The Honeymoon is not over: iPad is a creation tool

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Shelley Panzarella
CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Shelley Panzarella

It seems the honeymoon is over with iPad devices in education. Whether it’s people questioning the efficacy of turning a personal device into a shared tool, the complex ethical dilemmas Foxconn presents us with, or the sheer consumerism and corporate lust that the words ‘iPad rollout’ imbue, the critics are many and mostly intelligent. As someone who has been lucky enough to use iPad devices with students since pretty much their release, I feel the need to briefly address and delicately admonish those that express perhaps the greatest criticism of iPad use in classrooms: it’s a consumption, not a creation, tool (you never hear this criticism of books).

After using the first generation of iPad with students for a year, I agreed with this point. That’s because, in 2011 (yes waaay back in 2011!) iPad apps were mostly consumption and game based. It also had no camera. As a result, we spent most of the year using the devices for a small degree of creative activities, but mostly as dummy terminals to the internet, connecting to our social media tools.

2012, equipped with iPad 2s, has been a far different story. The constant and exponential improvement of apps, coupled with the camera (integral, because it allows you to use it as a tool for capturing live learning), has turned it into a different device. I would describe our iPad 2s now as shared, digital scrap/sketchbooks. In fact, my students mostly use them for creation. Apps such as Sketchbook Pro and iMovie, while incomparable in capability to their desktop counterparts, are not silly little apps. They may be comparatively ridiculous for your average professional graphic designer, but are just what the doctor ordered in a classroom that values simple, embedded digital storytelling. On a daily basis, you will see my students using an iPad to:

  • mind and concept map
  • draw pictures
  • make movies
  • film learning as it happens
  • make music
  • create presentations
  • make animations
  • play games
  • read
  • research
  • make calculations
  • use manipulatives
  • (come back to me next week after another of my students discovers something new).

When people say that the iPad is not a creation tool, it’s mostly because those of us who write this stuff are coming from the perspective of the experienced, advanced desktop/laptop user. Based on that, everything mobile is a disappointment. What is more, I’ve noticed a trend that those who point out its lack of creative potential have often never used it for creative endeavours themselves. In fact, I myself hardly use my own iPad 1 for anything other than reading my RSS feeds. That doesn’t mean I cannot see its value for classroom use. The iPad presents us with a host of limitations for classroom application; perhaps that’s a good thing.

I loathe the fact that this post could be interpreted as an endorsement of a product. Nevertheless, I’m not going to hide the fact that I absolutely love using the iPad with students. It’s not my own personal favourite device, but I’m a big fan of its classroom application.

So, are we witnessing a natural backlash against the proverbial popular kid in school, or are iPad devices really bad for education? What do you think?


  1. Well said my friend! I’m also experiencing the shift from consumption to creation with the iPad use in grade three. The difference for younger learners is the desktop versions are usually too difficult or time consuming to use with 7 and 8 year olds. The iPad apps enable youngsters to quickly pick up a device capture a photo or clip and immediate put it to use in a movie, story or stop motion movie.
    The shift is happening, but only is the pedagogy is present.

  2. Excellent post Royan! We are new to the iDevice journey, and things are moving fast. I completely agree with you… The potential of the device as a creative vehicle is great, and misunderstood by many. Our PD for staff has included foundational discussions and examples regarding creative, consumption, and assistive technology apps.

  3. I agree with you but need to point out that the 1st gen iPad can definitely be used for creation. Most of the items on your list can be done on the original iPad. We have them in a primary classroom where students are creating digital books on all sorts of topics. Don’t discount the power of that device just because it doesn’t have a camera.

  4. An excellent message. The value of the iPad as a tool for creation is in simplicity of use. Often students do not need the extended capabilities of desktop versions of software. Ease of use is really important for the large majority of educators in schools. Teachers are often put off when time taken to learn software impacts on other learning experiences. Most creativity apps have a simple interface with basic controls thus turning the focus back to learning.

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey. We are about to embark on 1:1 iPads in grades 4 and 5 next year, having incorporated a set of 6 iPads in the classroom this year. I definitely appreciate most the creating capabilities of the iPad and also the formative assessment opportunities through tools like Showme or ExplainEverything where students can share their thinking and problem solving steps.
    Looking forward to more of your thinking on this topic. Thanks again!

  6. I agree with you implicitly and feel that we need to turn the conversation away from what an iPad can’t do, to the endless opportunities that are now available on an iPad and start to talk about what a laptop can’t provide in a classroom. The iPad changes the way we do things, and possibly, it is the tool that will force the shift in pedagogy we have all been waiting for in education. We piloted iPads with carts this year with the goal of content creation in mind. Next year we will be going 1:1 in grades 6-8, additional carts in the HS, and 2 carts of 20 for each grade in the ES. Needless to say, we are buying a lot of iPads. We don’t have all the answers, but the conversations that our teachers are having their practice and new ways of assessment are the game changer for us. We’ll see how it goes!

  7. I appreciate this post! I was lucky enough to get a cart of 25 iPad 2’s this year and have been learning how to make them work. Critics of the iPad are so quick to point out the “consumption only” argument, but I firmly believe that those statements come from those who haven’t adequately investigated alternatives. I agree, iPads do have limitations, and are not a laptop. Likewise, for many seasoned educators, they present a steep learning curve, coupled dangerously with the fact that many students will know the “secrets” of the device already. I think healthy fear is appropriate for any educator using these devices, but to write them off, turn them away completely despite being a cheaper option, or disvalue their relevance and efficacy at various age levels and in various subject areas would be a terrible mistake. How long did it take (or is still taking) people to learn to use computers? And, does the pendulum of education issues always have to go from one extreme to the other? Might we find a happy medium that improves education across the board? My students enjoy the iPads, have helped me in solving workflow issues, and have gained technology problem solving skills. All the while, I’ve been able to maintain classroom management, increase student involvement, and get students thinking at a high level, and produce evidence of this as well. At the end of the week, we will begin our 8th grade SS research paper, entirely on the iPads… here’s to jumping into creating with both feet!

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