Some Pros and Cons of iPads for ELT
Monday 31 January 2011
by Nik Peachey
Well the iPad has really hit the news in education circles since its release last year. I’m sure lots of teachers are wondering whether it’s hype and what the true potential of these devices are as tools for learners. I’ve had my iPad for about 8 months now, so I’ve decided to share my reflections so far on what I like about the iPad, what potential I feel it offers for developing course books and course materials and some of the problems.
Here’s what I like.
- I really like the high quality screen and the touch sensitivity of the interface. Simply being able to touch things to find out how they work and to operate them without having any other external device like a mouse or keyboard is great.
- This extends to the actual built in keyboard that appears on the screen. I actually bought an external keyboard because I thought I would need it, but never use it as I find tapping away silently on the screen much more comfortable and the sensitivity of the screen seems to suit my typing style.
- The main way to extend and enhance the functionality of the iPad is to download ‘apps’ from the iTunes store. ‘Apps’ are small software programmes designed to work on the iPad and many of them are either free or very cheap (around 10% of the price or less) compared to traditional software. This is a bit of a reversal of the trends of recent years during which software has almost become a thing of the past with most software applications being delivered within the web browser as web based ‘apps’.
- These ‘apps’ are then capable of interacting with services on the internet so that users can create things like video, audio, text or graphics on the iPad and post it directly to the web without actually having to go to a website. A nice example of this is AudioBoo, a podcasting service which allows you to record audio on your iPad and publish it to a web based blog in a single click direct from your classroom(Yes the iPad has a built in microphone for recording).
- This kind of interaction between the iPad and web based services makes it a much safer tool to use with students and also greatly reduces the possibility of them straying onto distracting websites.
- Most iPad ‘apps’ are also designed for a single purpose and when you change to another app the previous one is closed down. This makes managing classes / students using iPads much easier as it is harder for students to open multiple windows and click away from Facebook or their email whenever they see you approaching.
- Unlike the average laptop which can take a few minutes to get out and get booted up, virus checked and ready to work, an iPad can be switched on and an ‘app’ can be opened in seconds. This means that valuable classroom time isn’t wasted and consulting something like Wikipedia or Google can be done almost instantly, so very short bursts of computer use can easily be used to enhance and inform classroom interaction without lots of wasted time.
- Lastly, IPads tend to lend themselves more easily to more sociable interaction within the classroom. They are easier to hand from person to person, so students aren’t bound to the location of the computer, they can amble about the classroom with them and pass them round from person to person just as they could a book.
So what does this mean in terms of developing materials or course books for the iPad?
- The iPad would be a great platform for publishing an ELT course book. In theory it would be possible to have video and audio material built right into the pages of the book so that students could work independently at their own pace or a teacher could use a single device with a data projector to show activities on the board.
- It is possible to build interactivity into the exercises in the pages of the book so that the materials could be marked and scored by the software and the results sent back to the teachers’ copy.
- Students could also use it to record their own speaking to send to the teacher for evaluation or actually connect up live to chat with other students, work collaboratively on texts or exercises or do speaking or pairwork activities from home.
- Students could interact with graphs and live data which could become personalised for the particular class.
- Visuals could be 3 dimensional and tactile and able to respond to user input from students. Students could even navigate round small scale virtual worlds from within the course book.
- The iPad is a great tool for creating text and can enable students to publish directly to a blog or learning journal without leaving the iPad app and of course the high quality screen makes it ideal for reading from.
- The cost of developing an ‘app’ based ibook for an iPad is likely to be as great as that of developing a paper based book, but the costs of distribution are likely to be much much cheaper, which could result in a cheaper products for students.
So what about the problems?
- The first has to be price. With a single device costing £400 + you either need to be working in a very well resourced school, or have very wealthy students. Though if the cost of the device can be offset against the cost of books, stationary, photocopying, other devices etc, then that might not seem so expensive, but still out of reach of many students and schools.
- Connectivity can also be a problem. If you have lots of students in your classroom working on rich media content you could very easily crash or drastically slow down your network connection. There are however a good number of apps that will work without connectivity too.
- iPads certainly aren’t indestructible. If you drop them onto a hard surface they break. You can get protective cases for them, but this adds to the expense and still wont make them indestructible.
- As with every new technological innovation that is introduced into education, this will need to be backed up with training, so that the iPads actually get used. It’s not a difficult tool to learn to use, compared to an IWB, but it may prove difficult to use it well, so teachers will need support.
From a quick comparison of these two lists it may well look like the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, but those disadvantages are BIG, especially the cost. If you are thinking of introducing iPads in your school, then I think by far the best way to start is just by having a few in the teachers’ staff room and letting the teachers explore them and see what they can do with them. If this can generate some enthusiasm then you could be on your way to having a 21st century language school.
What do you think?
- Have you tried an iPad?
- What apps have you found useful?
- Have you used one with students?
- Can you add to any of the lists of pros and cons above?
- Would you prefer a course book delivered on a mobile device rather than paper?
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