Goodbye Textbooks, Hello iPad

By  |  Friday, December 9, 2011 at 4:38 am

A technology shift is underway. The PC’s promise to transform how learning happens in the classroom is being realized by Apple’s iPad. Students and teachers in grade school through higher education are using the iPad to augment their lessons or to replace textbooks.

The iPad is especially helpful for students with special needs. Its simplified touch interface and accessibility features help these children learn more independently; aftermarket accessories assist in making the iPad more classroom-friendly.

In March, I wrote about how my mother learned how to use her iPad for basic stuff–like checking e-mail and browsing the Web–without ever having used a PC in her life. Students at all grade levels are finding it just as easy to use.

Jennifer Kohn’s third grade class at Millstone Elementary School in Millstone, NJ, mastered the iPad with minimal training. For the most part, the students didn’t need to be taught how to use their apps, Kohn says.

Kohn uses the iPad when it’s meaningful to enrich, extend, or introduce what students are learning in the classroom. Her class has used their iPads to interact with storybooks, brainstorm ideas for creative writing, and to learn mathematics. Math Bingo, an app that teaches kids math through gaming, is one of the top selling iPad apps  for education.

The students used netbooks prior to the iPads’ arrival, but the PCs were hard to use, sluggish, and would slow down over time, Kohn says. “The iPad’s one-button interface makes a big difference when working with kids. Its better for most things.”

Here’s a video of the Millstone kids with their iPads:

The Millstone experience is reminiscent of a story recounted in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography of a an illiterate child who was able to instinctively navigate an Apple executive’s a journalist’s iPad despite never having encountered a PC or “smart” device before.

College students are also turning to the iPad to do what they do instinctively well: saving themselves money. Marianne Petit, a New York University staff member, recently began taking credits in pursuit of another certification, and uses her iPad in place of textbooks.

“The price of the iPad pays for itself after a single semester,” Petit said. “iPad books cost so much less…It’s a legal alternative for students who are using BitTorent [to pirate books].” Steve Jobs was exploring the textbook market near the end of his life, according to Isaacson.

There is also high interest in using iPads within clinical settings, Petit said. Aside from her studying, she works as a master teacher at the Interactive Telecommunications Project, an initiative of New York University’s Tisch School. Tisch has formed community partnerships to create assistive technology, and students write apps for healthcare.

“For a device without a tactile interface to be the most accessible device for people with visible impairments would have been shocking just a few years ago, but they’ve been so good developing interfaces,” Petit said.

Students who have special needs can benefit significantly from the iPad’s adaptability and ease of use, says Jennifer Lowton, director of GMPDC, a professional development center for teachers. She also works as an in-class consultant.

“Motor skills are not necessary. Three year olds are using them and instantly figured out how to swipe from left to right,” Lowton said. “The home button gets you out of anything.”

Lowton credits Apple for investing in accessibility features for students who have less defined motor skills. Apple recently released its Assistive Touch software for people with spasticity and motor impairments.

Other non-lingual interface elements such as + signs to add photos also make it easier for students to work independently, Lowton says. “It instills confidence in them.” PCs were more challenging for the kids to operate.

While PCs were sometimes helpful, students frequently struggled, because managing a mouse, double clicking, and the handling a large keyboard requires high motor skills, Lowton notes. Special education students and students who have motor issues often have low motivations because of those difficulties, but the “iPad overcomes so many of those issues”

In practice, Lowton says students with communications issues–such as trouble difficult pronouncing words–can use apps that insert phrases to comment for them.

Some of Lowton’s classrooms use Evernote to take pictures of notes and upload those images to the cloud, so that they will never lose them. Students to whom English is a second language can use apps to translate anatomy and science terms .

Not a panacea

Like the PC before it, Kohn noted that the iPad isn’t a panacea for educators: It has its appropriate time and place. “I don’t use them with every lesson or even day. It’s not always appropriate to lesson or objective of what I’m trying to teach,” Kohn noted. “You need meaningful apps used in the best way for kids – not just another thing to do with them.

Petit said that Apple’s App Store policies might hinder app development. “Tisch student have a lot of issues around…Apple’s openness for developers.”

It may also be difficult having kids handle iPads. The standard iPad cover proved insufficient for third graders: Apple’s Smart Covers didn’t protect the hardware from being dropped and didn’t elevate the screens high enough for confortable desktop use.

Millstone Elementary uses an iPad accessory called the iPhome, a multi-sided foam case that can be positioned for hands-free use and stacks for storage in the classroom. “It’s not flat on the desk, and is easier for all of them to see and use,” Kohn explained.

