"Many people think that they are experts in education because every person has sat through thirteen years of compulsory education and have seen many different examples of good and not so good teaching. So many people will challenge teachers and school personnel in what they do and decisions they make, unlike what they would with their doctor or lawyer."
Dr. Normand Bernier
These words were said to me by one of the best education professors I had during my undergraduate studies in the early 1990s, Dr. Bernier. I have tried to keep these words in mind throughout my career when I have heard people talking about educational policy and decisions made by our education and/or elected leaders at the local, state, and national levels. However, it is sometimes difficult to keep quiet as an education professional with over 20 years of classroom teaching experience when I hear people speaking about schools and education who have no other educational experience other than that of student or parent. I recently listened to the Accidental Tech Podcast episode 209[^1], in which Marco Arment (website) and John Siracusa discuss Chromebook vs. iPad use in educational settings as part of a discussion of an ARM-based Mac rumor. The three hosts of the podcast, the aforementioned Marco Arment and John Siracusa, and Casey Liss as a function of their podcast discuss a wide variety of technology-based news and topics that often lead them to meander to different tangential tech and related topics. They typically do an excellent job discussing those tech topics with great breadth and depth. For this reason, I am a big fan of their show and the work they do. However, when their discussion of an ARM-based Mac morphed into a discussion of technology used in schools and why the Chromebook is doing so well and the iPad is not, I became quite irritated for a few minutes at some of the statements and assumptions Arment and Siracusa made. I do think that their discussion does present a great opportunity for what we teachers call a "teachable moment." So here is my attempt to provide yet another perspective of iPad and Chromebook use in schools. As a matter of disclosure, my district, the (Trumbull Career and Technical Center) is currently in the third year of an iPad 1:1 program. Previously, my district had and I have used carts of iPad devices, Chromebooks, white MacBooks, and Windows laptops during my career.
The Curricular Piece is the Most Important Piece
iPad or Chromebook - the technology is a tool for educators to use to create a more engaging and dynamic learning experience for our students that they otherwise could not have without the technology. Good teaching is still a requirement regardless of the technology tool. However, the iPad does have some innate technological advantages over the Chromebook. The iPad's camera is the BIGGEST curricular differentiator. The ability to use the iPad's camera to take high quality pictures or video to record evidence for a presentation in Keynote or Explain Everything is invaluable in the classroom. We are able to give students many different avenues to demonstrate their learning. When I taught math, my students would use the camera to take video to track the trajectory of a football being thrown one day and a pumpkin being dropped from 45 feet the next day. Students would then use the Venier Video Physics app on another day to chart the paths of the football and the pumpkins. The app generates mathematical equations. The point of this lesson was to get the students to study the math affecting the objects travel so that the students would ultimately discover that in both cases they are examples of the parabolic arc formula with the only difference being the velocity of the object. My students reported to me in exit surveys that this project gave them an appreciation for how math does have an impact in their real, every-day lives and is not just something that happens on paper or in a textbook. Having a small, lightweight, and maneuverable device (think iPad) with a great camera is what made it possible for me to provide my students an interesting, engaging, and memorable educational experience. And this is but one of many examples that my colleagues and I are doing in my district on a weekly basis.
The iPad's microphone is also a key asset of the iPad. The microphone allows students to record their thoughts, questions, and observations as part of class notes using Notability or class projects using Explain Everything, a voice recorder app, or a student feedback app such as Recap. Audio gives the students yet another vehicle to express their ideas and their learning in order for teachers to keep them involved and engaged in learning. Combining the microphone, the camera, and iMovie gives teachers a really powerful curricular tool to engage students in a way that allows students to create content both academically and creatively that results in deeper, more meaningful learning experiences for students. A great example of this is how Larry Reiff uses iMovie to teach Romeo and Juliet in a way that is novel and genuine. I could give further examples; however, my colleague and friend Kelly Croy (aka the Wired Educator) stated it best in his blog post "The Best Chromebook... is an iPad."[^2]
Classroom Learning Environment
When I have looked at the many device comparisons, I have not seen discussions of the learning environment, which is just as important as any other aspect mentioned. It is crucial to have a warm and engaging environment where NO students are left out of the lesson and/or discussion. It is important to do this to ensure that students are actively engaged and attending to the material being presented. I mention this because when there is screen that folds up, it creates a barrier between the student and teacher that allows the student to more easily withdraw and disengage from the teacher, the lesson and the content. I saw this in my own classroom the first year I had a cart of iPads (2011 - 2012 school year). Students who did want to be active in the class would use the iPad cover and stand up the iPad so as to create a wall between me and them. After repeatedly observing this behavior with one particular student I had, I implemented a "screen down" policy where the iPad had to be lying flat on the desk or at most could be at an incline using the iPad cover. This subtle change made a huge difference in my classes. I no longer felt as though my students could hide behind their iPads and mentally "check out" from the lesson. The feeling I had about the screens was confirmed for me when I attended the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston in fall 2013. Dr. Ruben Puendetura was the Keynote speaker and part of his presentation that day covered this topic. What his research had found[^3], which can be found on Dr. Puendetura's blog, with mobile devices (to include any laptops, iPad devices, and Chromebooks) was that when there is a screen that folds up to a 90-degree angle to a keyboard, it creates a barrier between the student and teacher that negatively impacts learning.
