Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Using the iPad Pro for Learning in the Classroom

While the iPad Pro won't be available until November, I thought I could discuss some of the ways that this new tablet and its features might enhance teaching and learning activities in K-12 classrooms. I think I can make some educated guesses on how this device might be used for teaching and learning and try to get beyond the hype that apple salespeople and others might inspire.

First and foremost, it is not the device itself that causes learning. In Educational Technology, we always have to remember this, and yet we seem to keep forgetting it. The device itself is not what makes the difference, it is how it is used in the classroom, and how it is used by students, that makes the difference.

So with that in mind, how should we use a device? I like to go back to the constructionist point of view by Seymour Papert. In this view, a device should be used by students to create something, not as a device for viewing, reading or listening to (Harel & Papert, 1999). I have spoken about the good, bad, and ugly of adopting iPads in a previous podcast episode, the iPad really was originally created as a device to allow users to consume information, not create it. However with later versions of the iPad and with the iPad Pro, we see a positive direction with more and more features to allow the user to create (though I am still waiting for a feature that allows you to access your own file system and upload files).

An interesting new feature of the iPad pro is its 12.9" screen size. More than the iPad, the iPad air and other tablet computers, this screen size can allow for more creation of content with a larger screen space. Anyone who has used the iPad to create a video, author an essay or compose a song, knows that screen space is quite limited. A larger screen size will help students to more efficiently create digital media to show their knowledge.

Even some of the multitasking features now available with iOS 9, along with the larger screen size, can enhance teaching and learning. Students can use the split screen and picture-in-picture features to do a variety of learning activities:

  • Take notes while reading a book on the other side of the screen
  • Create a presentation while watching a picture-in-picture video on the same topic
  • Write an essay while viewing the cited sources 
  • Read feedback from the teacher while making corrections to a project

A larger screen will also allow more sharing of presentations and projects by teachers and students without having to connect to an external monitor or projector. If the new speakers are as powerful as Apple claims, then it will be possible for the whole class to hear videos and presentations without plugging in external speakers. Students could share presentations and projects that they created simply by bringing their iPad Pro to the front of the room and tapping the play button.

External items that can be purchased and paired with the iPad Pro can also enhance teaching and learning activities, especially those that allow students to create. Anyone who has tried to create a serious essay on the iPad knows that on-screen keyboards don't cut it. External keyboards that fit previous iPad versions are often too small for long term typing. The new Smart Keyboard that is made especially for the iPad Pro is a more serious keyboard which can better be used by students to write essays, create brochures and build slideshows. This keyboard, however, comes at a hefty price of about $169.00.

The new Apple Pencil also has great potential for supporting student creation activities. One important difference that this will have from previous iPads is that it will only detect the pencil and not students' palm or hand on the iPad Pro surface. This can help students create accurate drawings and lessons in a more natural way. Even younger students can practice writing letters and numbers in a way that was not possible with earlier tablets. The iPad Pro is the right size for a slate on which students can compose letters and words from an early age. More advanced students could create better whiteboard lessons and presentations with apps like EduCreations and ShowMe. Art students can use this technology to create digital artworks and submit them to the teacher. Keep in mind that the Apple Pencil also comes at an extra price, $99.00.

Remember, it is not the device itself that causes learning, it is how the device is used by students. The new iPad Pro will allow for more opportunities for students to create something, not just to view, read or listen, and this could make a positive difference for learning.

Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1991). Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.


  1. I am sick and tired of Apple not discounting education tools further for teachers. I think 20 dollars on IPad Pro is a joke, because cost of manufacturing is 360. Apple does not give a damn about education, but profits, and they should be ashamed of themselves for holding back the true advancement of tablet use for students and educators, because of price. I cannot afford $779 on a teacher's salary, but this device could revolutionize education and I want apple to discount the overpriced pencil and keyboard, because they are so important in my classroom.

    1. Apple often banks on the hope that schools and districts will adopt multiple devices and they actively promote their products' benefits for education. Yes, it would be nice if the devices cost less, and it is true that Apple doesn't often provide any discounts for their devices.