Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why I Love the iPad for Education: Initial Observations

I resisted the purchase for a few days but finally realized I needed to get my hands on one myself. I needed to evaluate it as another tool for education, another tool that possibly promotes Universal Design for Learning (provide multiple methods of engagement, presentation and expression). I needed to evaluate it FOR MYSELF. With the students in mind.

My initial observations lead me to believe this is TRANSFORMATIVE. Especially for struggling learners (kids on IEPs and 504s for example). Why?

1. The Coolness Factor - Never discredit this. Everywhere I go, whenever I bring out the iPad, everyone's demeanor changes to enthusiastic excitement. They salivate. Their fingers twitch. Give an iPad to a student with special needs and their peers will change their views. Historically, students on IEPs have not been viewed as the Cool Kids. This can be a game changer. The touch technology and available apps offer UDL strategies which can meet the academic needs of our kids. (more in a subsequent post).

2. New ways to input text - This is a huge consideration. Typically, we ask students to use paper/pencil for learning or to demonstrate what they know. Think worksheets. Think the Five Paragraph Essay. For some kids, the mechanics of handwriting is too challenging a task for success. Additionally, the ability to keyboard in the traditional manner is impossible. The iPad offers two new alternatives. Dragon Dictation, a free app for speech recognition, record into the microphone and your text appears ready to be emailed or texted. ShapeWriter, a FUN way to input text using touch technology. I see ShapeWriter offering a better method for kids with dysgraphia, kids who have the ability to use only one hand, kids who need spelling support, kids who need to be highly engaged to input text.

3. Access to Content - Ira Socol criticizes the iPad as a step backward, Web 1.5. because it's not about content creation. I agree with that criticism and hope that subsequent versions will focus on those possibilities. (C'mon, Apple, no camera, no video capabilities?)
But school is also about accessing content. Again, Ira accurately points to the fact that text-to-speech capabilities are not built in. However, for the students who do not need TTS, the iPad offers options - access to interactive content and no need to carry around heavy textbooks and backpacks that cause back problems in kids.

4. Notebook replacement - Traditional school is about paper based notebooks both for recording notes and for recording assignments. For too many kids, this IS the disability. There just isn't enough space in those Assignment Notebooks. And too many kids can't read their own handwriting for later review of their notes. Instead, we assign adult para-educators to scribe when handwriting is a challenge for a student on an IEP. Promotes DEPENDENCE. Think outside the box and see how the iPad levels the playing field. Use organization apps to keep track of assignments in a legible manner. Use the color code features to organize notes. (Look for more
in a future post about specific apps for overcoming learning obstacles.).

5. Inability to multitask - I've read many complaints about the iPad's lack of multitasking capabilities. Let's turn this around and view this as a positive for some of our students. Limiting tasks to one at a time can be especially beneficial for some students.

6. Logistical Considerations - 1:1 laptop initiatives are proliferating. Districts are turning to the use of standard laptops or netbooks. Both require time to turn on the devices and access the application, and require charging during the day if there is ongoing use. The battery life of the iPad is said to be about 10 -12 hours. I got mine Wednesday night and have yet to charge it! And the instant on feature is huge for immediate use. We can't overlook the fact that turning on a laptop or netbook and getting to the Internet or specific software program can take at least five minutes or more. Valuable teaching/learning time lost.

The iPad is a lightweight, compact, very COOL device with limitations which have been articulated by many others. One thing I need NOW before I can recommend it to younger students is a compact, protective case. But think about the possibilities for struggling learners, for trying to REACH EVERY LEARNER and this can be transformative.

Stay tuned for subsequent posts which will identify apps to reach learners with specific learning obstacles.

Let the attacks begin....


Bridgette Nicholson said...

Excellent, excellent post! Karen, a great summary. I loved your comment "4. Notebook replacement - Traditional school is about paper based notebooks both for recording notes and for recording assignments. For too many kids, this IS the disability. " So true. So exciting to see all this progress and the new opportunities for kids with so much potential and so many struggles with traditional methods of doing things. You're SO right ... just give these kids digital methods (with the training and support) and we'll see so many more skills than challenges.

Dan Callahan said...

Multitasking is coming to the iPhone and iPad with version 4 of the OS, this summer for iPhone, and in the fall for the iPad.

