iPad and Education

Since the iPad was first announced there has been a lot of talk about its uses for education. Specifically, the focus has been on college and university students. I would like to take a look at younger grades, elementary and middle school students. Students in these grades have not yet developed the way they take in data or their own study habits. These students would be more open to learning with new technologies and get a greater benefit. A student that grew up learning with technology will be more prepared in the future, rather than just giving them technology in college at the latter end of their academic career.


There is a utilitarian design to the iPad. It has the bare minimum of buttons and moving parts. This means a simpler device to use and less things to break from classroom use.

The unique design has raised a question on how you are going to hold it? After using the iPad for the past two weeks, this was never a concern. Something about it feels natural to hold and to work on. I have little doubt that a student would have any trouble using the device.

The iPad seems to be the perfect size for school use. Its big enough to read and type on, and small enough to take with you. I could see these device being used both in and outside the classroom. Students can take the iPad with them on field trips.

Imagine a student walking around the museum and being able to research and take notes on the things they are seeing in real-time. If they want more information on a dinosaur they are looking at, they can open up an app or just surf the web to get the information instantly. Bookmark or note the content for later classroom discussion. Even use the dictionary to look up words they don't understand.

This seems the biggest physical advantage of the iPad. The size and set up allows for use outside of a computer lab. You can use the iPad while walking around. You don't need to open it up or set it on a desk as you would with a laptop/netbook. And with a 10 hour battery life, you can go an entire school day without needing to plug-in the device to charge.

There is a built-in speaker. I would compare it to a slightly better cell phone speaker. It'll work if you are alone or in a quiet area. Be prepared to plug a speaker or headphones into it, especially if you are going to do any kind of music related project or using it to present to a class.

Apple makes a VGA adapter for the iPad, so it is possible to project lessons for your class, or have students present work they have done on the iPad. As with all Apple first-party accessories it is priced at a premium ($29.99), but you should only need one for an entire class.

The screen itself is one of the clearest screens I've seen. It's one of the things most people are surprised about when they first use the device. Text is clear and crisp. Any graphic or illustration will display great. You'll find reading on the iPad easier on your eyes than reading text on the average computer monitor.

The hardware isn't perfect though. With it being so thin and light, a case of some kind will most likely be needed for regular classroom use. I can't see the iPad lasting very long in a backpack without some kind of ruggedized case, and something to protect the screen. This adds to the overall price of the device.

The screen also seems to be a magnate for fingerprints. The brightness of the screen will minimizes most of this when the device is on. I would suggest getting a screen protector of some kind or a cloth to clean the screen regularly if you are using the iPad in a classroom setting.


If you've used an iPhone or an iPod touch the software should be familiar, but let's be clear, the iPad is not a giant iPod touch. The bigger screen really does make a world of difference in the usefulness and functionality of the device and its applications. As Michael Gartenberg described it "While the iPad may look like a large iPod touch, in terms of computing, it's much closer in functionality to a PC than a phone." (Engadget).

The iPad is quick and responsive, faster than both the iPhone and iPod touch, with almost no lag. In the two weeks I have been using the device, I have yet to encounter any sluggishness or freezing.

The software is intuitive. The touch navigation and interaction feels more natural. If you want to move something across the screen you just touch and drag. Students are able to interact with data and information more. Rather than just point and click, students are able to actually touch the screen and make changes. It's just an overall more enjoyable computing experience.

When in landscape mode, the keyboard is quite large. I was able to type with two hands without a problem. Within a couple of days of use I was typing as fast as I would need to. You have the option to pair a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad if you just can't live without a physical keyboard. The iPad offers the same auto-correct features as the iPhone and iPod touch, so any minor typing errors are fixed as you go.

The biggest part of the iPad software is the App Store. Out of the box the iPad doesn't do much, aside from email, web surfing, and basic note taking. It's the amazing apps of developers that really make the iPad a useful device. There are many free apps, as well as paid ones. There is even a category in the App Store dedicated to educational apps, for easy searching.

There are currently over 5000 iPad apps available in the App Store. Apps ranges from graphing calculators, photo editing, drawing, and periodic tables. We will go into more specific apps in another article.

E-Books and Textbooks

The iPad has been compared to the Kindle and other E-book readers of the kind, but it doesn't seem like a fair comparison. They are different devices, aimed at different things. The iPad is a device that does many things, the Kindle (and like devices) are made for a single purpose. The Kindle achieves that single goal, to read books.

I tested reading books on both the Kindle and iPad. While the Kindle was more enjoyable to read novel and 'beginning to end' style books, the iPad did a good enough job. I was fine reading a book on the iPad, and could see it being used by students for required reading assignments.

Where the iPad will excel is reading textbooks and for research projects. The color touch screen and speed of the iPad makes it much easier to navigate through books. You can skip to different sections quickly and with ease, mimicking flipping through the pages of a textbook (somethings the Kindle does not handle well). You can search.

"If there is no other reason to digitize text books, the ability to search would be enough" Adam Rivard

There is no looking through a glossary. Books on the iPad have similar functionality to how you would navigate through a website. You can search for specific terms and find them instantly throughout the book. This would be very useful for doing research and studying, being able to isolate sections for reading.

Apple makes an E-book App called iBooks. There are also numerous other e-reading applications available, including a Kindle App. With different apps available, the iPad is also able to support a bigger range of file types. The iBooks App will open .epub format books, and the Kindle App will open .azw and .mobi files for example. All of the public domain (free) books that are available on the Kindle are also available on the iPad.

The iPad is a great educational device. I can see it being utilized both inside and outside the classroom. Students would benefit greatly from all the features and functions. Data will come quicker and easier, which adds to the overall classroom learning experience.

Any questions or discussion, leave it in the comments.

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