize all their research electronically.
  • Reading and annotating paperlessly. Many books and files are available electronically. And with the marking features available in certain apps, they are able to be annotated nearly as effectively as hard copies. What’s even better is that many hard copies can be transferred into an electronic format. Students can now even use apps to take pictures of texts and immediately begin annotating them electronically. This helps to keep all of their documents in one place and to permanently keep their annotations.
  • Shared access to files with students. The transfer of information between students and teachers has never been easier. Students can create documents and immediately upload them to a teacher’s electronic folder. Teachers can then view the documents immediately, and keep them permanently stored. It works in reverse, too: Teachers can upload assignments, links, or feedback for students via these shared resources or folders.
  • Free classic books available online. Nothing beats free! Traditionally, students have either needed to purchase copies of their English literature from the store or have borrowed a heavily used school copy. Now any books that are public domain are available for free for download.
  • Numerous resources for anything you can imagine. “There’s an app for that” is true for just about anything you might desire in your classroom. No matter what kind of task you want to do, or what kind of problem you encounter, it is likely that there is an educational app designed to help address that specific need. And if there isn’t one, you can make one!

The Disadvantages of iPads in the Classroom:

  • No ideal workflow solution. As of yet, there is no ideal workflow solution that easily incorporates all aspects of teaching; particularly, there is no one resource that allows for students to create and submit work, and for teachers to easily receive, organize, grade, and return that work. Normally, performing a multitude of tasks requires the use of several different apps. In many cases, this might create more work than just receiving paper copies of work and grading it in the traditional way.
  • Wi-Fi issues. iPad use in the classroom is often heavily dependent on the quality of Wi-Fi at your school. Between iPads, phones, computers, and laptops, there are often many more devices fighting for Wi-Fi space than people in the building! A slow or disconnected Wi-Fi server can ruin an entire lesson.
  • The distraction factor. Electronics are great for learning, but they’re also great for distracting students. When they’re supposed to be working, it is very easy for them to quickly access a game, message, or app that they shouldn’t be using!
  • Charging issues. “Books don’t need to be charged,” a hard copy patriot might declare. And they’re right. Amidst all the iPad advantages, one disadvantage is that they need power. So if a student doesn’t have a charged iPad, then they lose access to all their learning materials for the day.
  • You still need a computer. While there are hundreds of new uses an iPad opens up for students, the fact remains that we still just need a computer to take care of many tasks. Sometimes it’s easier to create documents with a keyboard and mouse than it is trying to do the same thing with a second-rate app tool.
  • Publishers haven’t caught up to book demands. There are many, many books available for download; however, there are relatively few textbooks. So when a teacher wants their student to access information from a textbook type of resource, they may just be best by looking at an actual textbook and not a digital surrogate.
  • iPad options are overwhelming. The fact is that there are just so many options for apps to use and educational approaches you could take. It is extremely difficult to navigate the digital world, and doubly so if you’re new to the unique features mobile devices offer. While there are many advantages, the simple fact that the options feel overwhelming may turn off many otherwise willing teachers.
  • Change isn’t necessarily always good. Change for the sake of change doesn’t make much sense. If you’re going to begin incorporating iPads into your pedagogy, don’t rush to hand out the technology without a plan. If you’ve been an effective teacher without iPads, you don’t have to fix what isn’t broken. Consider how iPads can enhance or ease student learning first!

No one would argue that the iPads offer zero advantages, but no one should argue that they’re perfect, either. Before diving head first into the 1-to-1 pool, take time to consider what your students’ needs are and how you can address those both with and without technology.

Leave a comment below and share what ways you’ve used iPads in the classroom, or what ways you’d like to use them if you haven’t had a chance to already!