Is the iPad Really the Best Device for Interactive Learning?

This Atlantic article on the Hillsborough Middle School in New Jersey asks the question:

Is the iPad really the best device for interactive learning?

In a word, no, but isn’t hunting for the elusive ‘best device’ searching for the wrong answer to the wrong question?

“During the 2012–2013 school year, the district executed a comparative pilot, giving iPads to 200 kids and Chromebook laptops to an almost equal number. As other schools rushed into programs they would later scrap, Hillsborough took a more cautious approach, hedging its bets and asking educators: How can we get this right?…

… While nobody hated the iPad, by any means, the iPad was edged out by some key feedback, said Joel Handler, Hillsborough’s director of technology. Students saw the iPad as a “fun” gaming environment, while the Chromebook was perceived as a place to “get to work.” And as much as students liked to annotate and read on the iPad, the Chromebook’s keyboard was a greater perk — especially since the new Common Core online testing will require a keyboard.”

The lack of multiple user support (as of yet) renders iPads useless as ‘class set’ devices. Apple seemingly wants users to have ownership of the entire device, and have yet to offer any serious management tools for those who would wish otherwise. Yes, there’s Apple Configurator, numerous third-party MDM solutions and enterprise-level management available in the upcoming iOS 8, but using these tools can be a bit of a dark art, even for the seasoned Mac IT professional.

With more device management responsibility being given to classroom teachers and technology integrators, Apple risks losing out to basic ‘dumb terminal’ devices like the Chromebook in environments where configuration resources aren’t available. In a way, the iPad might potentially lose ground in the classroom because it’s too powerful a device.

Both Chromebooks and iOS devices have distinct hardware and software advantages, however – all of which can be a benefit on the classroom.

Technology is a tool. You wouldn’t use just a hammer, or just a screwdriver to undertake putting some shelves up –  so the bigger question remains: Why does the choice for technology in the classroom have to be either/or and not both?

Author: Papa Makes

Papa Makes is run by Jim Christian. A keen edtech advocate and author, Jim has written “How to Code in Minecraft” for Dennis Publishing and “How to Think Like a Coder: Without Even Trying!” for Pavilion Books.

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