At a Glance

What is it?
The Apple iPad allows for mobile learning anywhere, anytime.

About the Author

Glenn Wiebe works as a Social Studies Consultant at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Kansas. In addition to directing a Teaching American History project, he blogs at HistoryTech.

iPads/Tablet Computers

Schools across the country are working to find effective and appropriate methods of integrating technology into their classroom instruction. This has typically included one-to-one laptop initiatives or laptop carts. Lately, the conversation has shifted to devices such as cell phones and tablets. This has happened for several reasons.

The most obvious reason is that devices such as the iPad, iPod Touch, or Motorola Xoom allow for mobile learning, anywhere and anytime. Students and teachers now have tools specifically designed for learning on the go. Teachers can also customize each device to specifically meet the learning needs of individual students. Special education teachers have found mobile devices to be extremely useful tools.

Early research also suggests that mobile devices are raising test scores (1). And anecdotal evidence indicates very strongly that these devices are engaging and increase student motivation. Another reason for integrating these tools is that many students are already comfortable with their use.

While each of the different mobile devices has their supporters, the Apple iPad tablet is gaining momentum. With more than nine million units sold, 500,000 apps available, and useful online resources, the iPad seems to be the educator tablet of choice.

Getting Started

Like most mobile devices, you have several options when purchasing an iPad. The tablet is available with both 3G network and WiFi technology or only WiFi. You can also purchase the iPad with a 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB hard drive. Prices vary based on hard drive size and connectivity options. Most schools are using the low-end 16GB, WiFi-only model without problems. (Using is one way that you may be able to finance your tablet purchase.)

iPads and tablets also allow for flexibility in a variety of deployment settings.

To begin using a tablet such as the iPad, you will need to create an Apple ID. Your ID provides access to the Apple App Store, iTunes, and iBooks Store. You can create an account with or without a credit card. This allows you to download free apps or to use gift cards to purchase apps. The second-generation iPad has several features that make it ideal for classroom use including still and video cameras and the ability to connect with a LCD projector. And the wide range of apps allows for customization of the learning experience. iPads and tablets also allow for flexibility in a variety of deployment settings. Not every school is able to provide one-to-one access, so teachers use their personal iPads and optional VGA adapters to display writing samples or specific apps, demonstrate primary source document analysis, highlight websites, or even act as document cameras. A small number of iPads can be used for extension activities or set up as rotating centers. Some teachers place review materials in the iBooks app or create short video clips on hard-to-grasp topics and then check out iPads overnight to struggling students.


The iPad supports the idea of “cloud computing” with student work being saved and shared online rather than via traditional paper and pencil methods. This can be done using email or free apps such as Google Docs, Dropbox, or Evernote. Many apps designed for use on the iPad and other mobile devices are free or very inexpensive. And while apps for purchase start at 99 cents and seldom cost more than $4.99, it can be easy to quickly spend a substantial amount on apps. So get in the habit of downloading and test-driving the free or lite versions offered by many apps before purchasing the full paid version.

Teachers are beginning to incorporate e-books and PDF-formatted documents into their teaching, creating their own textbooks and teaching materials.

Teachers are beginning to incorporate e-books and PDF-formatted documents into their teaching, creating their own textbooks and teaching materials. These can be posted on iBooks, a free app that provides access to resources anywhere, anytime—even without an Internet connection. Students are using apps such as Book Creator to create their own e-books. Other apps such as Story Kit, Strip Designer, and Comic Life provide tools for student-created digital stories. Pages and Keynote are apps used to create rich word processing and presentation documents. For younger students, teachers can use apps like Stack the States and GeoMaster Plus to help with geography skills. Older students can use First Hand History of America, History 3D: Civil War, and World HD Atlas to access primary source documents, photos and maps. Teachers turn to tools such as The Civil War Today to immerse their students in hands-on history content. Middle and high school teachers can encourage quality student writing with apps such as Essay Grader or Thinkbook.

Like any other tool, tablets such as the iPad are only as effective as the planning that goes into their use.

Special education teachers are also finding a multitude of uses for tablets from accessibility issues to language acquisition. Like any other tool, tablets such as the iPad are only as effective as the planning that goes into their use. Simply putting tablets in front of students is not enough. They need to be part of a well-designed lesson plan. For example, you may want high school students to analyze Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and describe the “unfinished work” Lincoln presented to America in his speech. Using the National Archives Today’s Document app, have students access and read a digital version of the address, linking out to the Our Documents website for background information. Students use the copy and paste function to insert portions of the speech into the Evernote app as they finish their summaries. Taking advantage of Evernote’s ability to insert audio clips and photos, their work becomes richer and deeper than with text alone. Once finished, they email you their work for easy online access. Mobile devices are not silver bullets, but used appropriately, they can engage students, increase learning, and allow teachers to customize instruction.


1 Margo Pierce, "iPads Make Better Readers, Writers," THE Journal: Technological Horizons in Education, September 6, 2011, accessed November 3, 2011. "Schools see rising scores with iPads," eClassroom News, accessed November 3, 2011.

For more information

Wiebe recommends the following for more information on iPads and apps:

  • Apps in Education
  • Apple Education Apps
  • Tablet Buying Guide
  • Check out our Roundtable on digital textbooks to see what six teachers, administrators, and others have to say about digital textbooks—just one of the new tools iPads and other tablets could bring to the classroom.