Apple's over three decade commitment to education
Apple's over 30-year commitment to education has been illustrated through many initiatives, but most recently it has been demonstrated through creation of the Apple Teacher website and all of its related professional learning curricular materials. Apple Teacher is a recognition that teachers can earn, but at its core, Apple Teacher is really an in-depth professional learning experience for education professionals. Apple created an entire professional learning curriculum that enables teachers to become highly skilled at using iPad or Mac and all of Apple's first party software (Pages, Keynote, Numbers, etc.) in a classroom setting. And the best part is that educators can learn this on their own schedule and at their own convenience, which means they can learn what they need and when they need it for their respective classrooms.
There is a position with Apple Education called the Development Executive. These people are all former educators whose primary role is to go into schools to help them best incorporate Apple products into teaching and learning. Many times the Development Executive personally spends time in the districts providing support and education to teachers. However, Development Executives also provide connections to Apple Distinguished Educators so that the school districts can reach out to the Apple Distinguished Educator for additional support and help. I am an Apple Distinguished Educator and have had contact with many school districts, students across Ohio, and the rest of the United States to help them with coding, Swift, and iPad management infrastructure. When a district buys an Apple product they are also purchasing professional learning tools, support, assistance, and thousands of years of combined knowledge from Apple Education employees and the Apple Distinguished Educator community.
As I previously mentioned, my district did, at one point, decide to purchase Chromebooks, which we still have because of their light use and another reason I will mention later. When my district received our Chromebooks, we unboxed them, deployed them, and that was it. We, as teachers, had to figure it out without any support or help other than internet research. Google's direct support of Chromebook is non-existent because they did not manufacture the product. Let's not forget that Google's top business is Search! They collect data about our use and sell it to advertisers. As an adult I am aware of the consequences of choosing to use some of Google's services (and I do use some of them); however, we need to be fully cognizant of the impact of those choices for our students.
Apple's commitment to education is also apparent in the many, varied, and powerful Apple apps that available at no additional cost. Most recently, the entire iWork suite (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) became available for free. Two of the most powerful creativity and content creation apps - iMovie and GarageBand are also now free in the App Store. Additionally, Swift Playgrounds and the entire Everyone Can Code curriculum, iTunes U, and iBooks make up an armada of free content. All of these apps enable students learn, create, and share across the entire curriculum. Apple's commitment to education may be best demonstrated by its providing world class productivity and creativity software to students and teachers at no additional cost.
Well, Chromebooks are cheaper!
I agree with that statement. Many Chromebooks are cheap(er). Many of them are plastic and not well made, but that cheapness comes at a cost: durability and residual value. The conventional wisdom (in education) has been that Chromebooks cost schools less money to deploy. I do not believe this conventional wisdom to be actual wisdom or even true. The new iPad definitely renders this argument for choosing Chromebook completely null and void. Let me show you how.
In the Spring of 2016 my district flipped our iPad lease. We had 4 year-old 16GB iPad 2s and 3 year-old 16GB iPad minis that had been part of our previous iPad cart deployment. We sold for these devices for $90 per device to a company that purchases used devices from schools. These devices were purchased for $479 and $329 respectively. This means that the per year cost of these devices were $97.25 and $80 respectively. Additionally, we had 16GB iPad Air devices that were the devices we had leased for our 1:1 deployment that started in the fall of 2014. The cost per device was $479. The same company that purchased our iPad 2s and minis purchased our iPad Airs for $160, thus resulting in a per year cost of $160 for our iPad Air devices. During the time of our iPad cart deployment, we had a couple of teachers request Chromebook carts. Our superintendent granted the request and we purchased Samsung Chromebooks for $270. The company that purchased our iPads gave us a quote on the value of our Chromebooks. After three years of use, the Chromebook quote was $0. They had no residual value. This is the point that many school districts overlook when they are considering technology - residual value. iPad has residual value and can be sold at the end of a deployment. Chromebook does not have residual value. The new iPad, with its lower cost and residual value, will bring down the per year cost to what I will think will be around $115 based upon previous iPad buyback value. This now eliminates the argument that Chromebooks are less expensive for schools than iPad devices, because now they are not.
The combination of the curricular advantages, better design for a learning environment, Apple's long commitment and support of education, and now price makes iPad the best choice for a transformative learning tool for students and teachers. Now it is up to school leadership teams to forget any previously learned or assumed wisdom about education technology and to rethink what device will give their students and teachers the best educational experience now that price difference is no longer a real issue.
[^1]: Arment, M., Siracusa, J., & Liss, C. (Producers). (2017, February 16). Making sausage-making glamorous [Show #209]. Accidental Tech Podcast. Podcast retrieved from http://atp.fm
[^2]: Croy, K. (2015, March 21). The Best Chromebook is… an iPad. [Blog post]. Retrieved from Wired Educator website: http://wirededucator.com/the-best-chromebook-is-an-ipad/
[^3]: Puentedura, R. R. (Presenter). (2013, November 15). Of Lively Sketchbooks and Curiosity Amplifiers: Thoughts on the iPad and Learning. Speech presented at EdTechTeacher iPad Summit Boston, Boston, MA.