iPads in Education

Two of the most popular sessions at EdcampMN this year were on iPads: iPads in Primary and iPads in Intermediate. iPads have also been a dominating force at nearly every conference I have attended or followed this past year. A lot of this has been driven by Apple’s aggressive marketing and leasing programs for schools.  At least ten districts I know of in Minnesota will be going full-on 1:1 k-12 with iPads across the whole district.  Many other schools are doing smaller iPad integration programs (one school, one grade level, one subject area, etc.).

These tablet devices are great and have captivated the attention of a lot of people but I can’t help but wonder if it is the best choice.  Marshal McLuhan tells us that in the electronic age the “media is the message.” By that he means that it is not so important what the content of the media is but the effect the media has on us and our social environment.  He also classifies media as having either “hot” or “cold” qualities.  A “cold” media is one that relies on the user for the content. The telephone is a cold media because the content is completely controlled by the user.  Conversely radio, newspaper, and television are “hot” media in that the user has little control but is greatly affected by the media.  Under this definition, compared with the desktop or laptop the iPad is a relatively “hot” media.


iOS devices are largely consumer-oriented and closed systems.  You cannot program an app for the iPad on the iPad. Plus, a lot of what I hear schools list as reasons for iPad adoption involve content-heavy rhetoric surrounding content delivery rather than content creation. At the same time there seems to be a decline in teaching computer programming in schools.  Last month at the ISTE conference in San Diego, the largest education technology conference in the world, there was only one poster session (and not one breakout session or featured session) devoted to engaging students with programming and that session was geared toward teaching kids how to make their own mobile apps.

So, if the “medium is the message,” what is the message that the iPad brings? Is there anything we should stop and consider about its adoption?


3 thoughts on “iPads in Education

  1. If I am in a cynical mood, I’d say the message is one of continuous partial attention. The iPad perpetuates the myth of the multitasker. As a convergence device, the iPad puts too many distractions at our finger tips. As I’ve been typing this response, I have received five messages and eight emails, been reminded it is my turn in three Words With Friends games and two Chess With Friends games, and checked my Fantasy Baseball roster twice.

    The ultimate message is nothing is worth our full, undivided attention.

    • I definitely agree that the iPad can be very distracting at times. The iPad and other convergence devices make it hard to give complete focus to one task at hand, which is typically more productive than multitasking. If the iPad is really sending the message of continuous partial attention and increasing the expansion of multitasking I wonder if this will decrease productivity in schools and with our future workforce.

  2. I am working in a school district that is going 1:1 k-12 with iPads across the whole district this fall. With this push to incorporate a device district wide where the user has little control over its content it does seem that schools are moving away from a focus on content creation and computer programming. The focus seems to be on how to use apps and software that has already been created. If this is true, and we are no longer teaching kids how to create software, I wonder if we will continue to move forward with technology at the speed we currently are or if there will be slower jumps in technology due to a group that is very proficient at using technology when placed in front of them, but that lacks skills in the area of developing new programs/software.

    I also wonder if there is other technology out there that might be as good or better to use in the schools with children as iPads, but that might not be getting the attention the iPad is due to less strategic marketing techniques.

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