When Less Is Best (or Better)

I seem to hear a lot of conversations where teachers are listing the apps they want installed on iPads in schools. There are a couple of common threads throughout…

  1. There is considerable focus on content apps that are used as direct substitution for analogue activities.
  2. People are putting way too many apps onto their devices.
  3. iPads are being treated as substitute word processors.
  4. Students rarely have much input into selecting apps for use in schools.

For now I will ignore point #4 as this requires a significant shift in thinking for many schools and is not going to be the main focus of this post. Although I will refer people to the work of John Hattie and his theories on Visible Learning which point to student ownership of learning and the learning environment as having significant positive impact on student learning.

iPads are not great for word processing. However there are some really useful apps for note taking and blogging that are suited to iPads. I use Evernote more than any other app on my iPad. This post was planned and composed in Evernote and the WordPress app. The bonus of using these apps on an iPad is that it can happen away from a standard work environment. (This blog post first began while I was sitting in my car waiting for my wife to finish some grocery shopping.) I also find the iPad is great for collaborative document editing using tools such as Google Docs (using the Google Drive app) however I would not use the iPad to compose a large document – computers with specific software are much better suited for this.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Michael Dales

Content apps offer some really useful ideas and tools for classrooms. However I challenge people to consider what value these type of apps bring to teaching and learning practices. Do these apps provide new and/or exciting possibilities or are they a direct substitution for something that could be done using analogue resources? When individual teachers are selecting content apps for a specific class, project or unit of work, schools run the risk of having  shared devices clogged with apps that are being used in small pockets of the school. This is how library books and computer software have traditionally been acquired in many schools. It didn’t work then and it will be equally ineffective if this model is replicated with 21st century technologies.

What classroom practices can be enhanced or enabled through effective use of iPads? This is the key question. There is no point to using iPads to continue to deliver the same learning experiences. iPads are fantastic tools for learning because they have a range of tools to enable creativity – microphone, video camera, digital camera. There are apps for creating, editing and sharing content such as iMovie, GarageBand, SnapSeed, Strip Designer, Puppet Pals 2, Sonic Pics, Explain Everything and Creative Book Builder. These apps can be used across all curriculum areas. Resources such as the Padagogy Wheel can guide teachers toward apps for creating and collaborating.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by flickingerbrad

Consider also the collaborate tools available to use via the iPad. These tools open new possibilities that are not possible without technology. Skype, Edmodo and Dropbox are excellent tools for collaboration.

Teachers need to be aware of the apps that are available. They need time to explore and discuss ideas with colleagues to develop ideas for using the apps that are available on shared devices or 1:1 devices. A smaller suite of apps makes it much easier for teachers to have a clear understanding of the apps available and ideas for using them.

I honestly believe that less is best when schools are considering apps for learning. In a recent post, Daniel Edwards (@syded06) suggests that we can operate successful iPad programs with less than 20 apps. I agree.

And to prove it…

(Less than) 20 Apps for iPads in Any Classroom

  • Dropbox
  • Evernote
  • iBooks
  • iMovie
  • GarageBand
  • Puppet Pals 2: All Access
  • Strip Designer
  • Snapseed
  • Popplet Lite
  • Creative Book Builder or Book Creator for iPad
  • Explain Everything
  • Skype
  • iTunesU
  • Google Drive