Debunking six common concerns that may cause schools to shy away from iPads

As the principal of a school looking to upgrade the technology available to students a couple of years ago, we faced the dilemma of going the traditional route of purchasing laptops or branching off in a new direction and giving iPads a try.

When looking at the possibility of adopting iPads as our main technology devices at our school, there were definitely some concerns that were discussed.  I do feel many of the concerns we had are the main reasons why schools are hesitant to adopt the iPad.

The following are the main concerns we faced or are typical concerns of schools looking into the iPads.   My school did end up purchasing iPads and, two years later, and we couldn’t be happier with the decision.  In my school’s use of the iPads, we have found most of these concerns we had to not be an issue or were far outweighed by the benefits of adopting the iPad.

The Difficulty of Typing on a Screen

Of all the concerns we discussed, this was the biggest concern we had for adopting the iPads.  Typing on a screen just isn’t as effective as typing on a traditional keyboard.  However, I was surprised how effective the students became at typing on the iPad screens after a little practice.  If you can touch type on a computer you can also touch type on an iPad fairly effectively.  For shorter typing projects like an essay or writing in a journal, the touch screens work well enough for typing.  Very rarely did our needs in our middle school classrooms ever go beyond this anyways.  However, for typing longer reports or essays, typing on the screen will take a little bit longer.  It is certainly doable, but not completely ideal.

Typing on the iPad works well enough for less intense and shorter typing projects.

Typing on the iPad works well enough for less intense and shorter typing projects.

Fortunately, there is a way to remedy this. The iPad is built to work with Bluetooth wireless keyboards.  Bluetooth keyboards can be purchased at a cost of anywhere between $20-$80.  They are fairly easy to pair up with the iPad and work very well for bringing a computer-like typing experience to the iPad.  This does add an additional cost to the iPads, but even with a purchased keyboard, the iPads still are far cheaper than all but the cheapest laptops.

The Difficulty of Printing Documents

It is true that printing is not as natural from an iPad as it is on a computer.  However, one of the neat things about the iPad is that printing isn’t needed as often.  For instance, students can easily trade iPads to proof read each other’s drafts and teachers can easily digitally “hand out” a document to all students instantaneously using the iPad.

Yet, when the time comes when you do wish to print a document, the process can be set up to be done rather easily.  The easiest way to print from an iPad is to purchase an AirPrint compatible printer.  Many newer printers are made to support AirPrint.  This means that the printer is able to connect to your wireless network and easily communicate with iPads or other Apple devices.  Selecting print from within an iPad app, such as Pages, will cause the iPad to search your wireless network for a compatible printer.  It will locate any AirPrint compatible printers and be able to immediately print a document to them.   There is no set up or installation to this process other than turning on the wireless printer.

An iPad seamlessly locating an AirPrint compatible printer in a classroom.

An iPad seamlessly locating an AirPrint compatible printer in a classroom.

Other printers that have wireless capabilities, with a little tweaking or installation of software, can also be used with iPads.  This isn’t quite as straightforward as having a printer that supports AirPrint, but if your school has someone who is good at setting up technology, they should be able to get this up and running.

Another option for printing is available if you have a Mac computer hooked up to a printer.  Downloading a $20 program called Printopia 2 will allow that Mac to receive and print documents from any iPad.  This program is available from http://www.ecamm.com/mac/printopia/.

A Smaller Tablet Can be Easier to Lose than a Laptop

It is true that the smaller size of an iPad can make it harder to keep track of in a busy school.  The number one way that our school has remedied this is by not allowing the students to take the iPads home.  iPads are strictly for school use.  Any documents that are begun by students at school can easily be emailed to the student or their parents within seconds from any iPad to then be worked on at home.  All of our iPads are set up with a school email address that students can use to send documents home and then email those documents back to their iPad at school.

We have also set up specific counter in our classrooms where the iPads are always to be stored when not in use.  Students are not allowed to keep the iPads at their desks or store them anywhere else between uses.  This allows the teacher to always do a quick eye count at the end of each class to make sure all the iPads are accounted for before dismissing students out of the room.

By adhering to these two rules we have yet to misplace or lose an iPad.

iPads are Fragile

While it is true that an iPad screen can be cracked or dented if it is dropped, I would argue that the same would be true for almost any laptop computer as well.  However, we made sure to purchase cases for each of the iPads and they have never been removed from these cases for the duration of ownership.  The cases protect the iPads fairly well from any drops from students’ hands or desks.  We have yet to lose an iPad because of a drop.  There are an abundance of low cost, high quality cases available on Amazon.com for $10 or less so this doesn’t have to be an extremely high cost.

The Gorilla Glass of the iPad is really very scratch resistant.  It is not worth it to purchase any form of screen protection.  There are even recorded tests online of people scratching the screen with everything from coins to nails and the screen not suffering any damage.  After heavy use by kids that aren’t always so gentle on the machines, I have yet to notice any scratches forming on the screens of any of our iPads.

The iPad screens are incredibly durable and stand up well to scratching from things like keys.

The iPad screens are incredibly durable and stand up well to scratching from things like keys.

Will iPads be Compatible with Microsoft Office and Windows?

One reason I have heard for avoiding iPads is the fact that people are worried their files they create on an iPad won’t be compatible with their Windows computer or that the documents they have already made on a Windows computer won’t work with the iPad. I am happy to say that these fears are unfounded.

Apples official document editing apps, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, are all able to open and edit Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Power Point files respectively.  The Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps are also able to save and email files in a format readable by Microsoft Office.  This allows students and teachers to easily create documents on the iPad and work with those same documents on their home computers or vice versa.

