Just Say NO to iPads for Education, Part 2: iPads Do NOT Meet Today’s Educational Needs

Let’s look at a possible scenario for educational needs in a classroom. Let’s say we are teaching 5th grade math, and the standards are broken down into different topics based on how important or essential it is to learn those particular topics in 5th grade. The breakdown of the number of questions that will be on the standardized test at the end of the year looks like this:

Based on this example, what would you teach to your students? Of course, it is all important, but what would you spend most of your time making sure they really knew and understood? The largest piece of the pie, of course. Well, the same type of thinking should apply to what we teach and use with regards to computer technology.

As I discussed in my video “iPads: Wave of the Future or Passing Fad”, nobody knows what the distant future holds for computing. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what the distant future holds, because computer devices die out and become obsolete within a few years anyway… this goes for any computer device, but especially battery-powered ones like laptops and iPads. A good general guideline is that computer devices last about 4 years before they need to be replaced or upgraded.

What really matters when it comes to educational technology is not the distant future, but what type of device is going to best prepare our students for the world of today and tomorrow. So we must ask ourselves: what are the educational needs of today?

The central purpose of education has been debated throughout history, but a primary goal of education is to prepare students to be independent, responsible workers and citizens. So, the end goal is being employed and productive members of society. There are many steps to reach that end goal, such as early foundations in math and literacy, which then progress to more complex thinking and problem solving in middle school and high school. But the end goal remains being gainfully employed in the real world.

Every step along the educational ladder should be concerned with preparing our students for the next steps ahead, so let’s start at the end of the educational journey, which these days usually means at least an undergraduate degree.

So what kinds of technology skills do colleges expect students to have? Here are the top results for a Google search of “college computer skills”:

Illinois Valley Community College:

SUMMARY: Colleges and universities don’t care if students know how to use tablets or smartphones; they want them to know how to use productivity software on actual computers — they want them to use Mac or (even more often) Windows desktop or laptop computers. They want them to be able to navigate a computer operating system, to create Microsoft Office documents, and to be proficient with a mouse and keyboard. This is reflected in the technology recommendations schools make to students.

Most major institutions of higher learning recommend either a Mac or Windows laptop or desktop:

Brown University:

Georgia State University:

Duke University:

Some schools, like Syracuse University, break down the recommended technology by different schools or colleges, which makes a lot of sense. In many cases, a Mac or PC will work. For video production and graphic design, Macs are used because they are generally an industry standard. For schools of business and government, Windows PCs are required:


Some schools, like Roanoke College, specifically support only Windows computers:


In none of these instances is the iPad indicated as an acceptable alternative to an actual computer.

In fact, many universities explicitly advise not to use an iPad instead of a computer:

Temple University:

Lynchburg College:

University of Mississippi School of Medicine:

Are these schools just out of touch or behind the times?

No. Remember that math example I showed you earlier? It wasn’t a breakdown of math standards. It’s a chart showing the actual percentage of devices that use various operating systems, according to NetMarketShare.com:

You can see that 84% of devices in the real world are still Windows computers. Like it or not, this means that there is a very good chance that right now, a graduating student will be attending a university or being hired by an employer that will require them to be proficient with using a laptop or desktop computer, and it will probably be a Windows PC. Only 6% of devices run iOS — and that number includes not only iPads but also iPhones and even iPod Touch. Out of all of the iOS devices that have been sold, about a quarter of them are iPads. So 90% of devices out there are actual computers, while less than 2% are iPads.

So how will becoming proficient with an iPad in school help our students when they graduate to college and the real world outside of the classroom doors?

If we look at what people are actually using in the workplace, and what kinds of skills employers are looking for, they strongly want their employees to know how to use actual computers, not other devices like smartphones or tablets.

To give an example, let’s just look at Monster.com job listings for the nearest big city to me: San Francisco, California. I will type in a variety of technology-related job skills and see how many job listings require those skills (and this area is going to be even more skewed in favor of Apple products, because Apple HQ is based in the Bay Area and a lot of other SF companies are in the multimedia/graphic design/advertising industry, which tends to use Macs):

Windows: 308 jobs
Mac OS: 53 jobs
Microsoft Office: 871 jobs
Adobe Creative Suite (requires Windows or Mac): 147 jobs
Chromebooks: “Sorry, no jobs were found that match your criteria”
iPad: 137 jobs ← However, it is important to see what these jobs actually are. Here’s the first page of listings:

Notice any common thread in these jobs? 100% of jobs that list “iPad” or “iPhone” or “iOS” as a required skill are job postings looking for developers (a.k.a. computer programmers.) Why is this important? Because development doesn’t occur on a tablet or smartphone; development is done using — you guessed it — an actual laptop or desktop computer! So even for jobs requiring knowledge of iPads, you still have to be proficient in using a computer — it can’t be replaced by an iPad!

