Why do schools want iPads? Do the math, and you won’t understand it.

I will make this a simple conversation. I will choose 10 qualities that a traditional educational technology resource should have. If the iPad has a quality in full, I will award it 1 point. If it is partially capable, I will give it a .5 . If additional accessories are required, it gets a 0.

  1. Works with existing software or licensing :   .5
    Sometimes there are Apps that come with software licenses, but often you have to buy the App version.
  2. Fits into the school’s purchasing model and/or accounting methodologies: 0
  3. Allows users to create media and share it easily: .5
    The tools are starting to evolve but moving things from the iPad to sharing mediums dedicated to the curriculum, and the privacy of the curriculum, is not always easy. Getting media on the iPad that was not created on the iPad is also significantly harder than using a laptop.
  4. Allows students to create long form written assignments for curricula such as the IBO, AP, and IGCSE: 0
  5. Can easily work with other hardware owned by the school: 0
    Not for free and not always intuitively. With some Apps the possibilities are growing but on the initial buy-in, the iPad creates it’s own little world.
  6. Cost effective and shareable resource: 0
    The iPad models seem cheap, but with the way they need to be accessorized the price is very close if not equal to a low-end laptop. Sharing a device designed for personal ownership is possible, and Apple makes it possible, but it is not ideal. Even if the price point for 30 iPads is usually lower than 30 laptops, asking 100 students to use 30 iPads is not the same as sharing laptops. 100 students need 100 iPads to really make the most of them.
  7. The device works with content provided by the curriculum publishers: 0
    Getting better but still not there. Amount of content used still greatly exceeds the amount available on the iPad.
  8. The device has a high level of local maintainability: 0
    Most IT departments cannot fix iPads when they break. I mean physically break. Unlike laptops and computers they need to be sent away to the iPad doctor. Trust me, kids can break iPads, they are not Starbucks Going Hipsters reading The Verge carefully swiping with clean fingers.
  9. Has a variety of cost effective software solutions available for various age groups: 1
    No argument, the Apps are there and they are very powerful when integrated properly.
  10. The device is scalable for future performance: .5
    I am giving this a .5 because the software is scalable, and it is possible for an organization to develop exactly what they need for the device. In fact, it is cheaper to have someone make a simple focused App, than to have them write a deeply integrated program for a platform like OS X or Windows.

Score: 2.5 / 10

So why do schools want iPads?

Because they motivate students to learn. In the same way that this device motivated me to love technology:

Star Trek Tricorder

The fictional concept of being able to move around freely and have a device that gave me a different view of the world was very powerful. It powered my imagination. It drove me to start using computers at the age of 11, but not just for games, but to program. I always loved how the Start Trek Officers had to constantly modify, update, and reverse engineer their Tricorders to get them to do what they wanted.

That is what the iPad is. It is the reality of years of imagination. It is often a time-wasting, game playing ,mind numbing entertainment device. However, when students decide to make it forward facing, and use it to read the world, it is something much more.

The innate weakness of the platform is what makes it a good problem solving tool. Trying to get the iPad to achieve the goal, is the goal. That is where the learning happens, through the process and through the imagination.  Students do not care about all of this, they just want to get it to work. To do what they want in the way they want.

It is not important what a grade 7 student does with an iPad. It is not important if they waste their time. It is not crucial for them to demonstrate that they are responsible enough to keep the music down. What is important is that at some point an idea sparks in their minds. An original idea. And then they take the resources around them, and make the idea into reality.

When in engaging students with iPads, do not tell them to get “Apps A and B” and do “Activities 1 and 2”. iPads are not textbooks. Instead leave a problem or question in front of them with the following instructions: “Solve It and Prove It”.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. ~ John F. Kennedy 1962

Tony DePrato


1 thought on “Why do schools want iPads? Do the math, and you won’t understand it.”

  1. Excellent Tony! I haven’t read such a balanced, well thought through pedagogical summation like this one anywhere.

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