iTeach with iPad

As iPads gain in popularity, those in education are looking at ways that the iPad may improve teaching and learning in the classroom. Our superintendent has placed iPads in the hands of several district employees to see if our district might want to add these tools to our arsenal of instructional materials.

I was given an iPad to test out several months ago, and thus far, I must say I have mixed reviews.

When I first received the iPad I was excited to try it out and see how it could help in my classroom. Honestly, I had debated getting one for personal use as well, so this was a great opportunity to take one for a test drive. I hit my first obstacle when I learned that the wireless network in our school reaches everywhere, it seems, except my classroom. Although the district is working to remedy this issue, this severely limits how I had hoped to use this tool in my teaching. As a result, I started researching apps that could be purchased that would accomplish the same tasks I'd hoped to try in my classroom via the Internet.

Alas, although the marketplace is flooded with tons of tools, games, and other apps, it seems that there are not many good tools when it comes to teacher productivity. There are lots of educational apps that would be great for kids to use if each child had an iPad at his/her disposal, but virtually none that are helpful when there's only one iPad in the room. Additionally, many of the educational apps I have discovered seem to be geared toward a younger audience than middle school, so even in a perfect world where each child has an iPad, there aren't many apps that would be useful in a middle school tech classroom that is already equipped with computers for student use.

Another downside I've discovered is that although the size of the iPad is nice in terms of screen real estate, carrying it around in the classroom as you navigate from one child to the next is a bit cumbersome. If it was just a bit more narrow and a bit lighter, it would be much more comfortable to carry one handed...

Other disappointments for me have included the Safari browser. Many websites do not display properly or in their entirety through Safari, and websites with Flash don't run at all, as you can't use Flash with Safari. In fact, I am typing this blog on the iPad, and most of the editing tool are not available. Worse, if I hadn't typed my blogs on a laptop in the past, I would not even realize that tools are missing. When I first got the iPad and discovered the limitations of Safari, I tried to find another browser such as Firefox or even Explorer, but at the time, neither were available for the iPad.

The lack of a USB port is also problematic. I'm currently out of state and traveling with my jump drive that has a password storage program on it with all my passwords, but I can't access it. This limits my access to the App store, as it always prompts for your password to download apps or updates. So I find myself locked out of the App store, among other things.

On the upside, iPad is super handy for traveling otherwise. It is lightweight as compared to a laptop, and powers on very quickly, giving you instant access to apps and Internet when you want it. It's also very pleasant to use in terms of user interface, which is great especially if you intend to have students use the iPad in the classroom, as they will learn to use it in no time whatsoever. Although I must admit I don't love typing and editing text on it. I'm sure that I have not yet learned all the tricks, but scrolling, navigating to certain parts in the document, and just typing in general are all frustrating.

At the end of January, those of us who have been given an iPad to experiment with will be getting together to share ideas and ways that we've found to use the iPad in education, so I am very much looking forward to that. It will be interesting to see what other educators think of it thus far. I hope that before then I'll have wireless access in my classroom so that I may take full advantage of the tools iPad has to offer.

I am also working with some friends to create an app that will hopefully provide an assessment and productivity tool for teachers to use in the classroom, though I am sworn to secrecy on the details until we release the first version. :)

Overall, I would currently give the iPad about a "C" both as a classroom tool and as a personal tool...but my opinion is in no way fully formed. Certainly, it could be a fantastic tool if purchased as a class set, and obviously potentially cheaper than a standard computer lab or laptop cart. If and when textbooks become accessible on iPads, then iPads could easily become invaluable.

I am eager to learn more classroom application ideas from my fellow educators and even more excited to see how the app I am creating with friends will turn out. I am sure I will have more to say about the iPad then!

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