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Q&A: the Scottish school that bought all its pupils iPads

iPad

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 2 Sep 2010 at 14:07

A Scottish school has bought iPads for each and every one of its students as it looks to bring the web into the classroom.

While many will question the move citing cost, the closed-nature of the Apple platform, and the wisdom of teaching students to type on a touchscreen, IT teacher Fraser Speirs said iPads were the right choice for students at Cedars School of Excellence.

Students at the school use the device to watch YouTube videos of science experiments, read eBooks, access educational apps, and complete their homework, as well as visit pre-approved websites.

We spoke to Speirs to find out why his school plumped for the Apple tablet and how students have reacted to the programme.

Q. Why did you opt for iPads?

A. We had desktops and laptops, but we only had about 25 machines for the whole school, so we were looking at ways to give more people access to the web.

We looked at the iPod touch, but one of the biggest complaints was that it didn’t have a proper word processor and you couldn’t put a hardware keyboard on it.

Then a couple weeks after we had that conversation, the iPad was announced, and it was quite clear to all of us that it took away a lot of the complaints we had about the iPod touch.

Q. But why use a tablet instead of a laptop or netbook?

A. One of the biggest things for us is the long battery life of the iPad. If you can’t run your device on battery all day, you run into the problem of how do you keep it charged up during the school day. That’s a big deal in terms of health and safety, with power supplies being tripping hazards.

With the iPad, we either charge it at the school overnight or the kids charge it at home overnight, and then it just runs all day and it’s never a question.

Another reason we went with the iPad is we have quite good ties with the Glasgow Apple Store. I’m a teacher and I’m also responsible for the entire project. I don’t have a whole lot of time to spend trying to fix computers. With the iPad, we have a couple spares on site, and if one breaks, I can swap it out and take it to the Apple Store and drop my problem on them.

With a Dell netbook or something like that, it’s all done by courier service and making lots of phone calls and tracking it, and so on.

Q. Which students get the iPads?

A. It’s the whole school, but we’re kind of a small school. We’re 106 pupils from ages five to 17, so it’s not as if a whole secondary school was doing it for everybody.

It is a fee-paying school, so it’s coming out of our general budget. It’s not a special subscription programme for the parents or anything. We’re providing it on the same basis as textbooks and tables and chairs.

Q. Can students take the iPad home with them?

A. Some of the kids get to take it home. If their parents agree to it there’s a little contract that we sign with the parents for kids aged 10 and upwards.

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User comments

Sounds like that school is going to save quite a bit on its books budget, and use the iPads as learning tools for other subjects, thereby making better use of its normal computers for actually teaching computing principles.

Getting the involvement and enthusiasm of the pupils is always an aid to learning, I just wish more schools would equip every pupil with their own iPad/notebook/netbook/ whatever suits the school.

Unfortunately I can't see the current govt situation ever allowing that, but more kids should use more computers across the curriculum and not just to get a certificate to say you can save a file in Microsoft Word. The UK is way behind the US here.

By SwissMac on 2 Sep 2010

"we have quite good ties with the Glasgow Apple Store" - enough said :-)

By Lomskij on 2 Sep 2010

Sounds like an apple fan boy IT teacher.

I wonder what's going to happen in two or three years when warrenties start to expire and battery life is dropping. Maybe they'll just buy more?

By Moorezo on 2 Sep 2010

Health and Safety?

They're seriously suggesting that power supplies are tripping harzards...have they not heard of cable tidies? A properly implemented communal charging station where the power supplies are hidden?

Or is it a convienient excuse to buy nice shiny Apple kit no matter the cost?

"I don’t have a whole lot of time to spend trying to fix computers" - so in a nutshell this is an inexperienced end user who shouldn't be anywhere near specifying the hardware/delivery platform.

Idiot.

By MikeHellier on 2 Sep 2010

@moorezo I believe the iPads in question are leased rather than owned outright.

@mikehellier Mr Speirs doesn't say he's got no experience fixing computers, merely that he doesn't have time to do it. If you look him up you'll see he's neither inexperienced nor an idiot.

By davethelimey on 2 Sep 2010

So it'll run all day! Run what exactly? iOS

There's a totally useless non-skill set.
Maybe if they bought some computer's with wires, they could teach programming, design and a million other things you can't do on a big iPod.

