An iPad for every student?

Don’t expect to see the all-iPad classroom any time soon — at least not in cash-strapped California, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Apple has partnered with three big K-12 textbook publishers to provide digital textbooks that require the iPad.

 What puts educators off is not just the $499 sticker price — $475 if purchased in batches of 10 — for the basic iPad (add $35 for a case) It’s also the requirement that schools buy the textbook software as vouchers for individual students, who will download the electronic textbooks onto their own iTunes accounts.

Every year, the school district will have to buy more $14.99 textbooks that it will never own.

“Everybody’s going to go to open-source textbooks” — which are free predicts Ann Dunkin, technology director for the Palo Alto Unified School District. “We’ve already bought textbooks. We’ll use them until they fall apart.”

Of course, the iBook can do things a standard textbook can’t do, such as show things in three dimensions and link to videos — or to social media sites.  Most teachers at Palo Alto’s Gunn High don’t let students use their iPads, issued as a pilot project, reports the Mercury News. Too many students were checking out their Facebook page in class.

Despite the cachet of Apple, “districts shouldn’t get crazed by technology. They should figure out what they want, then work backward,” said Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute, a Mountain View think tank promoting “disruptive innovation” in education. “The iPad is getting a huge amount of attention, a lot of districts are spending money on it, but they haven’t thought out why.”

Archbishop Mitty High School, a Catholic school in San Jose, is renting iPads for all students and teachers next year after a two-year experiment.

Tim Wesmiller created an online textbook “as a dynamic mashup of content from the Library of Commerce, YouTube and Google maps” for his religious studies class.

Valerie Wuerz, 17, peers into her iPad, where an app called 7 Billion breaks down the global impact of overpopulation in text, slides, video and forums where students can share ideas and develop projects. She calls the iPad “a great resource, because textbooks are expensive and heavy to lug around.”

Down the hall, science teacher Kate Slevin’s class focuses on the subject of momentum.

“OK, guys,” she says. “Open your iPads.” They use a note-taking, audio-recording app called Notability that lets users write notes with their fingers over text on the screen. They can import a syllabus or a book chapter, create bullet outlines, and record the lecture in case they miss something.

Mitty is adding the cost of iPad rental to tuition bills, figuring that parents will save money in the long run by having to buy fewer expensive textbooks.

About Joanne


  1. As Apple continues to try to get the iPad into the academic environment, and for that matter into businesses, it’s likely to add and improve features by which an administrator can limit the functions on iPads owned by any given business or school.

    I can’t pretend to know Apple’s business model, but in the shorter term I expect that they are more interested in college students than in K-12 students, as a college student may see a huge advantage in buying an iPad with $15 textbooks over buying new or used textbooks, lugging them around for a semester, then selling them back at a loss greater than that $15 or having them collect dust on a shelf or sit in a box.

    There’s no reason why a publisher would have to charge an annual fee, or have to charge a fee at all, to distribute textbooks via the iPad. Part of Apple’s goal in producing easy-to-use textbook authoring software, no doubt, was to encourage open source and independent producers of texts to develop texts using that platform.

  2. Cranberry says:

    I’ve been searching online for signs of all-iPad classrooms, and there are a growing number on the East Coast. Public and private schools. Several seem to have decided to go all-iPad in the last six months. Some are switching from laptops to iPads.

    Laptops are expensive, textbooks are expensive, if both are on a replacement schedule, there will be a time when it makes sense to switch.

    As a parent, one big mark in the iPad’s favor is its weight. Textbooks are much too heavy these days, what with the page splatter and all.

  3. SuperSub says:

    iPads are great when you have a community of parents that could buy them already. My district, though, you’d find a quarter of them would be broken, sold, or otherwise “lost.”

    • Not to mention those in the community who choose not to provide 1 for their kids with the knowledge that they will be provided..

  4. Ponderosa says:

    A solution in search of a problem.

  5. I don’t think that it’s a question of whether tablets are going to squeeze traditional textbooks out of the classroom; it is only a question of when. They are multifunctional, easily portable and simply offer too many advantages over books. Admittedly, the price of an iPad is off-putting and that does present the question of what happens when a child has the misfortune of losing it. I am without a doubt an Apple fan and recognize all that itunes has to offer. However, upon looking at our needs and comparing value for the money, I recently purchased a Blackberry Playbook for my family, in particular with my child in mind – my question is why would Apple be the only alternative in the classroom? American school boards are valuable customers and have to partner themselves with a company that works with them to offer the best education at a price that is affordable for all. A discount of $24 does not seem like much of a discount given the volume that schools would be buying in.

  6. Colin Matheson says:

    I agree that open source textbooks are the future. Just like Wikipedia has changed the game for encyclopedias, organizations can create free online textbooks for education. Search for ck12 to find a bunch of great free textbooks which the teacher can customize.

    I do like the tablet form factor, but I also think it is too expensive a device given the limitations compared to a laptop. We are looking at giving students $400 netbooks with 12 inch screens running Ubermix. For less than an iPad we get larger screens, a built in keyboard, all the benefits of a full computer (printing, saving files) and still get quick boot time and long battery life. Just no Angry Birds 🙂

  7. Ponderosa says:

    JR, Colin –you sound like Silicon Valley zombies to me! Can anyone think outside the technology “box” anymore? When are we going to wake up and see that massive doses of new technology is not the solution to every problem, and is often the CAUSE of many problems?

    Someone please tell me: what pressing problem are online textbooks and iPads the solution for? And is this problem in the top twenty of problems facing education today?

    Here’s one challenge I ‘d like Silicon Valley to get working on right away: developing an electronic device blocker that a teacher could use to shut down all covert texting and gaming during class!

  8. I can actually see iPads (or similar devices) replacing textbooks in K-12 settings. But it’ll be 20-25 years before that happens. First, iPads (or similar devices) have to become cheap; that will happen in due time, as it does for all technology. Cheap enough that if your 1st grader breaks theirs, you won’t have a panic attack about replacing it. Then, the corruption of the K-12 textbook industry has to be overcome. This will take longer, but it’s already begun, thanks to the Internet and PDF file proliferation… It will come to pass one day, though.

    (I can even see some Bachelor’s programs using them, too, but I suspect that big Universities will always be paper, pencil, and book. Not because they don’t like technology… But because both students and faculty at that level of education tend to prefer it that way.)