Emailing documents from iWork apps always give you the option to email them for Microsoft Office compatibility.

Emailing documents from iWork apps always give you the option to email them for Microsoft Office compatibility.

There are also a handful of apps on the app store that are made to specifically create and edit Microsoft Office documents if someone would like to work directly with those types of files.

Limited Storage Space – Especially on Entry Level 16GB iPads

There was talk about whether or not we needed to purchase a higher capacity iPad for our school.  However, I am happy to say that the 16GB iPad has been more than sufficient for our needs.  While 16GB does not sound like a lot of space these days, it is easy to forget that programs made for the iPad take up far less space than the average computer program.  A typical app only takes up about 50-200 megabytes.  Some apps are only a few megabytes in size.  We have never come close to filling our iPads with programs as of yet.

If the time comes where more storage space is needed, Apple’s iCloud service makes it easy to delete apps and then reinstall them at a later time very quickly.  All the apps you purchase on the App Store are saved in Apple’s “cloud.”  This cloud can be accessed easily from the App Store on an iPad and a list is shown of all the apps that have been purchased.  Reinstalling the app is as easy as clicking install next to the app’s name in the previously purchased apps list.  Only a few minutes later, that app is installed and ready to go.

The point is, apps are easily installed and uninstalled, so storage space, even with the smallest 16 GB model, should never really be an issue.  Larger files, like video and audio files, are also stored in the “Cloud” and can easily be downloaded, deleted, and re-downloaded again whenever they are needed for a class.

Conclusion – Are iPads in Your School’s Future?

I truly feel these six concerns are some of the main reasons why schools may be reluctant to give iPads a try in the classroom.  I am thankful that the leaders of my school were willing to take a a leap of faith and give a new type of technology a shot.

I think a recent conversation I had with one of the teachers on my staff sums up very well the success of implementing the iPads at our school.  This teacher, herself, admitted that technology is not one of her strong suits and she wasn’t sure how well she would do at implementing a new technology into the classroom.  However, she recently told me how amazed she is at how easy it was to grasp how to use the iPads and come up with creative uses for them every day in the classroom.   She mentioned that it would be hard for her to ever go back to traditional laptops in the classroom again after experiencing all the positives the iPad brings.

If you are considering adopting iPads at your school, I can speak from experience when I say don’t let the above six concerns hold you back.  We have found them to be a non issue or so far outweighed by the benefits of the versatile iPad that we don’t see ourselves ever returning to the traditional computer model.

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  • http://twitter.com/bizmark bizmark

    Your mileage might vary with printing depending on how your network infrastructure is set up. Apple uses its Bonjour protocol for a number of services, AirPrint and AirPlay being the two big ones. Those services are unavailable on many enterprise-level wireless systems because of how Apple has engineered Bonjour to work. It’s something of a hot-button issue with Enterprise IT with Apple talking about “fixing” the issue, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

    AirPrint simply doesn’t work in our district. Printopia is a great app…but also doesn’t work because it relies on the same Bonjour technology to do its thing.

    Bottom line, printing can still be a very real issue.

    • http://www.isource.com/ brandon

      This a billion times over. Printing is so easy … a caveman could do it. And so could a 6th grader, to the principal’s printer, and the superintendents printer, and the printer in the next classroom over.

      Yes, AirPrint is drop dead simple, but because it’s so simple and there is no configuration, there is no way to prevent printers from being accessed when they shouldn’t. Apple saw this issue with AirPlay and the Apple TV. They came up with a solution months and months later, but so far printing has yet to be addressed.

      Apple pushes iPads hard to education, but unfortunately they still aren’t read for an organization larger than a classroom.

  • http://twitter.com/bizmark bizmark

    Your mileage might vary with printing depending on how your network infrastructure is set up. Apple uses its Bonjour protocol for a number of services, AirPrint and AirPlay being the two big ones. Those services are unavailable on many enterprise-level wireless systems because of how Apple has engineered Bonjour to work. It’s something of a hot-button issue with Enterprise IT with Apple talking about “fixing” the issue, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

    AirPrint simply doesn’t work in our district. Printopia is a great app…but also doesn’t work because it relies on the same Bonjour technology to do its thing.

    Bottom line, printing can still be a very real issue.

  • Lanny – Collobos

    Hi Brad, I’d like to add to the discussion our iPad printing solution that is applicable and appropriate for virtually ALL schools.

    Lanny with http://www.collobos.com here. 95% + of schools have a PC environment running their IT infrastructure. Our product FingerPrint is completely unique in that it runs on PC’s/servers and enables the existing connected printers/MFP’s to become AirPrint capable. For IT Pro’s, it also runs as a service. FingerPrint is widely used in the education space and is a far less expensive option than purchasing a new printer. A mac version is available as well.

  • Lisa Michael-Hall

    Interestingly, my partner was using my iPad the other day and has dyslexia but he found typing on my iPad easier… regarding printing, we do it at the college where i work and got a bespoke app set up from a company called eurosmartz which enables easy printing from iphones or ipads when needed

  • Lisa Michael-Hall

    Interestingly, my partner was using my iPad the other day and has dyslexia but he found typing on my iPad easier… regarding printing, we do it at the college where i work and got a bespoke app set up from a company called eurosmartz which enables easy printing from iphones or ipads when needed

  • sean money

    “teachers can easily digitally “hand out” a document to all students instantaneously using the iPad”

    How is this done? Email? Google Docs?