By cheysuli on 2 Sep 2010

@DaveTheLimey - I think you'll find people who like to vent, lambast and name call don't have the Initiative or Balance to investigate. It's much easier to jump to convenient conclusions that reinforce one's own bias and world view. I'm sure that there is a word that describes such people...

By matbailie on 2 Sep 2010

@davethelimey leasing would certainly help the warranty problem. This still seems to be a program with not much of a future to it.

@matbailie whilst I don't really agree with Mike's comment surely your's is the most hypocritical ever conceived.

By Moorezo on 2 Sep 2010

Cool for school

Having recently seen the amount of money involved in providing support for a school IT operation, I can see the benefit of choosing machines that simply don't need any support. There's actually quite a lot of very capable creative software for iPad, and it's cheap. Using a totally self-contained unit, with no bits to go wrong, that stays charged all day, must be incredibly liberating. There are obviously going to be limitations, but it seems like a good idea to me. What's also refreshing is to find an IT teacher who's actually interested in cutting-edge IT, rather than a press-ganged technophobe or someone with a corporate "No you can't, that won't work, bloody civilians" attitude (*cough* @MikeHellier *cough*).

By agbanks on 2 Sep 2010

@cheysuli So, you didn't read the bit where it says they are now able to use the laptop computers wholly for teaching the computing class?

Still, your knee jerk reactions to anything referring to Apple are well known: you don't need to look into things, you just know that anything APPLE should be attacked.

By SwissMac on 2 Sep 2010

Turns out the iPads aren't leased after all, they're bought direct from the apple store.

By Moorezo on 2 Sep 2010

Abusive comments

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By Barry_Collins on 2 Sep 2010

Looks likt they're good for what they want it for

Maybe the reason they went with iPad is because it does exactly what they want? I'm sure if the Samsung Tablet had been out for 6 months, they might have looked at that, too

I recently got an iPhone after having a Android-based phone for 18 months (which I really liked). I wouldn't go back - the user interface is much easier, and despite it being less functional, there is nothing the Androind phone can I miss on the iPhone

Finally, Apple products look and feel well-made. This might not help increase functionality, but if it looks expensive, then maybe people are more likely to look after it? Is paying for good design a bad thing?

C

By Chatan on 2 Sep 2010

There is a future to this

I applaud this teacher's project and wish him well.

What will be this years xmas must have? ipad, or alternative? If India gets its act together...(well maybe next xmas).

The kids will have them at school and projects like this will identify what works and what doesn't from a pedagogical view. As an ex maths teacher I'd be keenly interested in finsing ways for kids to use such devices.

I personally wish they had some kind of pen based input.

I do hope that Fraser Speirs publishes his findings.

I am convinced that tablets such as these are the future of teaching.

:)

By gfmoore on 2 Sep 2010

Requirements Analysis...

My point was that I'd love to see the requirements definition, invitation to tender, procurement process and all the other quite normal processes that go on when buying and specifying even small projects.

Ipads, Iphones...whatever the brand - they're consumer devices not computers. Shouldn;t we be using a general purpose computing platform.

Do we teach computing or do we teach how to download from ITunes?

The former trains engineers, the latter consumers....

By MikeHellier on 2 Sep 2010

"No you can't, that won't work, bloody civilians" attitude (*cough* @MikeHellier)

You must be kidding..I don't work in IT.

I'm a project manager/engineer and I would expect certain standards to be followed.

PS I design systems for tablet/touch apps and they're eminently suitable for some apps but not mainstream computing.

By MikeHellier on 2 Sep 2010

i wonder if a family run the Apple store in Glasgow?

at least its a fee paying school so the entire cost is not being met by the taxpayer

By kingct on 2 Sep 2010

Good Idea

MikeHellier, I can't help feeling you're rather missing the main point.

As explained in some detail by Fraser Speirs in this article, these iPads are NOT for teaching computing, they are to assist in the teaching of OTHER subjects, ie; reading English literature & watching plays, doing maths homework, watching history or science videos etc.

Also, you are not taking into account the age range of the children involved. There is absolutely no way children as young as five would, (or should) be learning complex computing skills.

Personally, speaking as someone who does not own a single piece of Apple technology, I think it's a rather splendid idea.