I had a long-winded paragraph here about the limits of voiceover technology in the iPhone/iPad, but I decided to do some quick research, and found this helpful post about getting VoiceOver working everywhere. I tried it with an article on and it worked brilliantly. Here's a handy video showing how to set up VoiceOver for use in iBooks in particular. It takes some changes in gestures, but totally worth it if needed, I'd imagine.

Sharon Eilts said...

Great, positive post. Can't wait for mine to be delivered to actually try out all the features.

Sharon Eilts

Eric Sailers, M.A., CCC-SLP said...

I couldn't have said it any better. You outlined some excellent arguments for iPad use in special education.

On Twitter and blogs, I have read a lot of criticism from educators about the iPad. The criticism happens to come from those who don't have an iPad and/or dislike Apple. I think if they got an iPad and loaded it with useful apps (e.g., Pages, Shapewriter, Dragon Dictation, Proloquo2Go, Cat in the Hat, Toy Story, Doodle Buddy, First Words Animals Speak it!) for students with special needs, they'd start to change their mind. Once they see a student using the iPad who require those tools, then it would be a done deal. The larger screen with accessibility in combination with extraordinary apps, is definitely a game changer for students with special needs.

The iPad is definitely not perfect. It needs multi-tasking and other features coming in fall with OS 4.0, switch access, a camera, more websities with html5 content, and more apps for optimized for the iPad. But, all this is coming, and not reasons to overlook the 1st generation.

For the cost, the iPad for special education purposes is head and shoulders above devices that do less and/or are much more costly.

miss.calcul8 said...

Thanks for writing this post. I have thus to be impressed with the ipad. Why would I want an oversized ipod or a limited laptop? The reasons you have pointed out here have helped me to see the ipad in a new perspective. I especially like how you point out that IEP students now have the chance to be the cool kids. That reason alone convinced me. We should empower them at every opportunity available.

Your Therapy Source Inc said...

I agree with your comments about Shapewriter. I am always amazed by its word prediction capabilities and ease of use.

I am disspointed that there is no camera or video. In addition, no Flash capabilities.

I think in a few years, the iPad may transform education just not yet.

irasocol said...

(posted on my blog and here)


I totally respect all that Karen says here, but in my post - that I began by saying that I loved tablet computing, just not this tablet.

I agree that "cool" is great, that the touch screen is a fantastic interaction device, that choice in input systems is essential ("With this tool, running Windows7 and no other paid software at all, students could see and hear text, could watch videos, could listen to podcasts, and better still, they could create via keyboard (real or on-screen), via video camera, via microphone, via speech recognition, via handwriting, via drawing, and they could instantly share their creations with their classmates or the world").

Yes, HP's standard 12" multi-touch Tablet weighs 4 pounds, but those 4 pounds come with 3gb of RAM, 500gb of HD space, a real keyboard, a DVD+Blueray Read/Write Drive, a camera, fingerprint log-in, handwriting recognition, mobile broadband (should you want it-on any network) and none of the iPad's limitations for the same price as the 3G iPad with big memory.

That computer can utilize all the free tools available for Windows for accessibility, can utilize all the sophisticated assistive technology available for windows, and allow browser and office software choice.

And you are not linking your students directly to the storefront of a single content seller.

And that's right now. Newer, cheaper systems are coming from HP and from open-source linked manufacturers.

In other words, we need to separate the Tablet idea from Apple's product. Just as with the Kindle, I object to the iPad as a system solution - not an individual tool - for schools because it is one more example of schools selling their students to a vendor, which will always raise costs and limit opportunities in the future. And, as with the Kindle, I do not like adopting more limiting devices systemically. There are already better, free-er tablets than the iPad - I've seen them used in schools and they are brilliant. There's no reason to jump on a lesser, more controlled, device.

- Ira Socol

assistivetek said...

Hi Karen:

Thanks for your great post! You raise some really important issues with regard to using the iPad with students with learning differences. But putting technology that everyone is envious of in the hands of students with special needs is the way to go. I'm sure that if we gave students more of these cool tools they will use them.


Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D.
AssistiveTek Blog
Skype: assistivetek

Hartley said...

Thank you for a great post! I have been looking for something for my son to use -- he isn't ready for the multi-tasking laptop set up, so this might be good. He needs dictation software mostly (pen to paper and spelling issues, no problem with organization/ideas). I may just have to pick one up -- my husband will be so bummed! LOL

Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Karen, between your post and Bob Sprankle's I had to make a trip to the Apple Store today. I had them demo books, voiceover, movies, etc. for me and I am now on the "Notify Me" list to own an iPad and use it for all the things you so clearly describe in this post.

