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Tablets Trump Laptops in High School Classrooms

New tech initiatives and product sales show growth and prevalence of tablet devices.

Tablet devices have passed laptops as the go-to tool in high school classrooms.
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During its quarterly earnings call on July 24, Apple announced that it sold 500,000 MacBook laptops to schools during the previous quarter—an all-time high for the tech company. It also announced that it had sold 1 million iPads to high schools and colleges, doubling its iPad sales to schools during the same quarter a year ago.

"Education tends to be a conservative institution, but we're not seeing that at all on the iPad," Apple CEO Tim Cook said on a call with investors. "The adoption of the iPad in education is something I've never seen in any technology."

[See how iBooks are competing with print textbooks for college students.]

The day before Apple's earnings call, News Corporation, the world's second largest media group, unveiled its new K-12 education division, Amplify. Headed by former New York City Public Schools chancellor Joel Klein, the new division is a partnership between News Corporation and AT&T to provide tablet-based learning products. The two companies are launching a pilot program during the 2012-2013 school year, offering 4G tablet devices, Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity, and device management and technical services to select schools across the nation.

"It is our aim to amplify the power of digital innovation to transform teaching and learning and to help schools deliver fundamentally better experiences and results," Klein said in a press release.

This growth in tablet use has motivated many schools to find ways to integrate the devices inside the classroom—with the goal of offering students the greatest technological advantages in preparation for college, says Michael Singleton, the social studies department head at Florida's Orlando Science Schools, a charter school.

"I would say an iPad will one day be the same as a book bag or a ruler or a pencil," Singleton notes. "I think that the iPad will be an essential component to schools, [and] it's certainly something we can't ignore as a school—we need to embrace it."

Beginning this fall, all Orlando Science Schools students will be issued an iPad for use at home and at school, Singleton says. But there is a stipulation: Students must keep a still-to-be-determined GPA in order to continue using the iPad; those who fall below the target will forfeit use of the tablet. Teachers will also play a fundamental role in the implementation of tablet devices in the classroom, he notes, as they will be required to include them in their lesson plans.

[More high schools are implementing iPad programs.]

While some educators may champion this requirement, other high school teachers still favor laptops in the classroom. Amy Schmidbauer, a special education teacher at Boca Ciega High School in Florida's Pinellas County Schools, says she still finds more advantages to using a laptop than a tablet device.

"As far as having to type a paper or make a graph, we have to use laptops because it's so much harder to type [with tablet devices]," Schmidbauer says. "With iPads, too, kids get off task quicker. If I give them an independent assignment on an iPad and I turn my back for one second, they're playing [a game]."

Many of the issues teachers have faced using iPads in the classroom can be solved through proper training, notes Joel Backon, director of academic technology at Choate Rosemary Hall, a coeducational boarding and day school in Connecticut. Backon will be overseeing iPad training for teachers at The Choate School, and he says most teachers have found iPads to be less intimidating to use than laptops after spending time with the tablet device.

"Primarily, they're not dealing with an operating system you'd find on a laptop—it's pretty much invisible on an iPad, and all they're dealing with are the apps," Backon says. "Some teachers had a little trouble adjusting to the touch screen, but over time I think they got used to that. Overall, the benefits of having a touch screen far outweigh whatever little hassles we may run into with it."

Ultimately, the biggest adjustment for teachers will not be in understanding the functions of tablet devices but in incorporating them into their teaching styles, Backon notes.