Lowton recommends the iPhome for unique learners, because having the iPad become hands free limits interactions to tapping and swiping. “Students grab on to them and they just go,” she says. “The iPad is very slippery, and the smart cover wasn’t very smart for the classroom–it’s just held on by a magnet.”

The iPad may also pose challenges for school IT administrators, and some are having difficulty pairing the iPad with schools’ existing technology investments/ iPad adoption is most difficult for schools that have standardized on the PC. File sharing, syncing, and printing are some of the primary issues, and not all schools have Wi-Fi.

“We have to find creative workarounds,” explains Lowton. Those workarounds include using cloud services such as Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Docs. Some schools have used Bluetooth dongles to share files in place of WiFi. iOS 5 and iCloud have improved syncing, but are not usable for large files such as iMovie videos used by students for digital story telling. Teachers may also have trouble deploying apps.

While network administrators may have difficulty managing, supporting, and tracking iPads, Lowton notes. “It’s less of a problem for the teachers.” And teachers are driving demand for the iPad. Lowton is presenting an iPad “boot camp” this month, and it’s already overbooked. “Schools are going over to eBooks–paper text books are outdated and loading down students shoulders.”

“They want it all on device. Some schools are doing a 1:1 initiative with Kindles or iPads.”

The iPad is less than two years old, and it’s already proving to be a disruptive technology in education. Despite years of talking about going digital, PCs never were a suitable substitution for paper. The iPad and other smart devices just work better. The long reign of the traditional textbook could finally be coming to an end.

[Thanks to iPhome founder William Fitzgerald for helping to arrange speaking to the teachers quoted in this story.]

 
33 Comments


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33 Comments For This Post

  1. Neal Hoskins Says:

    We've have been doing research in UK primary schools this year too, see video for more comments
    http://youtu.be/lJ4kr_JaPZY

    Neal – wingedchariot

  2. David Worthington Says:

    Thank you Neal.

  3. David Worthington Says:

    Does anyone else have experience w/ iPads in the classroom? I hear that there is a backlash brewing due to Nook and Kindle being more affordable. Maybe Apple will lower the price of iPad 2 once iPad 3 ships and use it as a lower end model.

  4. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Pretty much irrelevant for US K-12 EDU performance. US has dropped from top ranking internationally to ~25th in the industrialized world despite being #2 in spending per pupil. This in the last 35 years.

  5. craig kensek Says:

    I believe Stanford Medical School is making extensive use of iPads with their first year students. craig kensek

  6. Jerry Says:

    The illiterate child encountered a journalist's iPad, not an Apple executive's iPad…

  7. Capital Losses Says:

    Apple will lower the price on older model iPads but will absolutely not reduce the price on the latest models. If schools prefer to use Fires and Nooks, that's up to them. Schools will just have to deal with lower-quality products if they want to save money.

  8. luis Says:

    Computers and tablets are only assistants and a good teacher’s will always be needed.
    However social networks such as facebook and YouTube as well as great resources including Wikipedia and Wolfram-Alpha are here to stay so that educators must use them in the teaching process.

    Many academics are posting great educational videos and materials online. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.

    This effort is being done by: http://Utubersity.com which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

    The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There's also a Spanish version called http://utubersidad.com

    This is a project that YouTube should embrace itself, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.

  9. Jade Says:

    We can't deny that iPad is playing a huge role in education.

  10. @LaProfesseur Says:

    A kindle is not a lower quality product. It uses e-ink which is far easier to read than an LCD screen. They serve completely different purposes. It's like saying a Ferrari is a better quality product than a pick-up because it's more expensive.

  11. @LaProfesseur Says:

    This needs the cooperation of publishing companies. Buying an ebook version of a textbook, even if it's just the license for one copy, can be as much as three times the price or they'll make you buy a physical copy as well. School boards need to use their clout to force publishers to sell ebook versions at reasonable prices

  12. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Why not?

  13. AZDave Says:

    Yes. We've been having this collective discussion for decades now and performance has gotten worse despite massive spending. Steve Jobs said that the government compulsory monopoly unionized school system (euphemistically called "public school") was so broken that the only option left was to institute universal vouchers.

  14. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Really? You base your assessment on what scientific data?

  15. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Then, Mr Jobs was correct.

  16. Neil Anderson Says:

    The iBooks night mode setting makes reading easy on the eyes.

  17. Ashwin Says:

    The e-ink kindle is very good for reading a book from front to back (which would strain your eyes on an LCD), but completely useless for anything that needs color, which is pretty much all textbooks. Amazon piloted Kindle DX's at colleges, but it was pretty much immediately rejected, because you need color for textbooks. A 10" Kindle Fire would probably do very well. I have an e-ink Kindle, and I love it. But I also have an iPad.
    It's clearly been a long time since you've been in a school of any kind. Not a bad thing, but it's clear you're disconnected.

