The PC is dead, long live the iPad
If reports from some schools are to be believed, the interactive whiteboard, the PC and the laptop are all obsolete. The iPad is the new king of classroom technology.
Apple's popular device has sold more than 80 million units since its launch in 2010, single-handedly sparking a new market for tablet computers worldwide. Educators started seeing the benefits of the iPad as a teaching tool within weeks of its release, and soon found creative ways to introduce it into the classroom.
So what is it about the iPad that makes it so attractive to schools? And what are the potential downsides for those planning to switch?
Simon Pridham, head of the 200-pupil Casllwchwr Primary in Swansea, says it is a more natural use of technology than other computing devices.
"The iPad gives you the world at your fingertips 24 hours a day," he says. "Take an ICT suite in a school - you take pupils into a room for an afternoon to use the computers, which they might have to share, and then they don't go back into that room for a week.
"That's not a natural use of technology. With the iPad, pupils have the internet, a camera, a notebook, a sound recorder and a range of other tools at their fingertips, instantly."
Mr Pridham introduced iPads to Casllwchwr two years ago as part of a wider effort to increase literacy levels among pupils, particularly boys.
Hoping to engage and enthuse his pupils with new technology, Mr Pridham borrowed an iPad and began to explore its possible uses, including helping to improve literacy. He bought 10 iPads, one for each of his teachers, and then a further 20 for pupils to use.
Soon, every classroom was equipped with a widescreen television hooked up to Apple TV - a digital media receiver that can play content from a variety of sources - and a dedicated broadband line was installed. In September this year, every key stage 2 pupil (P4-7) was given their own iPad to use for the duration of their stay at Casllwchwr.
Although the devices are currently school-based, pupils will be allowed to take them home from the start of the spring term, providing they bring them back every day.
"The main benefit of the iPad is that it is instant and simple to use," Mr Pridham says. "Take literacy, for example. You can use iBooks Author to create interactive books with the pupils, the GarageBand music app to enhance poetry and storytelling, and games apps that enthuse and excite pupils into reading."
Mr Pridham says a recent Year 5 (P5) lesson on the water cycle provided a perfect example of what can be achieved with an iPad: "After researching the water cycle on the internet, some of the pupils went outside to take photos to illustrate their work, while others used art apps to draw it out on the screen.
"One boy used the camera to take photos of the sun, clouds and water, and then used an app to change them into an animation," he says. "He used word-processing to add labels and recorded his own voice-over, before screening it to the Apple TV in the classroom. All that from one device. And we are seeing that sort of thing every day. Children are becoming more engaged in their learning."
Mr Pridham says other tablet devices simply do not compare with what the iPad is offering. "The beauty of Apple over Android is that everything is linked. You can have your iMac, iPhone and iPad all linked to a widescreen TV via Apple TV.
"Also, the killer apps are all on Apple. You are not necessarily going to get all those apps on the other devices.
"In my opinion, the whiteboard is dead. All you need now is an iPad and Apple TV and you can do so much more. It is technology that truly engages and enthuses children. If you're asking pupils to come to school and use a PC and then they go home and use an iPad, they're not going to be turned on or enthused by what you have to offer."
Casllwchwr's approach seems to have paid off. In January this year it won the Third Millennium Learning Award from ICT association Naace, for pushing the boundaries of learning through technology.
Casllwchwr is one of a growing number of schools to give every pupil an iPad. One of the first and most widely known was Cedars School of Excellence, in Greenock, Scotland.
In 2010, the 100-pupil independent school was already equipped with a dozen iMacs and a dozen iBooks, but teachers were increasingly requesting flexible access to the internet for their pupils.
Fraser Speirs, the school's head of computing, at first considered the iPod Touch as a personal device for each pupil, but the inability to connect to a physical keyboard or a projector rendered it unsuitable. The newly released iPad could do both and seemed to be the answer to the school's problem. Cedars made a leasing agreement with the local Apple Store and started receiving iPads for its pupils.
"The challenge when we started was to explain what the iPad was and what the educational benefits were."
