iPads vs. PCs in Teaching

Introduction

This is an opinion piece for the pros and cons of using both iPads and the traditional PCs in teaching. Since I am beginning my fourth year of using an iPad in my classes, I thought it would be great time to compare how each device is used, as well as state how they can complement one another. I contacted my colleague Jonathan Wylie, and we brainstormed together some ideas for this post.

If you are unaware of my current teaching setup, I am a roaming teacher at my school, teaching five grades of French to fourteen classes in many different classrooms throughout the week. I have brought my iPad to literally every single class in the past three school years. It has been utilized in almost every one. I can't see myself ever teaching without an iPad in the future. Also, I have recently purchased a MacBook Air (latest generation) for work purposes. So this would be an interesting comparison to how to use each device for teaching.

First, here are some reasons an iPad can be better than a PC for your teaching:

The iPad turns on and loads faster

We have all become accustomed to how fast our iOS devices turn on (or, more correctly, “wake-up”). Gone are the days of having to wait minutes for our devices (old PCs) to load. From standby, the iPad does not need to be turned off or restarted nearly as often, if ever (SSD ultra-books and Macs restart from standby very quickly, and would be just slightly slower than an iPad on boot). Most people incorrectly assume that they are turning off their iPads with the Sleep/Wake button, when they are in fact just putting it in sleep mode. Powering off iPads and iPhones requires you to press and hold the button until a slider appears, then drag the slider to the right to turn it off. It is not necessary to officially turn off your iDevices, unless you are experiencing some difficulties/freezing with it.

The iPad allows you to check emails within seconds, wherever you are

While you may not be able to write long and extended email responses, you can easily create brief ones. Check if you have received anything important before you begin your day. If a parent has an important question regarding their child, replying is easier and can be done in less than a minute if it’s a quick answer.

The iPad is much more portable.

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Although we see tons of people at coffee shops with their shiny MacBooks, probably more than those with iPads, it is safe to argue that iPads are much more portable. There probably won't be too many people who would work on their laptops like the man in the above photo.

The portability of an iPad is one of its strongest selling points. If you are a roaming teacher (like Steve), you can easily take the iPad to all your classes, without worrying about lugging charging cables around. Bring your iPad anywhere. Take it on vacation, use it on your daily commute (not if you’re driving!), and as your portable workstation.

You can enjoy your news and entertainment on your iPad wherever you are

I (Steve) spend a lot of my free time reading articles that interest me on apps such as Prismatic and Feedly. Instead of sitting at a desk reading websites, the iPad has many different ways to consume information in a much more enjoyable way. Reading apps such as FlipBoard, Feedly, and Zite provide an enormous selection of articles, catered to your tastes. Not enough time to read all you want? Save them to Pocket or Instapaper for reading later, when you have some free time.

There are way more applications on the iPad, and these apps are more affordable and user-friendly

Gone are the days that we spend $50 to $70+ on quality software. Apps have replaced expensive computer software, and the wealth of apps is enormous. Finding quality apps that you will consistently use is the tricky part. While a lot of great apps are free, there are some that cost a few dollars. Spend time researching and talking to colleagues about which apps are worth the money. I do want to state that I realize it is not fair to directly compare iOS apps to PC/Mac programs. The latter are definitely more full-featured and robust and powerful in nature. However, iOS apps have definitely become a wealth of resources, time-savers and tools for almost all of our “tech” needs. iOS apps just seem to be more readily available and so much easier to access and purchase. Within a couple minutes, any app you want can be installed on your iPad.

Related: Essential Apps for Teachers

The iPad is intuitive

Kids can learn on them as fast as adults can. Touch operation is the future of computing. The learning curve of the iPad is not steep, providing you develop a knack for touch screen operation. There is a common thread of “tasks” one needs to learn, such as the importing and exporting of files. App developers are also trying to make their apps as easy to use as possible. Give a student an iPad, s/he can likely figure out the ins and outs of whichever app overnight if you give him/her the chance. With that being said, not all “adults” can figure things out as easily as others.

The iPad is an incredible document reader

You can load all your PDFs simply and access them in a couple of taps. Use specific apps like GoodReader to annotate them. You can import as many PDFs as you want. Save a whole collection of teacher guides and recycle all the paper in your binders that you’ve collected over the years. I have written quite a few posts on this and how the iPad has been a life-saver, here in terms of the fact that I have everything I need, resource-wise, on one device.

Read: GoodReader for iPad

The iPad Built-in Camera is great.

