Could the iPad be at the forefront of education in the future? Several UK schools have already adopted the iPad in their classrooms, and are seeing positive results. Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, for example, was an early iPad adopter, ordering devices for every pupil when the first model was released, while Honywood Comprehensive in Essex aims to provide each of its pupils with an iPad 2 before the end of the year.

What’s the cost?

In these times of austerity, when schools are already strapped for cash, should they really be spending additional money on gadgets? Arguably, the iPad is much more than that. It’s a powerful replacement for expensive computers and laptops that schools use.

Although Apple doesn’t offer an educational discount for individual iPads (that’s reserved for MacBooks and iMac range), it may be cheaper for schools to buy tablets in bulk. Apple has previously offered packs of ten iPads to schools for four per cent off the list price. We recommend schools call Apple direct for quotes rather than rely on online information.

Also good to remember is that the original iPad is still only 18 months old. There are plenty to be had in the refurbished market, and at much lower prices.

Why the iPad?

The iPad has some clear advantages over other IT solutions. It’s portable and lightweight, and easy to pass around and share. The 10-hour battery life also means that Apple’s tablet will last for the school day.

Another big bonus is that the iPad could be cheaper to look after in the long run. There’s little or no physical maintenance required, and no network to administer. While most will think about interactive apps and courseware as major selling points, the iPad can also save money on paper.

All this sounds great, but there are a few cons that schools should be aware of. While younger pupils love the touchscreen, iPads are incompatible with messy environments, and because the iPad is easy to carry, it’s also easier to drop. Honywood Comprehensive has pre-empted these issues by asking parents to contribute towards the cost of insurance, although the iPads themselves are being provided by the school.

Electronic blackboard

Some of the schools we’ve mentioned have had success with apps that aren’t necessarily aimed directly at education. iBooks, for example, is a free app provided by Apple and a great tool for buying and reading books. Cedars School in Greenock singled out Brushes (£5.49) and Photoshop Express (free) as great tools for art room activities. We’d add Adobe Ideas into that mix – a drawing app that can be upgraded to support layers. Pupils at Cedars use iPad instruments to make music.

Dropbox can be a valuable resource for sharing documents and for pupils to upload their own work.

It’s free to sign up and, if pupils use affiliate links to create their accounts, the school will soon have 8GB of free storage to use too.

Of course, no student should neglect the sciences, and Calculator for iPad is a boon for maths. With an iPad, the possibilities are huge. Maps for geography, periodic tables – there’s an app for every lesson. Not to mention tools for communication and for email.

The iPad is a natural fit for schools and a smart technology for them to adopt. After all, it’s only a matter of time before these devices will be everyday tools, for everyone.

Case Study: Wallace High School

After research led by the vice-principal, pupils at The Wallace High School now use iPads in lessons, and take them home for independent learning

The iPad is steadily gaining acceptance as a respected educational tool, but how does it work in practice? Here we look at the experiences of The Wallace High School in Lisburn, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, which has begun using the iPad as part of its curriculum.

The Wallace High School has already embraced the use of technology in learning and teaching. For example, the school has a virtual learning centre that has been integrated into everyday teaching.

The grammar school has now taken technology and learning to the next stage by offering pupils the chance to use iPads as part of their learning experience. Earlier this year, the school signed a deal with Apple to lease iPads for 530 pupils from years eight to 11, planning to use them in the classroom and for homework.  Staff will provide applications for the pupils to use, but parents will have to contribute £170 a year. The devices will be covered by insurance and tracking software in case the iPads are stolen or lost.

The decision to use the iPads came as a result of the findings from a staff working group led by vice-principal David Cleland, who is also an Apple Distinguished Educator, that was set up to help shape and influence the school’s ICT policy.

However, the student voice was also an influential factor in making the decision. The school has an innovative ICT team, which is made up of teaching and support staff who regularly field a wide range of enquiries from parents and students, ranging from the purchasing of laptops to technical problems. The frequency of student requests about portable devices for use at home and school has grown significantly, with many asking: “What can you, as a school, do to streamline our use of technology to support and extend student learning?”

The result was that more students were supported in bringing their own devices into the classroom. The school realised that the use of a single device, used by teachers, understood by parents and students, would allow all learners to make progress supported by portable digital technology. The creation of a seamless transition between school and home work now seemed a viable option.

Given the changes in the approach to learning and teaching at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14), which has an increased emphasis on thinking skills, independent research and interactivity, the iPad provides a useful platform from which to support the learning of individual pupils further. In-depth research into the range and quality of educational, productive and creative apps led the school to believe that iPads allow for greater independent learning on a cost-effective, resource-rich platform.

The school therefore took the decision that with the increasing use of interactive and computer-based assessments, equipping pupils with iPads would prepare them for an ever-changing technological world.

Some questions were raised about this decision to implement the iPad, such as: “What if some learners don’t like the iPad?” However, it is the school’s contention that one-to-one digital technology affords a multiplicity of styles of learning in a single classroom environment.

As the project progresses, the school will continue to monitor it to measure the impact of a one-to-one deployment and allow it to maintain flexibility in learning.