It should be no surprise that many new technologies are making inroads into schools and classrooms. Most every school has computers and SMART Boards, and many teachers receive answers to tests from students via hand-held wireless devices.

Apple’s iPad has been making its way into schools since it was released, but there seems to be a recent surge of these devices and their accompanying apps that are addressing the potential of this innovative tablet in the classroom.

  • Winthrop, Minnesota schools intend to put an iPad into the hands of every student. High school students note the iPad will replace the 20-30 pounds of books they carry in their backpacks.
  • St. Catherine’s School in Racine, Wisconsin now requires all new middle school students to pay a $400 technology fee to cover the cost of an iPad, replacing the previous textbook fees, and obviously, replacing the textbooks.
  • California is in its first year of a major trial to use the iPad instead of a textbook for classes in Algebra 1 in Long Beach, Riverside, Fresno, and San Francisco. The 400 students in the trial will be able to access more than 400 videos instantly from their iPads via a program developed by a major educational publisher.

There’s no doubt this new means of accessing instructional content will have an impact on the classroom and learning, and the way students interact with the content, their teachers, and each other. And it should be noted that the initiative in California is being evaluated by a firm that will measure the success of the “e-textbook” approach compared to the success of students using traditional print materials.

But not everyone is banging the drum for this new player in the classroom. Some warn that the schools will need to restrict the use of the iPads so students cannot download inappropriate apps. (Most districts already do this with student computers.) One critic of the program at St. Catherine’s felt these young students would become targets toting around expensive technology. (After all, who would want to steal a math book?) Larry Cubin, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, warns “There is little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines. iPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning.”

I recall the same things being said about computers twenty years ago, and the desktop and laptops seem to have earned a permanent spot in educating our kids. And if iPads truly engage students, that can be an important first step to learning. Time will tell how this newest technology will fare, but the iPad and its programs will need to work hard (and well) to satisfy the skeptics.