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.

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