Madalaine Pugliese said...

Karen, what I love about iPad is how it narrows the conversation between general and special educators. For example, here is a NING offered by some of the Apple Distinguished Educators. What a wealth of learning tools and ideas or strategies on ways to implement.


Nancy Peske said...

Wow, thank you! This is SO helpful. I too have been thinking "No ability to multitask. And this is a bad thing for a kid with focus issues because...?" :) I am interested in the eReader capability. Can you adjust font size and type (san serif vs. serif) and contrast? For kids with visual processing order this would be big. I am still on the fence about which of these devices will be best for my son and am glad I waited on the Kindle because it sounds like the iPad has more useability. Now if only the price would come down!


David Truss said...

I love how you found the advantages for students with challenges and focused on the benefits the iPad has to offer, and yet I have to agree with Ira's comment above:
There's no reason to jump on a lesser, more controlled, device.
I don't have an issue with the iPad as a great, fun device, (I wouldn't mind one myself), but it's a tool that is limited compared to many other tools. To me 'coolness factor' doesn't outweigh what I said in my post:
It is a product that not only invites consumerism but is designed to promote it… this at a time when so many educators are trying to get students to be prosumers… and to be creators of content.
My advice: buy it for yourself, but put school money to more 'productive' use.

Madalaine Pugliese said...

Oooppsss I forgot the URL for the ning to explore



onscrn said...

I've had my iPad for a week, and the only thing I don't like about it is the weight. It's lighter than a notebook, but I get tired of holding it. Kids may just need to lay it flat (or tilted on dock) to use for any length of time.

I am excited about the touch screen. I got the iPad so I could see the iPad app I wrote actually running on the device it was meant for. It's OnScreen DNA Lite, a virtual model of the DNA double helix. User can rotate with finger swipes to see the model from different perspectives. Since it is meant to be used with other materials and, for best results, under the guidance of a teacher, it really doesn't have a level associated with it. I think that is a beautiful feature of visual apps: they can show things to beginners as well as advanced students in a memorable way.

Bob Estes

Randi Sargent said...

Hi Karen - I am contemplating purchasing an iPad for my son with CP to use for entertainment purposes (music, educatioanal apps, e-books...) I love the biggger, more accessbible screen, speakers etc but I am not sure it makes sense to have a $500+ "toy" in his backpack or how to protect it. It was suggested to me that the iTouch with iMainGo speakers would be a more durable option. Any advice is appreciated!

John Gale said...

I think that it comes down to apps. Proloquo2Go is only available on "iDevices" - iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. For me, that puts iPad on the must-have list to have available for try-outs. Otherwise, like Ira, I would prefer something more open.
Apple does seem to be considering giving users more opportunities in the next version:

Anonymous said...

The ipad has almost everything that I could want for my students except a USB port which makes would make it almost perfect!

smith said...

I am learning about blogs and like what you did in yours blog.Special Education

Kathi M. said...

YES! YES! My SLP is currently writing a grant to purchase iPads for her students with multiple disabilities and autism. When these students begin to work with this technology--everything changes! There will be obstacles--but we can't go back.

speakers for ipad said...

Hey, nice to read your post. I am a teacher too, and planning to use ipad as a revolutionary media eaching. It makes student get more engaged

Anonymous said...

In #3 you mention "not about content creation." I think you are so off the mark on this one. For me, and what I show teachers. The entire device IS content creation, NOT content creation.

Take a look at your own statements:

#2 "New ways to input text" Students are creating content in three different ways in that post alone. One by keyboard, two by voice, and three by some "cool" ShapeWrite. All throughout that paragraph children/students are creating content!

#4 "Notebook replacement" This is the place where students begin those ideas that will be full featured throughout other content creating programs (Pages, Keynote).

Students can use the microphone to create podcasts.

Students can use Pages to create... ANYTHING with text, even their own iBooks!

Students can use Keynote to create presentations.

Students can use Puppet Pals to create plays with puppets. (

My list can go on... In Short... iPad = Creation...

Karen Janowski said...


Keep in mind when this post was written - the first week the iPad came out. So much has happened since then in terms of app availability and new app creations.

I agree with you and have since written a subsequent post about how to use the iPad for creating content. (

Thanks for your contributions as well.

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