For Mr Speirs, the most important benefit was that the school would remain "relevant" in the eyes of its pupils. "Many pupils these days have their own smartphones and you are a hostage to fortune if they bring their own devices into school. We wanted to pre-empt that problem."
He is also not tempted to switch to other tablet brands. "It's not worth it," he says. "Those tablets comparable to iPads are more expensive, while those cheaper are not comparable. The big problem with the Android platform is it just doesn't have the apps that Apple does. For us they are the key thing. We use a lot of high-end, powerful creativity apps."
Mr Speirs says that, at Cedars, pupil engagement with and enthusiasm for learning has increased "dramatically" since the introduction of the new technology. When the three-year lease on the iPads runs out next year, the school will probably move on to the latest model, but Mr Speirs says there is no question of reverting to laptops or even of buying a different tablet.
In fact, Cedars may even cut back on the non-iPad technology it has. A common concern among parents and teachers at schools switching to the iPad is pupil security, both online and physically when they take the technology outside school.
In terms of online security, both Casllwchwr and Cedars filter their entire networks rather than each individual iPad.
At Casllwchwr, pupils are not allowed to access the internet without teacher supervision. Although Mr Pridham acknowledges there is no way to block any device or network completely, he is confident the school has made its iPads as safe and secure as possible. It deploys a web-filtering service that sifts out 60 different areas of the internet, including gaming, social media and pornography. Teachers can even specify individual websites to block.
This term, Casllwchwr is educating its pupils - and their parents - on using the iPad safely before they are ready to take it home next year.
As regards physical safety, both schools have insurance as part of their lease agreements, and advise pupils to give up the iPads straight away if they are threatened outside school, rather than try to fight for them.
Schools may be concerned about the cost of the iPads, but the leasing agreements that Casllwchwr and Cedars have in place are affordable, say the teachers.
Cedars' agreement works out at pound;12.50 per iPad per month including insurance, while Casllwchwr is leasing 120 iPads, each with insurance and casing, for a total of pound;23,500 per year for three years.
But for every teacher who waxes lyrical about the iPad's benefits, there's another despairing over its limits.
An anonymous ICT coordinator at a secondary school in the UK recently wrote to PC Pro magazine, saying that he and his colleagues were "full of regret" that their "image-conscious" head was seduced by a scheme allowing them to replace their laptops with iPad 2s.
"Most staff are IT illiterate and jumped at the chance of exchanging their laptop for an iPad," he wrote.
But, he said, the same teachers were now finding problems with the iPad's technical limits, including the lack of familiar software such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, in which they had created useful documents and resources.
Staff were also having problems transferring work to their devices because of the lack of USB connectivity, the teacher added.
E-learning expert Donald Clark says there is a lot of "tech snobbery" around the iPad. "The iPad is not particularly good for writing or note- taking in class, because touch-screen keyboards are not efficient," he says. "The screen is not particularly good for readability either, compared with an e-book reader like a Kindle. The problem with this Apple push is that the costs are so high compared with other tablets and technology that is coming along."
He adds: "I think the reason teachers are so enamoured with them is because it reminds them of the slate. It's an evolution of the presentation medium of the slate, the blackboard and the whiteboard."
TIPS ON HOW TO USE IPADS IN THE CLASSROOM
- Tell FaceTime stories - have older children read stories to younger pupils in different classrooms via the iPad's video-calling software.
- Start a band - get pupils to use different musical instrument apps to make music together.
- Create a Twitter story - start a story and have pupils write the rest of it, 140 characters at a time.
- Use the GarageBand music app to enhance poetry and storytelling.
Some useful apps for education:
- Book Creator and iBooks Author - both allow you to create and publish books.
- Brushes - a popular, simple painting app.
- Garage Band - a music editing app. It can also be used to record podcasts.
- Google Earth - use it to explore the world virtually and enhance geography lessons.
- iMovie - for film editing.
- iThoughts HD - a mind-mapping tool.
- iTunes U - the world's largest online library of free, educational content.
- Keynote - use it to create and share presentations.
- Khan Academy - maths and science tutorials.
- Pages - a word-processing app that lets you add photos, graphics and videos.
- Star Walk - an astronomy app that identifies and maps constellations as you point the iPad at the sky.