Do you really want to invest in 500 iPads?

iPads ! Cool !!! But what would you actually do with them in language teaching…?

On our Director of Studies (DoS) course the week before last, the subject of iPads came up, specifically what a school should do with the iPads it has already purchased.

That's in fact probably a question that ought to have been given careful consideration before the purchase was ever made and there are others, too.

Some time ago now, I was asked to advise on whether or not another language school should invest in a very large number of tablets — in excess of 500 (!), that was.

In approximate order of the urgency in which they need to be considered, these were the issues that I raised:

  1. Number 1, the provision of wifi. If the school doesn't have an excellent wifi network, providing fast, excellent coverage to ALL classrooms, I'd forget the whole idea. At IH Barcelona, we've seen a spectacular increase in the number of people using our wifi network; what was excellent a year ago is now at times swamped by the demand for it.
  2. Who is actually to buy the tablets? The school or the learners? As technical support, I'd not want to be responsible for either the security and maintenance of a large number of tablets, or the installation and updating of apps on them. If the learners use their own, none of those will be the school's responsibility. You really wouldn't want to have to do that in a school unless you had in-house technical support with time on their hands!
  3. Are tablets necessary, anyway? What percentage of the learners are bringing their own tablets and smartphones to class in their bags and pockets? If that number is anywhere above about 33%, personally I wouldn't even consider buying them as a school but get the teachers to make use of the technology the learners are bringing to class (but in that case, make sure that you've dealt with #1, above).
  4. What is their intended use? That is, what pedagogical purpose/s are they going to serve? What exactly are the learners going to do with them? And will doing that mean that they learn more, better and faster?
  5. What training is going to be provided for teachers? I"ve left this one to #5, but if the answer to this question is "None" or "It's not necessary", I'd veto the whole idea (not, regrettably, that the IT people ever get power of veto 😉 !)

Assuming that we have clear answers for 1-5, I'd then and only then start to look at what makes and models can be obtained at what price (and I would not be blinded by the bullshit about how iPads are better than anything else!).

I've not included it in the list above, as I've made the assumption that the whole idea behind buying tablets is not just to look more modern in the eyes of the prospective student! It's not just a publicity gimmick, is it? I've seen far too many "initiatives" involving technology that in essence were that, virtually all of which have been fiascoes.

All in all, I would much rather see money spent in a language school on tablets than on interactive whiteboards (now there was a gimmick if ever there was one, unless you could really come up with truly interactive actitivites for it).

But I suspect that, given that so many learners now have their own smartphones, funds would be better spent on (1) training teachers to use technology better; (2) providing better in-house technical support; and (3) on subscriptions to things like school access to OneStopEnglish (€450 a year for up to 10 teachers) and the pro versions of tools like Animoto (€120 per year), Glogster (from $39), GoAnimate (from $99) or the amazing VideoScribe ($138).

Those tools don't come cheap, but what amazing things your learners (and your marketing team!) could do with them.

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