While certainly not claiming to be as advanced as DSLRs, the iPad is convenient to use in the classroom, and also as a document camera to display on your projector – all in one solution to capture and edit. When you don’t have a dedicated camera handy, your iPad will do the trick. If you have a newer iPad (4 or Air), your photos will look great and be more than good enough for your classroom needs. “The best camera is the one you have with you” said Chase Jarvis. PCs with webcams are no competition to the iPad, except for the 1st generation.

The iPad has a much longer battery life than almost ALL laptops

As long as you remember to charge it overnight, the iPad will last the entire day. With the exception of the newest model MacBook Air, the iPad will have a better battery than your PC. Laptop batteries will slowly become less reliable over time. One of the laptops we use at school claimed it had 94% battery left, but it also gave the time: 1 hour and 15 minutes!

AirPlay for wireless mobile teaching is a great way to project onto your screen.

Beam and mirror EVERYTHING on your iPad onto a projector with AppleTV or an HDMI/VGA Connector. The students will see whatever is on your screen. If you have a full class set of iPads, students can take turns displaying their work to the class. MacBooks are now able to AirPlay as well, although the necessity of doing so is not as important, since it is probably easier and better to attach them via a connector.

The best digital storytelling apps are on the iPad

If there is one thing the iPad does exceedingly well, it is the creation of digital stories. There are countless amazing apps available for every grade level, and more get added every day! Check out Adobe Voice, Our Story for iPad, 30 Hands, Shadow Puppet EDU, iMovie, or Book Creator for innovative, easy to use apps that are ideal for the classroom.

Here are a few ways a PC is still better than the iPad:

Storage – Storage is still expensive for iPads and you are currently limited to a maximum total storage allowance of 128GB. Worse still, there is no way to expand that storage. If you need more, you have to transfer some of your data to cloud storage solutions, or buy a bigger iPad.

Keyboard – The tactile feel of a full-size keyboard is hard to beat. The iPad keyboard is very versatile, and is capable of keeping up in almost all regards, save long-term comfort. Many iPad users turn to Bluetooth keyboards to help alleviate this problem, but others are just fine to tap away on the on-screen keyboard, albeit not as fast as they would on a laptop or desktop keyboard.

Desktop apps – Lots of big names titles like Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and Autodesk have all brought apps to the iPad. Each are very effective in their own right, but none are as powerful as their equivalents on a Mac or a PC. The desktop apps boast more features, and can take advantage of more advanced hardware to produce better overall results.

Screen sizeThe largest iPad to date as a 9.7-inch screen. This is great for creating a lightweight, portable device, but limiting in other ways too. If you are used to working at a 27-inch desktop monitor, then the compact nature of the iPad screen may not be best for you, at least not as a direct replacement.

Multitasking – Speaking of screen size, many Mac and PC users like to run multiple apps at once on the same screen. iOS 8 made it easier than ever to switch between apps, but you still can’t have multiple apps on the screen at once when you use an iPad.

Connectivity – A modern PC will likely have multiple USB 3.0 ports as well as HDMI outputs, SD card slots and ethernet ports. The iPad takes a different approach and aims to compete on wireless solutions or additional accessories. Either way, a PC is often more flexible when you are looking to connect other devices.

Conclusion

There was a time when I wanted to try to do EVERYTHING on my iPad. It is possible, and I was pretty close to doing it. However, having the two different devices definitely is the ideal solution. Most teachers probably have access to both, and are using them in different ways. I hope that we have successfully shared the advantages of each, and that this post is helpful to those new to iPads. Although I have bought the new MacBook Air, I have not taken it to any classes so far this year. I am afraid of a student (or even myself) dropping it. Remember, AppleCare+ for Macs does NOT cover accidental damage, like it does on iPads/iPhones. Also, I will not likely use the MacBook Air while I teach, like I do with the iPad. In a classroom environment, you probably aren't going to have primary kids toting around expensive laptops. However, 1:1 iPad initiatives are popping up everywhere. Once again, proper training is necessary, but the possibilities are endless of what our students can create.

Without a doubt, iPads are more portable, and have become an amazing teaching tool. Can we one day go without a standard PC? I think so, in the not too distant future.

Did you enjoy this article? Please share with your colleagues, and also let us know your thoughts on the topic!

Here are the other collaborative posts that Jonathan and I have worked on the past:

1. 15 Unique and Creative Ways to use an iPad in teaching

2. 10 iPad Features Every iPad Owner should know.

Please take some time to check out Jonathan's excellent blog.

 

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