Computers or iPads?

Our school has gone from 0 to 60, and fast. Ok, it’s actually 0 to 11: from 0 mobile labs to 10 mobile computer labs (8 of them dedicated to a single classroom) + 1 iPad cart. The challenge now is to figure out what to do with them. As this is our school’s first foray into student iPads, I thought I would share some thoughts on when to choose iPads and when to choose computers.

Ye Goode Olde Computre
Let’s start with the familiar: computers. Computers are still our best bet for so many purposes. They are great for conducting research and for producing documents, which should account for the majority of the work we do on computers. They remain an excellent choice for accessing online learning tools like Study Island, Edmodo, Elements, and for using specialty programs, like the Photoshop. Computers also give students access to web-based programs like SAS, Xtranormal, and Voice Threads. The short of it, for now anyway, is that computers remain your best, and most versatile, bet for tech.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The iPad
So why are we even talking about iPads? They aren’t great for producing documents, though I admit that I am typing this blog on my iPad. And they don’t support Flash, which means you can’t run web apps like SAS Curriculum Pathways, on them.

So what makes the iPad awesome for the classroom? Apps: apps for learning (Khan Academy, Nova Elements, Economist World Figures), and apps for assessment (Educreations, ShowMe, Penultimate). Apps are specialized, generally self-contained programs that allow the user to focus, typically, on a single, specific task. An app like World Figures, which provides an abundance of international statistical data, puts students directly in touch with the information they need.

The iPad also allows student mobility, which means students can collaborate easily, teachers can organize jigsaw activities, or groups can use the device’s photo and video capabilities to record their work. Computers, not so much. The other benefit of the iPad, and it is easy to understate this feature, is that it forces cloud thinking. You can’t just drop files on a flash drive, and you can’t just open My Documents. Instead, students must get use to cloud-based (think Google Docs and Dropbox) storage and transmission, which will be the standard for file management before they finish college.

A Guide to Help You Decide

Use the iPad if… Use the computer if… Use either if…
you want students to move around and engage each other off screen students can be stationary and interaction is solely digital you don’t care how they interactact
you have a specific iPad app that you want students to use in class. you have a specific program not available on the iPads that you want students to use. the program/app you want students to use has both web and iPad versions (Voice Threads)
you want students to create videos or annotated recordings (Educreations) or images (Penultimate) you want students to create documents (Word, Google) or presentations (Prezi, PowerPoint) 
you want students to gather information/ideas from specific sources best accessed through an app (Oyez Today, Nova Elements) you want students to both conduct research and produce substantial written text about their findings you want students to research information widely available on the web
you want to engage students with interactive apps like Sketch Explorer or Tap Quiz Maps you want to use Flash-based programs like SAS Curriculum Pathways, which are not available for the iPad you want students to share in a common, digital space (Edmodo, Twitter)

 The fact is, these two options are growing closer and closer to each other in terms of their possibilities and usefulness. The question is not necessarily which device to use, but how to use the device at your disposal to accomplish your desired goal. Chances are your colleagues, your media coordinators or your IC can help you find a solution to whatever tech challenges you might have.


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