Past and Present Attitudes Towards the Use of iPads in the Classroom

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In our current world, where the use of technology has become so prominent, it is not rare to walk into a classroom at any level and notice at least one technological device.  The use of many traditional teaching tools, such as chalkboards and slates have been replaced by modern technological devices, and curriculums often revolve around online learning.  Since their emergence in 2010, iPads are a relatively new form of technology that have increasingly entered into the sphere of education as a means to enhance student learning.  Many schools mandate that students possess their own iPad devices in order access online learning tools, applications, and digital textbooks used both inside and outside of school.  I can recall my senior year of high school when many of my teachers asked their students to raise their hand if they favored using iPads as a means to access digitalized books.  As a result of the large amount of support that my school community had for the use of the device, my high school implemented iPads in the classroom for the first time in 2014.  Every incoming freshman student was expected to own their own iPad that would be used to access digital books along with academic websites and applications.  However, only shortly after this change was made, teachers and parents, including my own, began to question whether my high school had made the right decision.   How have iPads changed ― or not changed ― student learning since they were first introduced in 2010, and has the public’s view towards the use of iPads in the classroom changed between 2011 and today?

Many studies show that the implementation of iPads has transformed classrooms and helped to enhance student learning and engagement both within and outside of schools in ways that traditional forms of teaching along with the technology used in the classroom prior to 2010 had not allowed them to do.   I argue that even though the implementation of iPads has changed student learning, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst, the results that researchers have uncovered regarding how the use of iPads in the classroom enhances or hinders student learning has stayed constant between 2011 and 2016 but has begun to change in 2017.  Researchers between 2011 and 2016 have all discovered that the use of iPads in schools can lead to decreased academic performance and attentional awareness because these devices can act as a major distraction to students and their nearby peers.  Researchers between 2011 and 2016 have also found that iPads can benefit student learning by increasing student’s academic engagement, motivation, and achievement both within and outside of schools.  However, 2017 has seen an even greater increase in negative attitudes towards iPads and their effect on schooling, as schools have begun to recognize its limitations and rather turn to using Google Chromebooks in order to enhance student learning.

Most of the research conducted on iPads in the classroom has occurred between 2012 and 2015.  A large amount of this research recognizes how iPads, like the laptops used in the classroom prior to 2010, act as portable devices that allow students to transport their learning outside of the classroom.  As early as 2011, researchers have recognized how the “touch sensitive, lightweight and compact” features of the iPad make it a device that has the potential to change the classroom and student learning (“Educators Find the iPads”).  Throughout the years, many researchers have continued to note that iPads have enhanced student learning because they are more beneficial to students than other portable devices are like laptops and smartphones.  In 2014, researchers Picard, Martin, and Tsao claim that

iPads have all the functionality and connectivity of laptop computers, but are far more light weight, and all the mobility of smartphones, but with a larger, multi-touch screen.  The iPad’s finger-based interface is intuitive to use, convenient, and can be used to perform a variety of activities, including writing and drawing with the finger-tip. (Picard et. al. 203-204)

Ipads therefore act as a medium that allow students to have access to a portable device with touch screen abilities that is still large enough and easy for students to use in order to compete their school related activities.

Another way in which iPads have their own unique aspects that have changed student learning is through their ability to engage students with their learning in a variety of creative ways that were not previously available to them before 2010.  The touch screen aspect of iPad devices, along with the devices multiple apps, which have a variety of video and audio functions, allow and encourage students to apply their creative thinking and skills to their school work more than they had been able to do prior to 2010.  In 2011, Westlake High School conducted an iPad pilot initiative program in order to test the effects of iPads on student learning and compare it to student learning without iPads.  During the experiment, the school discovered that iPads have “spurred creativity as well because of the camera, video camera, and the apps that can be used for creative storytelling, video production, etc.”(Foote 16).   In addition, “because the camera is embedded in the device, projects that might have taken weeks in the past can be completed in a matter of days” (Foote 16).  Having recordings of class projects enables students to be able to replay their work so that they can access and critique it and ultimately enhance their learning experience.