Why is this? Maybe because actual desktop and laptop computers are far more useful for productivity and creation tasks. Tablets and smartphones are more of a consumer device – you use them to consume things like books and videos. They are not nearly as useful for production. A survey by Google’s AdMob subsidiary found that only 7% of people use tablets at work. And, despite the claim that they are “mobile” devices, they really aren’t — as I pointed out in my last video, iPads are far too bulky to truly be mobile. I mean, you can’t easily stick one in your pocket.  They are more like laptops, but they are essentially used as personal entertainment devices. Only 11% of people use them on the go. 82% of use occurs primarily at home.

And what do they use them for? Video games, surfing the web, emailing, watching videos and listening to music, and logging onto Facebook. Less than half of tablet owners even use them for reading e-books (which, in my opinion, is one of their best uses.)

How is a home entertainment device like this going to help our students acquire the problem solving and productivity skills they will need for their future careers?

Our job as educators is not to teach our kids how to be mere consumers — they will do that all on their own. They will learn how to watch YouTube videos, play video games, listen to music, and other leisure time activities simply because they have an innate desire to be entertained. No, my job as a teacher is to ensure that I give my students the skills to be producers, not just consumers. This means teaching them the skills employers are looking for… and that means using real computers and real productivity software, so that students can be prepared to work in the real world. And in the real world (not the world of advertisements, sales pitches, or misguided technology purchases by schools), tablets are not replacing computers. At least 2/3 of people who own a tablet still use their other devices the same amount — or more — than they used to.

Here are some pictures of work in the real world:


Notice anything? Computers are not being replaced by iPads. Not at NASA, not at the Wall Street Journal. Not even at cutting edge companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter. Not at Rovio, makers of the infamous Angry Birds app.

Not even at Apple Headquarters.

This is not to say that smartphones and tablets can’t have any use in the workplace. Smartphones can be essential communication tools, especially for workers that are on the go or frequently need to travel. Likewise, tablets can be useful for things like bringing to on-site locations for quick photos and documentation, or for showing a portfolio of proposals or previous work to a client. But the point is that these devices are not replacing computers – they are being used in addition to computers; as a peripheral device. Which is what they were designed to be.

A big problem for education is that schools are not using them this way. They are purchasing iPads instead of computers. If students are only exposed to iPads, how and when are they going to get the computer skills and experience they need to be successful in college and in the workforce? A lot of teachers argue that foregoing computers and using tablets instead is okay because we only need to focus on “the basics” such as reading e-books or playing math games for practice; that we don’t need to worry about computer literacy, we just need to worry about whether kids are learning those basic things they would have done even without the technology device.

I disagree.

Sure, we can always pass the buck and say “well, they’ll learn it later”, but how do we know that will happen? And when? If everybody from K through 12 takes this mentality, students enter into college unprepared and computer-illiterate. I would argue there is no reason not to have students using actual computers, laptops or netbooks starting as young as possible, so that they will become proficient in the computer skills that are going to give them a competitive advantage in the future. Elementary-age students can be just as proficient at using computers as they are with iPads… and ultrabook laptops (and possibly even Chromebooks) can do more than iPads at a much lower cost, while also giving students the skills and experience they will need in high school, college, and beyond.

Let me put this another way: If a standardized test was going to test your students on these skills, which ones would you try to make sure they know? Would you want them to practice the one that has a 10% likelihood of showing up on the test? Or the one that has a 90% likelihood of being required knowledge?

But this is not a standardized test. It’s more important. It’s real life.

So, to all you colleges, universities, and employers: You can expect your incoming students and employees to have less computer literacy, worse typing and keyboarding skills, and lower productivity, all thanks to the iPad being purchased at K-12 schools.

Having our students use iPads instead of computers is like teaching them finger painting instead of science.

Just Say NO to iPads For Education, Part 1: Wave of the Future, or Passing Fad?