As for the procurement process, why on earth should a private school make that information available? Surely the only people that would be relevant to would be the parents paying the school fees - and if over 90% of those are happy, I'd say it's largely no-one else's business.

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say they probably paid for 100 and were given 110, (one each for the 106 pupils plus 4 for spares, spares which Mr Speirs mentions). If the deal was better than that, I'd say congratulations Mr Speirs, if the deal was worse, I'd say congratulations Apple Glasgow.

MY only concern is that opportunities like this invariably exist only in fee-paying schools, and that poorer children in solely state-funded schools are left at a disadvantage yet again.

By Mr_John_T on 2 Sep 2010

Give him a chance!

Some of you guys are acting like posters on some gaming site!

The man is an experienced educator and has seen something that would work for his school. He's not saying everyone should adopt it.

Sometimes the IT professional thinks he/she knows what another dept should use... and many times in real life terms it's not always the right decision.

I'm not a ipad fan at all... infact I think it's worthless... for ME! If a school finds it useful then bravo!

Calling the man idiot is just childish... especially when they don't even know what that school environment is like.

He works there... we don't.

By mcmpro1 on 2 Sep 2010

A simple example of how a slate can be used in teaching

Many teachers, especially in maths/science, are aware of how reluctant kids are to ask for help, indicate their confusion or say they don't understand in front of their peers.

So whilst teaching they can press a button on the iPad and the teacher's main computer can pick this up and then the teacher can respond appropriately.

Similarly, multiple choice questions can be posed during the lesson and pupils can (privately) indicate their response.

I used such a web based system when I was analysing misconceptions in maths. Unfortunately it meant booking time in the IT suite (always fully booked) and running through 30 questions in one go.

Pedagogically it would be better to find out what the pupils know at the start of a particular lesson (just a few questions) and then see what they have learnt at the end. A personal slate is just perfect for this type of methodology.

Of course I doubt the software has been written yet (for the iPad), but it's not rocket science!

By gfmoore on 2 Sep 2010

"anything APPLE should be attacked"

Instead of anything Microsoft?

Pot/kettle Swissmac...

@Mr_John_T,
The school is a registered charity, therefore has to have it's accounts audited & presented in order to maintain that status.

One concern I have about these things though - How well are the kids learning to write if they use these in every lesson?

By greemble on 2 Sep 2010

How good are most of us at writing anymore?

The quality of handwriting has gone downhill since the introduction of computers anyway. I dare say most of us can't write anyway. My grandad thought my generation was rubbish anyway since the abandonment of calligraphy! Like it or not, handwriting is becoming a unnecessary tool.

One day people will ask "but how good are their typing?" as speech recognition and video/voice essays will become the norm. Changing of times...

By mcmpro1 on 3 Sep 2010

As it's a feee paying school...

fair enough, it's their money, they can spend it how they like.

Maybe slate type computers are the way ahead, although I would be wary of giving them to some of our scummier state schools.

DAY 1: Well children, here are your new Apple iPads. Take good care of them.

DAY 2: 50% of iPads handed out have been "lost", "stolen" or "broken".

Day 3: A sudden influx of iPads for sale on eBay.

By Lacrobat on 3 Sep 2010

@swissmac

What exactly CAN you teach with an iPad? I've got plenty of Apple kit, including an iPhone, but they are not educational devices.
A pen and paper is a far more effective note-taking device, since it is faster and allows for spontaneous illustrations.
ANY PDA would be cheaper and work just as well.
This simply smacks of "gadget fan" rather than "cost effectiveness".

By cheysuli on 3 Sep 2010

@cheysuli

Perhaps you should start by taking a look at the "Elements" app...

By smn1973 on 3 Sep 2010

@cheysuli

Perhaps you should start by taking a look at the "Elements" app...

By smn1973 on 3 Sep 2010

@ cheysuli

"A pen and paper is a far more effective note-taking device". I'm sorry but that is just untrue. t takes very little time to teach a child to tap a button. It takes many, many years to teach handwriting - a pre-requisite for note-taking with a pen and pad. Currently, every child in the country spends (roughly) five years learning to write. For what? I left education 17 years ago and write with a pen maybe a couple of times a month. It just doesn't seem worth five years of your education for something few people ever use.

