Is the iPad ready to replace the traditional pen and paper in schools?
We at MGL have been testing the iPad as a potential replacement for pen and paper since the release of the first iPad in March, 2010. It wasn’t ready back then despite some exciting advantages over laptops.
iPad1 had multi-touch technology and a beautiful screen that made consuming content so much more natural (than a laptop). Reading or watching content on the iPad was a far more superior experience than the similarly priced (and even high-end) laptops. The second standout feature was battery life, at 10 hours of normal use. In contrast, the laptops in 2010 were lucky if the battery lasted 4 hours. In fact, most of the laptops had a battery life of about 2 hours. The top laptop’s battery today still lags behind that of the iPad. Lastly, the thinness and light weight design of the iPad added to the portability and convenience of using the iPad in everyday activities. iPad2 was even a bigger improvement on this feature. The weight of a device, which could potentially replace all notebooks and textbooks, is a huge factor. Despite these advantages, it lacked some fundamental features.
- The iPad lacked file system where students could easily store and transfer files.
- It lacked Microsoft Office or the ones that exist lacked too many features of Office (i.e. word, excel, power point), which are crucial for students.
- More importantly, it didn’t have a suitable App which could replace the pen and paper for students take notes and study.
To put it simply, iPad was terrible when it came to creating content.
However, drastic improvements were made in the in the last two years.
In the same order as above:
- Dropbox: Dropbox is a cloud solution for a file system. Any files in the iPad can be stored in Dropbox and can easily be accessed through your desktop or laptop. As long as iPad is connected online, this is an amazing solution to store all of your files. One caveat: there is a limit of 2 Gig of storage in the free version of the app. However, this should be plenty for school notes.
- Apple Apps: Pages, Numbers, Keynote are now excellent replacements and should be able to do everything the Microsoft office suite should be able to do for students. There are also, unlike 2010, excellent Bluetooth keyboards like Logitech Ultra-thin keyboards to work just as efficient as you would on a laptop.
- Notablity: an excellent note taking/organizing app. Notability is an app with students in mind. It allows you to type and hand write (with a stylus or finger). It further allows you to organize all of your notes by topic in folders. You can then search your notes by name and date (which is far more efficient than a ring binder notes). It will take a little bit of time for students to get used to taking the notes on the iPad but once used to it, students shouldn’t need paper or pen/pencil anymore. There are also other apps that do something similar such as Note Taker HD. Comparing these apps in detail should be left to a separate post. But ultimately, I found Notability to be the best designed app of the bunch, especially for students who will need to type as well as hand write.
When I say, “Is the iPad ready schools?”, I’m thinking for subjects like Math, English, History, Social Sciences, Sciences, Business and Accounting. The iPad is ready to replace pen and paper for these subjects. There is one exception: computer science. Programming environment cannot be set up on the iPad. For computer science (namely, programming), desktops and laptops are the way to go.
We at MGL have been making it mandatory to do all the math programs on the iPad for all of our students for about 3 months and have been testing it on a sample groups for 6 months prior to that. Most students’ first reaction was intrigue and all students were highly engaged in doing their math on the iPad. Among the 100 students only two students complained that they would rather go back to paper. Watching some of the grade 6 to 8 students and how good they interacted with the iPad, I can’t imagine them using pen and paper by the time they get to University over an iPad.
To implement the iPad in schools will still require someone who is very knowledgeable about the iPad, Apple eco-system and the apps I mentioned above. Despite significant improvements made on the iPad in terms of ease of usability, the teacher still needs to understand the way students can potentially abuse the iPad in the classroom.