A lot of people are claiming that tablets like iPads are the “Wave of the Future”, but what are they basing this on? When it comes to technology, the only thing we can be certain of is that nobody is certain what the future holds. Some technologies that have been declared the wave of the future have included Laser Discs and Palm Pilots. But these are only recent examples. We can see many such flawed examples of technological soothsaying in a US News and World Report article titled “The Perils of Prediction”:

“I think there is a world market for about five computers.”
–Thomas Watson Sr., founder of IBM, 1943.

“Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps only weigh 1 1/2 tons.”
–Popular Mechanics, 1949.

And ninety years ago, there was similar hype about the use of film for education… In 1922, Thomas Edison declared, “I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.” And yet, almost one hundred years later, this still has not happened.

I personally do not think iPads – or tablets in general – are the wave of the future. In fact, I see very little purpose for them even today. Why? Well, my question is: what pressing problem do they solve?

When we look at the evolution of computers over the past century we can see that we started with bulky machines designed for work and business. The personal computer changed all that to be small enough and affordable enough to fit in any home or office. That was revolutionary, allowing people to get work done in ways not previously available to the average person. As technology advanced, people realized they sometimes had a need to take their computing with them, and this need was met through the invention of notebook or laptop computers. However, laptops have limitations, and two of those limitations have been their bulky size and short battery life. These problems were solved through the introduction of netbooks, which are essentially small laptops – they are capable of doing almost everything a normal computer can do, but they are more portable and have much longer battery life, capable of lasting a whole work day on one charge.

However, even a netbook can’t fit in your pocket, so it only makes sense that smartphones like the iPhone are so popular. The advent of the smartphone means that people can basically have a portable computer with them wherever they go.

So we got to a point where computers became portable enough that we could have one with us wherever we go. So the next logical step is to… introduce a device that is bigger and less portable than the smartphone? Wait, what?? This makes it kind of like a laptop, except not as powerful or capable of doing as much. Really?? That’s the wave of the future?

Who’s to say that the next step in computing won’t be a piece of technology that is even smaller, even more powerful, and more integrated into our everyday lives… like into a wearable set of glasses. In fact, Google is already spearheading this idea…

Some people say that the iPad has revolutionized computing, but that is hardly the case. The idea of using a touch-screen is not revolutionary technology. Capacitive touch-screens were invented in the 1960s — they were around before Apple was even founded. Here’s a picture of a capacitive touch screen from 1971:

Revolutionary? Wave of the future? Hardly. Microsoft’s Kinect system, which allows for real-time recognition of points in 3D space for a home consumer price… that’s pretty revolutionary. Google developing wearable computers with heads-up displays and augmented reality, or cars that can drive themselves… that’s pretty revolutionary. But there’s nothing new or wonderful about a jumbo iPod Touch.

And you simply can’t replace a real computer with an iPad. For one thing, you have to plug an iPad into a computer just to get it to run — this means it is a peripheral device. It is designed to supplement a computer, not to be used instead of a computer. And guess what? The apps you run on an iPad were not made using iPads… they were developed on actual computers. Without desktop or laptop computers — and people who know how to use them — you would have no apps to run on your iPad.

I’m not the only one to say that you can’t replace a computer with an iPad. Some pretty smart people who know a lot about technology have said the same thing… like this guy:

“I think the PC, this general purpose device, is going to continue to be with us.” — Steve Jobs

So… where exactly does the iPad fit in? It’s not as portable as a smartphone — it’s about the same size as a netbook or ultrabook laptop and has about the same battery life… and yet it is capable of doing much less. It’s not a stand-alone computer… in fact, you have to plug it into a computer just to get it to work. There are millions of websites it can’t access. So what, exactly, does an iPad provide that we didn’t already have? A touch-screen? Do we really need a touch-screen? What major problems do we solve by having a touch-screen?

To see just how unnecessary the iPad is, we don’t have to look any further than their own advertisement touting its uses for learning:

  • Watching movies? We’ve had educational films in the classroom for decades. As we already mentioned, Thomas Edison swore educational films were the way to go back in the 1920s. Their popularity increased with training programs and initiatives started by the Army in the 1940s and 50s. And, of course, we’ve been able to easily access streaming videos online from any type of computer device for the past decade. Nothing new here…
  • Writing and drawing with our fingers? What, are we cavemen?? There’s a reason writing and drawing tools and implements were invented thousands of years ago. Never mind the fact that the iPad doesn’t give us an advantage here… it just lets us do what we’ve been doing all along with paper and pencils. Granted, it’s nice to save those natural resources and go paperless… but if you really want to do that, tablet PC laptops have been out for about a decade now — one example is my Toshiba Portege tablet I’ve had since 2004. These older style of tablets actually work better for writing and drawing purposes because they were not designed to be used with your fingers, so the stylus has a thinner point allowing for more precision, and you don’t have to worry about your hand bumping the screen. Some of them are even pressure-sensitive and respond to different levels of pressure to affect things like brush strokes. Sorry, the existing technology that was out worked just as well — if not better — than the iPad.
  • E-books are nice, but they are nothing new. Digital books have been around for decades, and they have long been supported with features like the built-in dictionary shown here. In fact, many of them used to be called CD-ROM Books, so that tells you how old this concept is. You can do this on pretty much any laptop, computer, tablet, or e-reader — you don’t need an iPad.
  • Interactive graphics and 3D visualizations of concepts like these science ones are great. But they’re not anything you couldn’t already do on a regular computer. I used to access multimedia supports like this on my Microsoft Encarta CD back in the 90s. Certainly anything we see here is something we could already do on laptop or desktop computers.
  • Learning and playing chess electronically is one of the oldest concepts around. I don’t see how the iPad makes it any different or better than it used to be. Electronic chess boards and chess trainer computers have been around for over 30 years! Heck, IBM’s Deep Blue computer was able to beat World Champion chess player Gary Kasparov 15 years ago in 1997. As a kid growing up I enjoyed playing games like Chessmaster. You could play this game on the Apple II in 1986. Once again, the iPad doesn’t bring anything new or innovative to the table.
  • Finally we have a truly useful and innovative purpose of the touch-screen tablet: music. Everything else we’ve seen could be done just as well or better with a mouse or a stylus pen, but the instantaneous and tactile nature of playing music makes the iPad a natural fit. This is one use where a touch-screen tablet is just a great idea. I have two music apps on my iPad — GarageBand and BeatPad, and they were both good deals at $5 each. However, you don’t HAVE to use an iPad for this purpose — you can get other, more affordable Android tablets that also work great for musical purposes.
  • And this one is just laughable. Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to domore with modern technology than they were able to do 100 years ago? Yet here we have an activity that essentially mimics using a flash card on the left combined with a slate chalk board on the right. Ridiculous. Since when does moving forward mean we simply mimic what we did in the past?

Now, I’m not saying that iPads can’t be used for education. Of course they can be used for educational purposes – but the problem is that many teachers incorporating them into the classroom have never tried any other technologies. So they’re not comparing apples to apples… they’re not even comparing apples to oranges. They’re comparing apples to… nothing. When people are seeing benefits of iPads with students, it’s not necessarily because they are iPads, it’s because the teachers are finally providing students with access to technology, whereas previously students didn’t have access to anything. The idea that one-to-one access to computer technology can provide benefits to your students is nothing new… educational technologists could have told you that, and in fact they have been saying that for over 20 years now.

But lots of things can be useful for learning. I could educate my students using a pile of rocks. We could…
Investigate the properties and characteristics of different types of rocks to teach mass, density, geological processes, or scientific classification skills.

  • Write in the sand to teach reading and writing
  • Break it apart or use multiple rocks to teach division, multiplication, subtraction, addition.
  • Does all of this mean that a rock is a really great educational technology?

Does this mean we should go out and spend $500 or more to buy a pile of rocks? After all, look at all of the cool educational stuff you can do with it!

Of course not… just because something can be used for education doesn’t mean it is the best tool for the job.

Sure, there are a few purposes where tablets may come in handy. For example, the intuitive touch-screen interface may be very beneficial for working with developmentally disabled students or very young children such as pre-schoolers, and there are certainly some great musical applications like we saw in the commercial. But we need to consider whether the iPad can provide more educational opportunities than other alternative devices can, and the simple answer is that it does not really offer any new or innovative educational functions… and yet it costs more than netbooks, laptops, computers, or even other tablets.

No, I don’t see iPads as being the wave of the future, but regardless of what the distant future holds, we need to be preparing our students to enter the world they will be living in today, or in the very near future. And what does the world of today and tomorrow look like? I will address that in my next video about Why iPads Do Not Meet Today’s Educational Needs. In the meantime, I’d love to know where I get a crystal ball like so many people seem to think they have… maybe I should ask the Magic 8 Ball.

Magic 8-Ball, are iPads the wave of the future?

Well, there you have it folks… that’s the definitive answer, because the Magic 8 Ball knows what the future holds just as well as your or I do.