Studies conducted on the implementation of iPads between 2011 and 2016 have also showed that the iPads can also affect the creativity aspect of student learning by discouraging students from using their creative skills that traditional methods of drawing with a pen and paper encouraged them to use.  Picard et. al. conducted a study in which they compared the drawing results of students who drew with a pen-on-paper and those who drew on their iPads by touching the screen.  Although they had originally thought that children’s drawings would be more detailed on the iPads because many have claimed that “finger drawing on an iPad screen enhances the quality of the resulting production because it bypasses the difficulties involved in handling a pen”, they discovered that their hypothesis was incorrect (Picard et. al. 205).  According to the results, the researchers “found a slight but significant decrease in graphic scores in the iPad (finger drawing) condition, compared with the standard paper/pen drawing” (Picard et. al. 210).  Such findings suggest that students are more likely to draw detailed and more artistic drawings with their traditional pen and paper than with their iPads and that iPads may have changed student learning by leading students to exercise a smaller amount of creativity to their drawings.

In addition, iPads allow students to communicate in ways that computers prior to 2010 did not offer.  In their own study conducted in 2011, researchers Orrin T. Murray and Nicole R. Olcese from the Pennsylvania State University considered “whether the iPad and its attended software constitutes a set of resources for which there is no analog equivalent, thus allowing teachers and students to do things in learning environments that could not otherwise be possible.” (Murray and Olcese 43).  One of their major findings included how “as advertised, the iPad offers users a way to connect to others via Bluetooth and collaborate via the Internet through popular social networking services like Facebook and Twitter” (Murray and Olcese 46).   With iPads, students can communicate globally and gain access to a vast amount of information that extends beyond their classroom and home lives due to the variety of unique applications.  Murray and Olcese go on to explain how iPad applications also allow for students to participate in peer group work, as these applications enable

multiple users to create and share material simultaneously using either a WiFi peer-to-peer function. It also provides an opportunity for multiple users to work on the same document at the same time, a function that has given cachet in the classroom to online collaborative offerings like Google Documents. (Murray and Olcese 47)

Such innovative applications encourage students to engage more with those not only in their classroom but also with those around the world.   Such findings suggest that the introduction of iPads into the classroom has therefore allowed students to interact with a globalized world and to extend their learning beyond the classroom even more than prior means of learning allowed them to do.

In addition, studies between 2011 and 2016 have shown that the increase of iPads in the classroom has helped to increase student motivation and engagement in school.  In the Westlake High School iPad pilot initiative program, “90% [of the 854 students surveyed] reported that the iPad had a somewhat positive or positive effect on their motivation to learn. Eighty-nine percent reported that the iPad had a positive or somewhat positive impact on their ‘desire to dig deeper into a subject.’”(Foote 17).   Although such findings are not generalizable to the entire population since the group studied is only a small sample of all students, the findings are characteristic of many of the positive results uncovered between 2011 and 2016 regarding how students have responded positively to the implementation of iPads and its effects on their learning.  In many cases, the implementation of iPads has been associated with “increased motivation, enthusiasm, interest, engagement, independency, and self- regulation, creativity and improved productivity” (Clark and Lukin 4).

IPads have also affected the role of teachers in the classroom and their pedagogical practices.  Many teachers expressed how iPads have allowed students to receive more individualized lesson plans that meet their needs.  Research in 2013 has discovered that “teachers felt that the devices [iPads] enabled them as teachers, to promote independent learning, to differentiate learning more easily for different student needs and to easily share resources both with students and with each other” (Clark and Lukin 4).  Through the variety of applications that iPads offer, students can independently complete activities at different levels.  Research conducted in 2016 also showed that iPads allow teachers “to personalize instruction for every child.  If the student is struggling, [the teacher] can let the iPad offer repetition (through games, targeted reading, or apps) and if another needs to move faster, [the teacher] directs him to a faster-paced game or app (Tynan-Wood).  Also, iPads can be used on the side of teacher instruction, as students can learn from the applications on their iPad rather than just having to listen to their teacher the entire class time.

One of the downsides to the implementation of iPads in the classroom that researchers have discovered between 2011 and 2016 is that student’s learning can suffer when teachers do not receive the training needed to properly implement the devices in the classroom (Tynan-Wood).  Also, research conducted in 2016 found that iPads can distract students from their learning at school, and even in class, “some students bypassed security measures and surfed prohibited websites” (Tynan-Wood).  Such research about how iPads can be distracting devices existed prior to 2016, as in 2013, a study was conducted on 777 students at Arkansas State University and discovered that “students reported using their smartphone or other internet capable device an average of 11 times per day. Eighty-six percent of students reported texting during class, 68 percent reported checking emails and 66 percent said they use social networking sites during class” (Hennington).  Studies throughout 2011 and 2016 have found that iPads have changed student learning by causing students and their nearby peers to be more distracted by the multiple applications that are easily available to use.

