A week with an iPad in school

My iPad and iPhone face off!

When the iPad was launched a few weeks ago, I smirked at the “fools” who queued up for days to get their hands on one.  “Sure, it’s just a giant iPhone”,  I muttered in condescending tones.  All the reviews on the web, in newspapers and in magazines were lukewarm too.  It doesn’t multitask and it has no USB.  It doesn’t even have a camera.  And how in the name of goodness could you type on an on-screen keyboard?

During the spring holidays, my friend got married in Milwaukee.  My wife and I flew to Chicago and we headed to the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s version of Fifth Avenue in New York.  I had expected to be walking around countless boutiques carrying bags and saying things like, “they’re both lovely”.  That was before we both set eyes on the Apple Store.  Needless to say, one swipe of the big screen and we were hooked.  We bought one each.

My first thoughts with any new piece of technology is to see what benefits they have for me in my job as a teacher and principal.  So, I was excited this week to bring it into my school instead of my netbook to see if I could manage my tasks without it.

The iPad is very much like a giant iPhone and all apps for the iPhone work well on the iPad although they appear smaller on it.  I don’t really have any educational apps on my iPhone but I downloaded a maths Flash card game on the iPad to see whether it would be any good for my struggling multipliers in 4th class.  The good news is that they thought the iPad was the coolest thing ever and, although the app itself is rather basic, it really motivated them.

The main thing I found brilliant about the iPad was for my administration.  The iPad became a complete replacement for a FiloFax.  At my fingertips, I had my contacts list, calendar, to do list, notebook, sketchpad and diary in a thin “binder”.  However, better than a FiloFax, I also had my email, full Internet access including my school’s intranet, a full word processor, spreadsheet and presentation suite, access to my school’s Twitter and Blogging apps, my dropbox account and loads of other apps.

Yes, the iPhone does all of this.  However, the iPhone becomes a bit “fiddly” once you’ve used the iPad.  Making appointments using Google Calendar was much easier with the bigger onscreen keyboard.  The person I was making the appointment with was able to see everything I was doing.

I also worked with my Deputy Principal on the iPad to organise some of our aims for this term.  When we had edited the pre-prepared document, I instantly sent a copy to both of us via email.  The great thing about the iPad for this over an iPhone was the iPad really looks like an electronic A4 pad.  It was easy to collaborate on it with colleagues.

Updating the school web site was easy.  The iPhone’s screen does not give a full view of a web page, relying on zooming into sections of the site. The iPad allows you to see much more screen-space and I was able to add a post to the site quickly.  Typing on the onscreen keyboard is much easier than I thought.  Stephen Fry, in Time magazine, compared it to being like typing with frostbite on your fingertips.  Having never experienced frostbitten fingertips, I can only assume he speaks the truth.  Yes, it’s a little bit weird at first, but not too weird.  Having said that, I wouldn’t be typing lengthy articles like this on it.

Finally, my school’s cloud: how would the iPad work with my school’s Google Site?  In a word, brilliantly.  In fact, I would say that this is what I have used my iPad for most this week.  With a touch of my fingertip, I can check my school email or flick to the calendar or browse the school database.  I can check our school policies, book in a catch-up session for a child in the school or update the agenda for a staff meeting.  I go on the iPad for my school’s intranet site more often than I ever did on the iPhone.

The bottom line, I guess, is is it worth it?  To be honest, so far, it is.  I haven’t had any need to bring in my much heavier netbook to the school since I’ve bought the iPad and I don’t miss it at all.  However, if I didn’t have a desktop PC in my office, I wouldn’t be able to survive on the iPad alone.  Make no mistake, the iPad does not replace the netbook.  It does many of the things a laptop or netbook does but unless you have access to wifi, the iPad is next to useless as it relies very much on it.  Storing files isn’t very easy with the iPad either so I tend to email any document or spreadsheet that I create to myself for later storage.  Having said all this, I think the iPad is a lot more fun to use than the iPhone, simply because of its size.  Last night I played a game of Air Hockey on the iPad and it was almost like the real thing.  Playing chess on it is even more fun, somehow.  I love reading my own email, updating Twitter and Foursquare and watching TV on it rather than doing the same on the iPhone.

The iPad seems to have filled that layer of technology between a smartphone and a netbook that we didn’t know existed.  In a week in school, it has caused me to leave my netbook at home and dump my FiloFax.  I may never use a pen and paper again!

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