Why the iPad: Ease of Use

Categories: Gadgetry, The Classroom
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Published on: May 17, 2011

A key reason we selected the Apple iPad for our 1:1 investigation is its ease of use. With only one button on the front of the tablet, 99% of app functionality needs to be included on-screen, whether through gestures, the accelerometer, or touchable buttons, tabs, and widgets.

When we first broached the tablet idea in our District Improvement Team meetings, teachers were skeptical. Some of them continue to struggle with the change from Windows to Mac OS X, and they feared the same problem with the switch to a tablet. If they had to spend time figuring out a whole new operating system, it would not be near as successful in the classroom.

Furthermore, they knew they had to have the training to support the students. If a handful of students are struggling to keep up in the back of the room, it will bring the whole class to a screeching halt.

This is perfectly understandable. I explained to them the one-button setup, and how my own children use my iPad and iPod touch without any difficulties. When we first purchased an iPod touch, my then six-year-old son learned it quickly. He proceeded to teach our then four-year-old son to use it, and we didn’t find out about it until he borrowed it from me one day and I watched him switch between three different apps, unaided, in five minutes.

Little Bird on the iPad
Little Bird playing with a drawing app

Now my four-year-old daughter uses our iOS devices, and she loves the iPad. She does some flashcard alphabet games, uses the Toy Story app, and likes games where she can draw or dress up little princess figures.

The problem with this approach is teachers — and, to be fair, most adults — still don’t quite understand it. They’re used to keyboards and mice and windows and buttons and options everywhere. They haven’t seen a tablet of any kind, and they assume technology means learning.

We want this part of the argument out of the way as soon as possible. If teachers are afraid to learn the use of the device, it’s going to make it difficult to get them learning how to use the devices in class. The only way to do that is demos and hands-on experience.

To start with, we called a faculty meeting and gave a brief presentation on the iPad, including what it could do, an overview of some favorite apps, and discussed why schools are headed this direction and why the District Improvement Team felt it was the way to go as well.

This worked very well, and by the end of  the meeting, while some were still skeptical on the ease of use angle, most of the faculty agreed it was a good direction for our students. From there we recruited our iPad evaluation team, or our iPad PLC.

These twelve members will be receiving their iPads shortly. I’ll discuss more about how we’re handling their investigations in another post, but these twelve are itching to get their hands on the devices. A couple of them are still expecting a challenge, but at least they’re optimistic.

I’m confident the ease-of-use will hold true. Our board has gone paperless with iPads, and I have yet to have one of them call me for tech support; if any problems have come up, the superintendent has handled them. I had two teachers come to me for help with their personal iPhones, but it was because they didn’t know what settings to enter for our district mail servers or their home addresses, not for using the device. My in-laws have frequent problems with their PC laptop, but they use a lot of apps I’ve never heard of on their iPhones.

Students will pick them right up. In fact, at last count, we had over 80 student devices on the district network, many of them student iPods and iPads. (Yes, I allow this. Another topic for another post.) If they have been a distraction in class, I’ve not heard of it. If the students have had trouble getting on the network or adding their email accounts, they’ve not come to me for help.

At last we have devices that are truly easy to use, and that’s the best kind of device to get into a student’s hand for daily classroom use. When technology is part of every class, teaching that technology can’t get in the way of teaching the classroom material.

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