While studies between 2011 and 2016, have all looked at how iPads have changed student learning in the classroom either positively or negatively, there have been not been a large number of studies conducted in 2017 that have looked at the use of iPads in the classroom yet.  Rather, the studies conducted in 2017 on this topic have mostly looked at how schools have begun to shift away from the use of iPads to Chromebooks.  The New York Times claimed in 2017 that “Apple’s iPads and Mac notebooks ― which accounted for about half of the mobile devices shipped to schools in the United States in 2013 ― have steadily lost ground to Chromebooks…” (Singer).  A major reason for this shift away from iPads and towards Chromebooks is because “while school administrators generally like the iPad’s touch screens for younger elementary school students, some said older students often needed laptops with built-in physical keyboards for writing and taking state assessment tests” (Singer).  Another article in 2017 related how Lancaster City School District has begun to use Chromebooks more than iPads because “along with being cheaper, Chromebooks are easier for IT staff to manage.  A lot of education software utilizes Flash, which is not supported on iPads” (Thurston).  Such pushback against the use of iPads illustrates how today, the public’s focus has shifted away from how iPads can change student learning and towards how new methods of technology can complete this task even better.

Between 2011 and 2016, researchers have focused on finding evidence of how iPads have changed student learning for the better or worse; however, beginning in 2017, researchers are starting to no longer look at the effects of iPads on student learning but rather at the new devices that are emerging in the classroom.  While the pushback against the use of iPads in the classroom because of the device’s limitations has also shown to influence the way in which students learn in the classroom, looking at the effects of the rise of Chromebooks on student learning is another topic of study in and of itself.  It will be interesting to see if iPads will continue to remain in the classroom at all by the end of 2017 or if they will be completely replaced by Chromebooks.  If schools continue to follow the trajectory where they increase the number of technological innovations used in the classroom in order to keep up with the modernized world, then it becomes extremely important for society to study the effects of these technological innovations on student learning in order to ensure that students are receiving the education that they need.

Works Cited

Clark, Wilma, and Rosemary Luckin. “IPads in the Classroom.” What The Research Says. 2013, < http://ss-web>. Accessed 4 May 2017. Web

“Educators Find the iPad a Useful Aid in the Classroom.”  Targeted News Service. Washington, D.C. 3 Nov 2011, <>.  Accessed 4 May 2017. Web.

Foote, Carolyn. “The Evolution of a 1: 1 iPad Program.” Internet Schools vol. 1,  no. 15-18, 2012,  <>. Accessed 4 May 2017.  Web.

Hennington, C. “Tech Offers Opportunities, Distractions in Classroom. University Wire. 13 Feb 2014, <>. Accessed 4 May 2017. Web.

Murray, Orrin T., and Nicole R. Olcese. “Teaching and Learning with IPads, Ready or Not?.” TechTrends vol. 55, no. 6,  2011, pp. 42-48,  <>. Accessed 4 May 2017. Web.

Picard, Delphine, Perrine Martin, and Raphaele Tsao. “IPads at School? A Quantitative Comparison of Elementary Schoolchildren’s Pen-on-Paper Versus Finger-on-Screen Drawing Skills.” Journal of Educational Computing Research vol. 50. no. 2, 2014, p. 203-212, <>. Accessed 4 May 2017. Web.

Thurston, Trista. “Chromebooks for Everyone Lancaster Schools are Rolling Out New Technology.” Lancaster, Ohio: Lancaster Eagle- Gazette, 20 Feb 2017, <>. Accessed 4 May 2017. Web.

Tynan-Wood, Christina. “IPads in the Classroom: The Promise and the Problems.” Great Schools,  7 Mar. 2016, <>. Accessed 4 May 2017. Web.

Singer, Natasha. “Apple Devices Lose Luster in American Classrooms”. New York Times. New York: New York Times Company,  2 March 2017, <>. Accessed 4 May 2017. Web.