By Bassey1976 on 3 Sep 2010

Hi greemble,

OK, I didn't know that about the school being a registered charity - I'm afraid I only know what I read in this article and I didn't go away and research the topic more just to leave a comment in here.

However, I still think my point stands: Why on earth would a teacher giving an interview to a technology magazine, about technology in his school, bring financial audit information along with him, much less ask for it to be printed?

It's entirely irrelevant in inappropriate to the theme of the story.

The article is about WHY the school chose the iPad and HOW they use it in class, I don't think it's supposed to be about whether or not the school can afford them, or if they showed proper due diligence in making the purchasing decision.

As I said before, for a private fee-paying school, I really think that information is relevant only to the fee-payers. If they are happy, which they seem to be, why is it being called into question?

I agree with you on writing though: I personally feel that technology should only ever be used alongside traditional methods where it can 'add value', it shouldn't replace them entirely. I believe certain skills are fundamental.

Still, nothing in this article suggests that this school has thrown away all the pens and pencils...

By Mr_John_T on 3 Sep 2010

By the way, I had to laugh at your comment Lacrobat - that would have been my school I'm afraid...

By Mr_John_T on 3 Sep 2010

@ Bassey1976

Learning to write also develops hand/eye co-ordination. I think you'll find that's the development that takes time.
You have plenty of ways of note taking and writing is the most basic. Remember learn the basics before advancing. If we scrapped learning to write then the families that couldn't afford computers (I know it's shocking but they do exist) would be severely handicapped and the education gap would widen between classes dramatically. Writing is an educational even between classes affordable by all.

By JmLing on 3 Sep 2010

@Mr_John_T

No disagreement with the general interview theme & that detailed financial info is certainly not required here.
- By the way, independent/private schools are usually set up as charities - this one is no exception. As a charity, they have major tax exemptions, therefore the costs are of interest to more than just their fee payers - but that's beside the point.

However, in the same way as MikeHellier is asking, I'd also be interested in more details and how the cost & usage pans out over time - but that's for another story in maybe five years or so.

By greemble on 3 Sep 2010

Writing or typing?

"every child in the country spends (roughly) five years learning to write"

Given that I remember writing with a pencil in about my 2nd or 3rd year at school, then either "it's all gone downhill since I were a lad" or there's some wishful thinking going on here.

If no-one learns to write with a pencil, then no-one learns to draw. Please don't suggest a stylus and tablet can be used - anything matching the sophistication of a pencil is far too expensive for 99.9% of schools. And how, @Bassey1976, do you mark up a piece of wood for sawing if not with a pencil? Print some labels?

In fact, I hope that the typing v writing issue will vanish as soon as manufacturers get their head out of the sand and provide hand-writing recognition. Which in Apple's case seems to require them to remember the Newton.

As for slates / tablets of some sort in schools - well, if everyone has one, there'll be no point in ebaying them (incidentally - that was my workplace - can you imagine the stupidity of the IT technician that tried to sell fairly specific components that way?) More to the point, given that kids seem to have to go to the teachers these days, rather than vice versa, there'll be hugely less for them to carry - and lose. Well, maybe!

By AdrianB on 3 Sep 2010

Why have some posters assumed the iPad is mandated to replace pen and paper or that the school has abolished learning handwriting as a skill? I am sitting here wondering if these posters are completely mad, or just completely childish?

I suppose they would also have been the ones complaining when pocket calculators were introduced "because they will stop schools teaching children how to count."

All I can say is, whatever system of education you went through, it has certainly failed to teach you how to think or to do proper research. In many cases you haven't even read the article properly before responding, like Pavlov's dog, to the sound of the Apple bell with vitriol, personal attacks, and hatred.

It is about time more schools followed the lead of this forward thinking school and realised that computer powered devices need to come out of the computer lab where they are currently used to teach Microsoft Office skills and be used as the tools they can be for other subjects.

Rarely, if ever, do computers in most schools ever get used for real programming, even though they are located in computer "labs" where in effect all they are doing is replacing the old electric typewriters in the secretarial studies courses. This is why numbers in GCSE Computing are falling.

Now the kids at this school have access on a one to one basis to computers in the computer lab, rather than sharing three to one as they had to before, their computer technology lessons will become at least three times more effective. They could even learn the principles of computer programming by designing apps for the iPads they use, in much the same way that today's better programmers used the BBC Micro to learn basic principles before moving on to higher level things.

