Two years later, students, teachers discuss the iPads

Technical difficulties and software issues in the last two years have left students frustrated with school-issued iPads, though both teachers and technology employees express general satisfaction and optimism for the devices.

In 2015, the NS district made a massive investment in the technology program, handing every student in the high school an Apple iPad Mini. Two years later, problems with the devices still persist, students are frustrated, and most would prefer Google Chromebooks to their iPads.

A recent NS Times poll found that nearly two thirds of students, 63.5 percent, would prefer a Chromebook to an iPad. Further, more than half, 55.5 percent, do less than twenty-five percent of their homework on the devices.

Many students feel that the iPads are useless. Though the reasons are varied, the concerns expressed follow a few general themes.

‘They are slow, they are out of date, they are hard to type on,” said senior Janey Christensen, speaking about the iPads. “I only use it when I can’t get a Chromebook.”

NS seniors received an iPad mini 2, so their software is older than that of the younger grades, who received an edition newer. Though the speed of the iPads may be better for most NS students than for Christensen, the lack of a keyboard is the biggest complaint about the devices.

“Most people can’t get their homework done on an iPad, because you can’t type a six page paper on an iPad,” said senior Hannah Howard.

Often, students are required to use the iPads for classwork. Although they usually fulfill their function, students wish they could use the Chromebooks in portable computer labs instead.

“When we use them in Language Arts, most kids just turn to the Chromebooks,” said junior Cassie Swapp.  “Basically, it’s a paperweight with a camera. Chromebooks are just more convenient.”

The functionality of the iPads is also a concern. Senior Jordan Hope prefers the Chromebook because they can multitask, something the iPad struggles with.

“I would have gone with Chromebooks,” Hope said. “Yeah, they’re bricks, but you can do so much more, and at least you can have more than one tab open.”

Although most students would prefer the Chromebooks, there are those who do like the iPads.

“There’s a quality difference, for sure,” said senior William Ah Kuoi. “[Chromebooks] just feel cheap.”

The portability and ease of use of the iPads makes them preferable to junior Russell Madsen. For him, a Chromebook is simply inconvenient while an iPad is smaller and more intuitive.

“I prefer using ALEKS on the iPad,” Madsen said. “It easier to use; it’s portable, and they are easier to carry around.”

Although some students enjoy the iPads, most dislike them; however, both technology staff and teachers would prefer the iPads over the Chromebooks as a one-to-one device.

The NS Times found that, of the teachers surveyed, a narrow majority, 52.6 percent, preferred the iPads over the Chromebooks.

English teacher Jori Turpin believes that the iPads are superior to the iPads because they have the ability to download and use apps that the Chromebooks cannot.

“I would go with the iPad[s],” Turpin said. “There are so many more things you can do.”

For Dax Higgins, the technology trainer at NS, this is a full-time job. Higgins also believes the iPads are the better device because they engage in content creation and augment education, rather than just being a word processor.

“Where the iPad excels is in things like video and content creation, developing the creativity and presentation-type skills,” Higgins said. “Even though the Chromebooks have the keyboard, that is the only benefit.”

Higgins also mentions a more practical reason for the choice of iPads over Chromebooks. Chromebooks are flimsier and have no case to protect them, while the iPads are sturdier and well-protected.

“iPads are the more solid solution,” Higgins said. “They are generally…more durable [than the Chromebooks]. If we had gone with the Chromebooks, I think we would have a lot more in repairs.”

Further, Higgins feels that although the last few years have been technologically rough, the possibilities of the iPads make the temporary frustration worth it.

“Technology can do things that were previously inconceivable,” Higgins said. “The expectations are increasing because the expectations of the world are increasing…[but] if you use [technology] correctly, it will open up a whole new array of things.”

The possibilities may exist, but right now, students don’t see this kind of use in the classroom.

“It’s not like we use the apps, anyway,”  said junior Cassie Swapp. “I only use my iPad for ALEKS.”

Though Swapp may not use her iPad in class much, science teacher Brad Bentley uses them in his classes frequently.

“I’ve become more comfortable with them, so now, we use them quite a lot,” Bentley said. “We’re more and more using the apps…in some of my classes, we’ve done an iMovie trailer.

English teacher Kate Carney, one who has embraced the new technology and transferred over ninety percent of her course onto electronic mediums, also expresses hope that more teachers will buy into the iPads.

“I wish more teachers embraced them,” Carney said. “I have some students who tell me, ‘You are the only teacher that I use my iPad for.’”

FACS teacher Sterling Whipple sees the value in both devices. His classroom utilizes both a Chromebook lab and the tools of the iPads, and Whipple recognizes that some students are simply more comfortable with one form of technology over another.

“There are those who really like the tablets,” Whipple said. “There are those, like me, who would much rather sit down with an old-fashioned laptop.”

Whipple believes that students should be competent in all forms of technology to be fully prepared for post-high school life.

“I believe that the future requires that we are apt in all forms of technology,” Whipple said. “I think it’s important that we have both [the iPads and Chromebooks].

Secondary technology specialist Enoch Brown agrees with him. To him, training students is technology use is a central mission of education.

“Our point is, as a district, is to train people for the world in which we live. If that does not include technology in a very meaningful way, then we have failed.”

Brown admits that the last few years have come with challenges for both teachers and students, but he remains optimistic for the future.

“We’ve had some technical glitches this year that have put everybody back,” Brown said. “We’re going in really great directions, but we are playing catch-up, and frankly, we sometimes get blindsided.”

Brown references the system before the iPads, where there was one technology employee and states that many of the issues with the iPads have come as a result of years with too little technology support. Although the systems set up in past years worked, they were inadequate for the thousands of additional devices placed on the network.

“We had the easy stuff that worked, but certainly not adequate[ly] when you’re talking about thousands of devices.”

With additional funding, employees, and infrastructure, Brown predicts that the issues with the technology will be fewer next year.

“We’re moving into proven, more stable technologies than what we’ve had access to in the past,” Brown said.

Despite the admitted problems, Brown tries to explain the vision of the iPads — that the iPads can augment education in ways far beyond the Chromebooks.

“Your books can have a little arrow in it, but your iPad can show and transform and you can see what the book can never show you,” Brown said. “That’s where we’re going, and when that’s used in conjunction with a great teacher, I think we’re going to have teachers looking back and saying, ‘How the heck did I teach without this?’”.