Questions about tablet computers, or iPads, in schools

Update Aug 21: See part two here.

This concept of having tablet computers for every student in a grade or an entire school is one that I’ve been wondering about. And now that my own school is considering having iPads for every ninth grader, I’ve decided to look into it, and figure out, at least, what are the questions that schools should be asking themselves, and that parents should be asking schools, about the prospect of giving these portable computers to kids to have with them, potentially all the time.

Here’s what the letter said:

We are examining the possibility of having all 9th graders in the fall of 2013 use an iPad to enhance learning.  Students and teachers would use the iPad to improve research, engage in one-on-one and small group instruction, access most current and relevant information and materials, reduce reliance upon print textbooks that are invariably out-of-date and expensive, and otherwise discover better ways of teaching and learning.  The end is not to learn how to use a device; rather, it is to learn how to be better organized students and more effective instructors.”

I’ve started to compile my questions. Here’s what I have so far:

1. Instruction in schools today is expected to be evidence-based. What research are you relying on that indicates the educational value of tablet computers for 9th grade?

2. If students are using the tablets for consuming even more media than they already do (an average of over 7 and a half hours a day) will there be media literacy education – critical analysis of music videos, Youtube videos, websites, etc. – to go along with technology use?

3. An important part of media literacy education is learning to produce media – positive media. But tablet computers are best for consuming media, while desktops or laptops are best for producing media. How will the production part be taught? Would it make more sense to spend the technology funds on equipment that allows students to use it more actively and creatively, rather than equipment that allows mostly passive use?

4. I’ve been reading about the harm of distracted learning. When using the devices in classrooms, will students be playing games, messaging friends, looking at other pages? Will they be distracted at home if they are supposed to be reading their textbook on the device, but are also instant messaging, listening to music, watching youtube videos? What is your plan for this?

5. Costs:

What is the total cost? Are there costs beyond the price of the device? Will there be any cost savings projected? Are those projections realistic?

Are you going to go out for bid, or are you going to just choose Apple products, and why?

Will we get locked into an upgrade contract or requirement, and will the costs go up later?

Will we be tied to this company’s apps, accessories, etc, and what will the costs be? And will they go up in subsequent years ?

Do you expect an overall cost savings from putting textbooks onto the device? I found this:

Regardless of the approach, schools must consider the life expectancy of the device purchased and future expenditures needed to keep the technology current. The total cost of an iPad 1-to-1 launch is greater than the cost of the device. Schools will need to consider cases, applications (apps), network improvements, security measures, and other related costs. It is our experience that an iPad 1-to-1 program will not, and cannot, be sold to constituents as a cost-saving initiative.

Do parents need to invest in wifi at home? What is the cost?

The letter said that parents would be required to insure the machine. What is the cost of insurance? Is it reasonable or fair to expect families to insure a machine that the school has determined students need?

Parents are already paying a lot in fees to participate in sports, music, theater, and other extra curricular activities. Is it fair to impose another cost?

6. Is this the best use of scarce education funds?

Would it be better to spend money to help students learn how technology works, i.e. computer programming, which teaches logic and problem solving? Computer programming is truly a 21st Century skill. It’s my understanding that the district once had a computer programming class but dropped it due to lack of funding. What other educational opportunities we are missing out on by spending our money on tablet computers?

7. If we move all the textbooks to the device, in order to save money or keep more up to date, are there health issues with adolescents, who are still developing, doing so much reading on a computer screen? Are there potential vision issues? What research have you consulted on this issue?

8. Corporations are willing to spend billions to get exclusive access to children through schools, where they are captive audience, get the implicit endorsement of the schools, and can sometimes groom customers for life. Apple is a pioneer in marketing in schools and is heavily marketing the 1:1 ipad concept.

By requiring Apple products, the school is essentially endorsing this huge corporation’s product. Is that appropriate? How does that benefit Apple to the detriment of the students?

There is an anonymous donor. Is the anonymous donor actually Apple?

Even if Apple is not the donor, were you influenced by Apple’s marketing to choose the iPad?

According to the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado:

“Overall, marketing activities in schools actively threaten high-quality education by causing psychological, healthrelated, and academic harm to students. Commercial activities offer children experiences primarily intended to serve the sponsors and not the children themselves; they are therefore inherently  miseducative,” because they promote unreflective consumption rather than critical thinking and rational decision making.”

