Tuesday, October 23, 2012

iPad mini: More choice for education?

Apple announced the new iPad mini today
Today’s announcement by Apple of its new “iPad mini” is a big story for anyone dedicated to implementing mobile technology in the classroom.  I look forward to fully reviewing the new device when it becomes available.  Will the iPad mini be usable in the classroom?  Desirable?  There are many questions that remain to be explored.  In the meantime, a tweet by Fraser Speirs (@fraserspeirs) pointed out a root issue: “There is no price point Apple could set - not £10, not even free - that would make going 1:1 a no-brainer. It requires leadership.”

This comment led me to reflect on the challenges of equitable access to technology in every classroom and the “digital divide.”  Many one-to-one programs have articulated that their primary goal is to narrow the digital divide between learners who have effective access to an “incredible learning tool” (to quote today’s Apple media event) and those who do not (as described in Penuel, 2006).  Each new device that’s released by the technology industry invites study on whether the latest device will help increase the access of technology to all learners (see, for example, Alvarez, Brown, & Nussbaum, 2011; and Nagel, 2011).

Will the iPad mini help make technology more accessible?  Will it facilitate adoption of one-to-one on a more universal level?  The iPad mini is smaller than the iPad and $170 cheaper.  Is the price difference a game changer for some school systems?  The price may be an important consideration.  There are less expensive tablets available – but the Apple iPad has cornered the educational app market.  Any significant development of educational software is centered on the iPad.  I wouldn’t want to deprive any student or teacher of the resources that are available in the iOS ecosystem.

Still, I would urge school leaders to focus on the articulation of goals when implementing a one-to-one mobile technology device.  What are we trying to change in our setting?  What kind of digital tool will best serve our students in fulfilling our goals?  Defining goals and desired outcomes will help leaders avoid pitfalls that sometimes result in devices being purchased and barely integrated.

With the iPad mini, I’m concerned that the price advantage over the original iPad will tempt people to avoid examining whether the smaller size is appropriate to young learners.  I’m looking forward to field-testing the on-screen keyboard with students of different ages.  One of the most frequently expressed concerns about iPads in education is whether they can be used for writing papers.  They certainly work well for writing and students have little trouble typing on the on-screen keyboard when appropriate.  Will that also be true for the iPad mini? 

If typing isn’t ideal on the new iPad mini; and if a classroom is looking to implement iOS technology for running great apps as inexpensively as possible, I’d be tempted to field-test the new iPod Touch to reduce costs even further.

In the end, educational leaders must return to their visions for the place of technology in education and review the iPad mini in relation to the goals of their integrated technology programs.  It’s an exciting time to be involved in the development of mobile learning!

Christopher K. Sokolov
October 23, 2012

Alvarez, C., Brown, C., & Nussbaum, M. (2011). Comparative study of netbooks and tablet PCs for fostering face-to-face collaborative learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 834-844.
Nagel, D. (2011). Will Smart Phones Eliminate the Digital Divide? The Journal.
Penuel, W. R. (2006). Implementation and effects of one-to-one computing initiatives: A research synthesis. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(3), 329


  1. What do you think of today's announcements? Will the iPad mini help technology integration nationwide?

    1. The cost implications alone will cause many schools to lean towards the iPad mini given the $170 cost savings, but it will take eager teachers and leaders to ensure the technology is maximized for learning in the classroom!

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