Apple's iPad Joins the 6th Grade: A Novelty or the Next Big Idea?

"It's not just the putting out the money for the hardware, it's buying the software, it's maintaining the hardware because they break down, they get lost. All of those costs of operation mount tremendously," he said.

After St. Catherine's announced that the iPad would be joining the 6th grade, Racine's local paper, the Journal-Times, published an editorial titled "iPad? iFad? iWait."

While the editorial board commended the school for its willingness to embrace new technology, it also discouraged other schools from following St. Catherine's lead.

iPads Offer Advantages for Modern Classrooms

"There is much unknown about using the iPad in education, such as how rugged they will be in everyday use, whether competitors will offer the same or better features for a lower cost, and whether students will actually find them useful," the editors wrote.

They also said that while children need to know how to use computers, "more crucially, they need the ability to think logically, write clearly and grasp the fundamentals of mathematics."

Sam Gliksman, an educational technology consultant and director of educational technology at the New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, Calif., said his school is piloting an iPad program that lets 25 students at a time have access to an iPad room.

The devices are attractive, he said, because they quickly and easily give students access to online research libraries, historical archives, documents shared by teachers and other Web-accessible material.

Educational Technologist: Activity on iPads Difficult to Control

But he said that despite those advantages, there is a "quite significant downside with using it in an educational environment."

"It offers managerial challenges," Gliksman said. "You can't control the activity on an iPad the same way you can on a laptop."

Sacramento's Repsher said that because the iPads would sit on the desks, teachers would be able to see if students weren't following along. But Gliksman said the iPads don't provide the same degree of control.

In a classroom where each student has a computer, he said, the school can install monitoring software that lets teachers make sure students are staying on task. But because the iPad only lets one program run at a time, educators can't run monitoring software, leaving students free to roam wherever they'd like online.

And though iPad-friendly schools think they can block students from visiting recreational or inappropriate sites from the devices, Gliksman said "no Web filter can stop a student from getting on Facebook."

iPads Built for Consuming Media, not Creating It

The iPad is also limiting, he said, because it was designed for looking at and listening to media, not necessarily creating it.

Since its launch, the device has been promoted as a "lean-back experience," as a better way to read the news, watch video or surf the Web.

But in schools, especially in elementary and middle school grades, Gliksman said, educators want students to use technology to actively create.

"They're fantastic consumption devices," he said. "Often in a school setting though you would like to have students be able to produce on the computer and they're not really built for that."

Repsher and Olley said they would rely on creativity-focused applications or consider buying add-on keyboards to help students type documents and produce original work. But Gliksman said the issue isn't the keyboard, but the software support.

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