iPad: Finding the Grey

Here I am at 30,000 feet, blogging on the school iPad with GoGo wireless. How far these technologies have come in such a short time! I have previously stated that the iPad is poor for content creation, but now I am beginning to see the promise. I am finding the grey space between evangelist and curmudgeon.

By far the best feature is the long battery life, able to last a cross-country plane flight or a full day of class use. No device is effective when it’s out of juice. The keyboard is just tolerable if I place the iPad in landscape orientation. I’m probably typing at 20 words a minute.

I recently read the accreditation report of a peer school that is rolling out a 1:1 iPad program. That’s one iPad for each student in the school. Last week, my reaction to this news was surprise and lack of understanding. It’s highly unlikely that we would do such a thing at our school. Having learned more about their school, I can see the rationale now.

1. They are committing to replace texts with electronic content as much as possible. The iPad is best equipped for content consumption, so this fits great. Presumably, they have strong teacher support for this.

2. They are interested in better supporting students by presenting materials in multiple media (another advantage over print).

3. They are simultaneously seeking a new learning management system platform. The iPad rollout will take place along with a new platform for delivering instructional content and working together.

4. They have a smaller budget than most laptop schools. A 1:1 laptop program is likely out of reach, so it does not make sense to speculate how much better laptops are than iPads. The real question is how much better iPads are compared with laptop carts and shared desktops.

5. Similarly, they may not want to increase tech staff. The iPad lends itself to a distributed management model. Load them up once and then let go of the management responsibility. So far at least, the iPad appears to suffer few weaknesses compared to a device with a full operating system.

6. They are seeking distinctive programs to help attract students within a competitive independent school market.

7. They are timing the rollout to coincide with iPad 2 (good move!). They should avoid the limitations of the first version, gain a camera and microphone, and perhaps lower the price, plus whatever other improvements Apple has cooked up!

I still have questions about feasibility of this program. Can students really write essays and complete assessments using the on-screen keyboard? How will the school deal with the lack of a central file storage system? Are enough teachers committed to developing sufficient electronic content? I look forward to seeing how it goes.


  1. Stephen Rahn says:

    Richard, do you have a link to that report? I’d love to see it.

  2. Richard says:

    To be clear, the report was the school’s accreditation self-study, 400 pages on the state of the school. What I appreciated was how reading about the the school’s entire program helped me contextualize the iPad program. They have not yet published a document specifically about the iPad program.

  3. Stephen Rahn says:

    Thanks. Do you mind my asking which school it is? feel free to e-mail me if you don’t wish to post it here. There is a private school here in Georgia that has gone 1:1 with iPads.

  4. Richard,
    Great post as usual–two questions. First, in regard to item #3, do you know what new LMS platform the school will embrace? (We are asked to weigh in on this question often). The other question is whether or not in your estimation the optional keyboard attachment renders the iPad cumbersome, thereby undermining its most appealing feature? I have found the external keyboard with iPad mount to be very cool, although admittedly I’ve only test driven it in the store.

  5. Richard says:

    Mark, they are currently evaluating LMS options. Moodle is my LMS of choice, but it doesn’t yet have a good mobile app. Using it in a mobile web browser would be okay but not great — too much clicking on tiny links and entering edit mode in text areas.

    We did buy our test iPad unit with an Apple Bluetooth keyboard. No one ever checks it out with the device. I think that using an external keyboard would be fine at a desk but would compromise the portability of the setup, one of the iPad’s advantages over a laptop.