Have you considered this potential harm?

Why can’t I choose any tablet computer – the one that is in my opinion the best value?

9. How does giving children portable computers affect parents’ decisions about parenting?

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends keeping the computer in a public area and controlling how much screen time kids have. I already have trouble distinguishing when my teens need to be on the computer for homework and when it’s just an excuse for doing homework in front of a screen with the distractions of Facebook, Twitter, email, music videos and video games. The research on how all this screen use affects the brain is not yet conclusive. If I want to set limits on the time my child uses a computer at home, but he tells me he needs it to do school work, how will I know when the usage is for school and when it’s not? How do I keep a portable computer in the public areas of the house? 

How do I keep my child from using the device late into the night? There is research that shows screen time near bed time interferes with sleep.

Extreme, violent porn is easily accessible online today. Will porn be blocked on the machines? How? Will Facebook, Youtube and violent video games be blocked? If so, will that infringe on media literacy opportunities? Will students stay up late in their bedrooms looking at porn, or youtube videos like this one: What other harmful media are student potentially going to be exposed to if they have access to the entire internet, and what is the school’s plan for dealing with that?

(And again, will there be media literacy education to teach critical analysis of these things?)

Are you aware that in other schools, students have figured out and shared ways to get around blocks for porn,  Facebook, etc.?

If parents are able to block these things through their home wifi, will kids go to other people’s houses where there are no controls? Will they and their friends find open wifi connections that are readily available throughout town?

Will there be parent training on how to apply controls? How can I check to be sure they are still in effect?

And even with blocks, it is almost impossible for kids to avoid soft porn online. Even on news sites there is “link bait” – women in skimpy bikinis, salacious article headlines, all intended to get people to click. How does the school feel about these things showing up on kids’ screens while they are looking at the iPad in school, and possibly sharing them with friends sitting next to them? Would the school be condoning sexualization of girls? Will the school be creating a hostile environment with what amounts to sexual harassment of female students?

Have you considered these issues? And do the benefits of an iPad outweigh the costs?


These are my questions. Readers, what are yours? Please let me know so I can have a comprehensive list.



  1. Outstanding post and list of questions. I am also thinking about the fact that France has banned Wi-Fi in school until further research is conducted in terms of its physical effect on our bodies, especially our brains, and in particular the developing brains of children and adolescents. I am also thinking of global costs and the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that is the result of mining and exporting rare earths that make the digital devices that we use.

    • Thanks for the additional info, Dianna! I will add it to my letter to the superintendent and school committee.

  2. Sharon Lux says:

    You raise some serious concerns that should be discussed with the school administrators before the 1:1 initiative is launched. I plan to use your clear, concise analysis of the issues when I have my next department chairs meeting. Thank you.

    • Sharon, Please let me know how it goes and what the response is. I’m adding a few things before I send off the letter. If you want the latest copy, please let me know.

  3. thanks for coming by this morning Erin – it reminded me that I read this post the other day and really wanted to comment but couldn’t because i was on my phone. You make so many excellent points!! I wonder if you’ve sent your questions yet–because i wanted to add one. They should also consider the impact for kids with learning disabilities. I know the immediate response will be that the technology can be a huge aid for reading and writing, and as a mother of kids with learning disabilities, I agree. But there are concerns as well. I’m most concerned for kids with adhd. Will the tablets increase information noise for those learners? Will they create a temptation to deviate from school work? What about reading? This can be harder on a screen for many learners (and the research is still skinny). Will there be audio aids? How will those students feel about wearing headphones? My experience with this so far is that the kids know better than the administrators/teachers because this is all so new. They should talk to students with special needs about how they think this would work for them. Technology sounds great – i bought my dyslexic son dragon software thinking it would free him from writing/spelling. He hates it and much prefers to type things himself. Who knew!

    • Thanks, Deb, I will add your questions. Definitely should bring kids into the conversation. I asked my own son, he didn’t profess an opinion, although he has said in the past he would rather read a book than with an e-reader. Meanwhile I have heard some parents of kids with autism say the technology can work really well for them.

  4. Excellent article posing valid questions. Interested in seeing what is decided.


  1. […] few months ago I posted here about my skepticism, and a fairly long list of questions for the district. Since then, I had a […]

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