iPads in Education: Some Thoughts on Pros and Cons

The new look of textbooks? The iPad app Solar System, by Touch Press

The discussion started out because my daughter Maggie, who is a freshman at the local High School, spotted an opportunity to get herself a device that she covets . . . an iPad.

Here’s the deal:  Maggie’s school district is holding a vote on whether or not the parents think it’s a good idea to get the High School students iPads. The idea is that you get them an iPad as a freshman, they keep it for four years, using it for textbooks, note-taking, and whatever else, and then turn it in when they graduate.  (Whether they’re planning on having the parents foot the bill, or the district, or pass a bond, or something else, I don’t know yet.)

On the surface, this sounds like a not-bad idea.  I mean, one iPad instead of a whole host of heavy textbooks, right?  We know kids are actually having back problems in some locations–places where, e.g., they don’t allow lockers any more.  And I’ve seen kids here lugging roller-bags almost as heavy as my carry-on suitcase.

But you know, as much as I love the idea in the abstract (and I think it would work great on College campuses), my feelings are pretty mixed.  It’s hard to imagine my daughter–or any teenager–not going through several iPads in 4 years.  I mean, are we going to issue them high-end Otterbox cases, just to be on the safe side?  Charge their parents the replacement costs when the inevitable happens?  Heck, my kids are hard enough on laptops that are required by family rules to not leave the two house common areas; I don’t think they’re going to be gentler on something they’re carting around everywhere every day!

There there’s the software issue:  4 years is 2-4 revisions; who gets to do the IT stuff on all these iPads (e.g., who upgrades the software?)–Mom and Dad? Are you kidding me?; have they already made a deal with the various textbook publishers?; etc.  School going to hire extra IT people?  (Hah!)  Run on obsolete software for several years?

And what about the apps?  Who’s going to spring for the costs of the books, associated apps, and whatnot?  No, apps aren’t that expensive, really, but how many parents are going to be pleased when it’s “suggested by the district” that they get $50 worth of apps “to enhance their teen’s educational experience”?  Not a lot, I’m guessing.

Still and all, it shows you a couple of things: the education market is every bit as big as Carly predicted, if not even bigger. And second, if  high schools are talking about doing this, the iPad has achieved a level of market penetration that I, personally, didn’t ever expect it to. And it hasn’t even been a year! Just amazing.

I’ll say this, too: Joseph (12) learned more about the Solar System playing with the Solar System app with me (and answering his homework questions using it instead of a static book or a study worksheet) in 15 minutes than he did in an hour of studying. Using a tablet–with the correct app!–is more like playing than “studying”, and I think there’s a huge potential there to help kids who have learning disabilities (like my two) that are currently going untapped.

But that’s just what I think.  What do you think?  Tell us below.