The school that swapped its laptops for iPads... and wants to switch back

11 Sep 2012

There have been several well-publicised stories of schools bringing iPads into the classroom. However, a PC Pro reader has got in touch with a cautionary tale from the other side of the fence.

The reader, who asked not to be identified, is an ICT co-ordinator at a secondary school. He tells how his “image-conscious” headmaster was seduced by a scheme that allowed all the school’s staff to replace their laptop computers with an iPad 2.

Our source says staff were initially thrilled at the prospect. “Most staff are IT illiterate and jumped at the chance of exchanging their laptop for an iPad,” he writes.

Now, however: “the staff room is full of regret.”

What’s gone wrong? The biggest obstacle is that staff still cling to old documents and resources created in software such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, and of course there aren't fully-fledged versions of the Office apps available for the iPad as yet. “Some staff are needing to produce documents and resources by remoting in [to a PC] on an iPad,” our source reveals. “Trying to operate Microsoft Word using a remote app that dumps you out of the connection is a nightmare.”

One of the biggest problems is the storage, since you can’t connect USB memory sticks to it

Staff are also having problems transferring work to their devices. “One of the biggest problems is the storage, since you can’t connect USB memory sticks to it,” our teacher writes, adding that staff are now experimenting with Dropbox to get documents on their tablets, which raises inevitable questions about data security.

The school, somewhat bizarrely, also supplied teachers with Apple TVs to allow them to project their iPad display in the classroom, which seems more than a little extravagant. A simple £25 Apple VGA connector would surely have been a far cheaper and more efficient means of achieving that goal. Especially as the staff are struggling to get the Apple TV to output a full-size image. (Clarification: as several people have pointed out in comments below, the advantage of using Apple TV is that it allows the teacher to beam the iPad picture wirelessly, rather than being tethered to a projector/display, which perhaps makes the decision to deploy them  not quite as bizarre as we first suggested.)

“I tried to use mine for assembly on Friday, but the picture on the Apple TV is smaller than it should be,” our teacher claims. “To add insult to injury, it didn’t recognise my ‘non-standard’ font and so I ended up borrowing an old laptop to deliver the assembly.”

The iPad experiment hasn’t been a total disaster. The staff prefer the tablets for note-taking in meetings, and they use an app called Emerge to access the school’s pupil database. “This is handy for looking up student data quickly,” our teacher explains. “It’s not all that good at adding information, but very powerful when it comes to cornering the buggers and contacting their parents!” Although you have to wonder if the school has enforced passcodes on the teacher’s iPads to prevent that sensitive data falling into the wrong hands.

The school’s iPad experiment sounds like a classic case of the chap with the chequebook making the decision before evaluating whether the hardware meets the needs of his staff. “The iPads should have been rolled out alongside laptops, not instead of them,” our source claims.

With schools now given complete autonomy to spend their IT budget as they see fit, you have to wonder if headteachers across the country are making similarly bad decisions based on little more than gut instinct, appearances and the latest fad.

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