At first blush, the idea of using the iPad for educational purposes seems like a no-brainer. Its capacity to load books is practically unlimited, it opens up new, immersive possibilities with multimedia, and it connects to that infinite bucket of knowledge called the Internet.
Even at this early stage in the tablet game, there are early signs that schools are embracing tablets like the iPad. The latest is a survey showing that IT professionals expect tablets to outnumber desktop machines in schools within the next five years.
The results, revealed by a Piper Jaffray analyst, point to the growing popularity of the iPad among technology directors at schools, all of whom are already testing and deploying the device on some level. The survey cited didn't have the biggest sample size (only 25 were polled), but the trend is consistent with other reports we've seen, and certainly Apple has been pushing the device for educational purposes.
Of course, the terms "tablet" and "iPad" are more or less interchangeable at this point, as Apple continues to dominate the space quite heavily. We expect to see this change as Android's market share grows and as new entrants like Amazon's Kindle Fire start shipping. Crucially, the success of competing devices will likely have the overall effect of driving tablet prices down, thereby making them even more attractive for use in schools.
Pros and Cons
As prices drop and educational apps continue to proliferate, devices like the iPad will only become more useful in the education space. Storing textbooks on the device is less of a physical burden than carrying them around, and it may even help drive their astronomical costs down. Beyond that, native applications designed to help students learn about a wide range of topics continue to be developed, and surely anything missing will be covered somewhere on the Internet.
The approach also comes with its challenges. In many classrooms today, distractibility is already an issue, especially as kids bring smartphones to class. Even simpler feature phones have text messaging, which is all disinterested students need to entertain themselves. Handing every student an iPad or similar tablet device could open up a world of new distractions if the right controls aren't in place. For every chemistry or calculus learning app, there's a chat thread on Facebook.
Administering the devices from an IT standpoint can be challenging in a school environment, something that's already being felt in the enterprise market. It's an issue that school IT directors are already dealing with in school districts that hand out laptops to students.
Still, these are relatively minor issues, none of them insurmountable. Once they're overcome and the pricing of the devices allows for widespread adoption across economic groups, we can reasonably expect the tablet to play an integral role in the classroom of the future.