  18. Jon @ OMG Tech Deals Says:

    I hope that means they are going to cut some deals for teachers wanting to purchase some

  19. luis Says:

    Computers and tablets are only assistants and a good teacher’s will always be needed.__However social networks such as facebook and YouTube as well as great resources including Wikipedia and Wolfram-Alpha are here to stay so that educators must use them in the teaching process. ____Many academics are posting great educational videos and materials online. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.____This effort is being done by: http://Utubersity.com which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn. ____They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.____The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There's also a Spanish version called http://utubersidad.com____This is a project that YouTube should embrace itself, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.__

  20. camelofdoom Says:

    It doesn't seem to be teaching them very well if their initial attempt at x + 7 = 14 is x=14

  21. David Worthington Says:

    Got it. Thank you!

  22. T. Ericson Says:

    However, the IPad is not accessible for all students – especially those with physical disabilities that can’t use a touchscreen or have the necessary motor skills to slide to different pages. There are a few apps that work for students with these disabilities through switch box interfaces, but the number is very limited. By using IPads for instruction, school districts need to make sure they’re providing equal access to all of their students or else they may be violating ADA requirements.

  23. Guest Says:

    Luis – My daughter just graduated from a well-respected public high school. Her English teacher absolutely did not allow the use of Wikipedia as a credible reference source, due to the amount of "incorrect information" in Wikipedia postings. Just passing that along for what it's worth. I would be interested in hearing how other educators view Wikipedia's use as a student resource.

  24. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Yes, my son said his prof's in college don't allow it as it isn't considered a credible source for research.

  25. emiliy Says:

    As an educator of young children, I worry about the amount of time children are spending in front of a "screen". While I see the ipads use, I strongly believe teachers, books, socialization, and outdoor time are still the best way for children to learn, and I worry about schools relying on computers to teach young children. In Montessori and Waldorf schools, electronics are discouraged. Children need to write the numbers and letters, not just touch the number on a screen. Children need to experience what they are learning, touching a flower, drawing a flower, smelling a flower, holding a flower, not just watching a youtube video about how flowers grow. For older children, I do see technology playing a bigger part in education, but mostly because the work force uses computers so much, and older children need to lean how to effectively use computers/ipads.

  26. Jen D Says:

    I am a teacher of high school biology and I eliminated a textbook from my classroom three years ago. I have just started using iPads in my classroom this year and I have found so many uses for them. We do many out of the ordinary lessons in my class and the iPads help to engage the students in the lessons. I agree that they should not be used just for the sake of using something new but when I have something worthwhile on them the students respond positively to the task.

  27. Jen Says:

    I also am an educator of young children, and agree that a great teacher is the single most important factor in a student's learning experience. In addition, there is absolutely NO substitute for authentic literature, notebooks, paper and a pencil! I utilize a writing workshop and reading workshop model for literacy instruction in my classroom, and the children interact with mentor texts and other texts everyday. They also have writing and reading partners, and must "write in the air", or discuss, their thinking with a peer. We sometimes go outside the school, into the hallway or into the Library (which is a vital part of an educational experience) to learn. I am the teacher in the video, and I believe I stated that I do ot use the iPads everyday, as that would be taking an easy way out. In fact, if don't take the time to research the apps appropriately, it's just as bad as sticking them in front of a TV. Yet, in this technological advanced times, I have to do what I can to engage my students and keep them interested in learning…and the iPads are one way to do just that.

    Just thought I'd clear that up! Lol.

  28. Cricket Casey Says:

    Ipad and other digital technology will be the future, I am a physical therapist and carrying those heavy backpacks is causing an increase in neck and back problems in children that affects them their whole life. It will be great when they just have to carry a flash stick. Also the content can combine literature with music stimulating both right and left brain to increase memory. Check out the Promo Video for The Portal in the Park Animated App Book which addresses sibling rivalry and bullying. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZhoH2czB_o

  29. colored pencil Says:

    Okay, the article is good. Pretty much researched too. This is a really good find in information.

  30. John J Caprice Says:

    In my opinion, it is inaccurate to compare the US EDU performance to other countries due to cultural differences among the surveyed countries. Many industrialized countries pre screen children in the elementary grades prior to being assaigned to secondary education facilities. The children of laborers and farmers are not provided with the same educational opportunities as those of "upper classes". With the exception of Canada, there is distinct cultural class discrimination within most other countries.

  31. David Says:

    The greattechnology…..the illiterate child encountered a journalist's iPad, not an Apple executive's iPad…

  32. larzze Says:

    In Montessori and Waldorf schools, electronics are discouraged. Children need to write the numbers and letters, not just touch the number on a screen. Flat Stomach Exercises

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