By SwissMac on 3 Sep 2010

Well, I for one didn't assume the school was deliberately replacing handwriting as a skill. Rather my comment was in reaction to someone questioning the need for the ability to write properly.

However, the example of pocket calculators is apposite - how many kids can do long division now? I'm sure I can't. Does it matter? I'm not sure it does - but it does show that calculators were far from neutral in their effect. We do need to think about the effect of these devices - which, by the way, I deliberately called "slates / tablets of some sort".

I wholly agree that computers in schools need to come out of the labs and be used as tools for other subjects. They need to stop being regarded as a topic in themselves - they're not - they're just tools, which is why I think, SwissMac, I'd go further than you with your comments about computer technology lessons - the school is using these things as tools. It's no more about computer technology lessons than pens and pencils are about GCSE Calligraphy, and GCSE Computing should be no more important than GCSE Welding or GCSE Car Maintenance.

By AdrianB on 3 Sep 2010

GCSE Angry Birds

wow this is a complicated scenario.

I think it will be more meaningful for a follow up report in a year or so - let's see empirically how many devices are left and working, and what effect this (b)leading edge approach has on grades. I pity the statistician who has to separate the year on year improvement in grades from the iPad effect. Maybe he'll have "good relations" with the Apple Store too, and have downloaded iBackhander v1 too ;-) I reckon the salesman is on iCommission. What next, GSCE in Angry Birds? I have an A** at that already. Oh and so does my 10 year old. Part of me thinks yeah, how easy is it to support iPads (I used to run a support desk for 300 scientific users back in the day). The other part of me thinks, what the hell can you do with them in educational terms - how much do the school need to spend on the apps?
Good luck to them anyway!

By arm45217 on 9 Sep 2010

While I totally agree with giving kids access to computers & technology in the classroom, I don't understand their choice of product. Ipads are locked down to one OS and one form of user interface. There are plenty of options available to schools to bring in netbooks & hand held devices that connect to whiteboards that allow lessons to be interactive as well as fun. The kids can use either the netbooks, hand helds, the whiteboard or a combination of them all in that lesson.
That would have been a more practical use of School funds.

By 68maddog on 10 Sep 2010

While I totally agree with giving kids access to computers & technology in the classroom, I don't understand their choice of product. Ipads are locked down to one OS and one form of user interface. There are plenty of options available to schools to bring in netbooks & hand held devices that connect to whiteboards that allow lessons to be interactive as well as fun. The kids can use either the netbooks, hand helds, the whiteboard or a combination of them all in that lesson.
That would have been a more practical use of School funds.

By 68maddog on 10 Sep 2010

The hardware is not important

The more important thing is that they have computers for everyone. The biggest limiting factor for IT in schools is that it's run along side conventional (book based) teaching methods. Personally, i tried putting 900 thin clients, laptops and PC's into a school of 750 pupils, but could never get the support from senior management to complete the task. I also wanted to get the school to give our old PC's away to pupils with no home computers, and boost our WIFI signal so that any pupils in the surrounding area could surf for free. Maybe in 10 years time every kid will have a phone capable of what PC's can do now, then they wouldn't have to rely on their short-sighted school for their IT education.

Without total commitment to IT, all efforts are doomed to failure from lack of funds, and/or technical support & development.

By _Alex_ on 11 Sep 2010

The hardware is not important

The more important thing is that they have computers for everyone. The biggest limiting factor for IT in schools is that it's run along side conventional (book based) teaching methods. Personally, i tried putting 900 thin clients, laptops and PC's into a school of 750 pupils, but could never get the support from senior management to complete the task. I also wanted to get the school to give our old PC's away to pupils with no home computers, and boost our WIFI signal so that any pupils in the surrounding area could surf for free. Maybe in 10 years time every kid will have a phone capable of what PC's can do now, then they wouldn't have to rely on their short-sighted school for their IT education.

Without total commitment to IT, all efforts are doomed to failure from lack of funds, and/or technical support & development.

By _Alex_ on 12 Sep 2010

Learn to appreciate what we have got

@SwissMac: Well, if you think we are "behind the US" so much, why don't you go and live in the US then? Or just learn to appreciate what we have in the UK?

By formula_86 on 10 Jan 2011

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