back to article Apple, if you want to win in education, look at what sucks about iPads

For us crazed weirdos who work in education – that's primary schools for me – I'll admit it was mildly encouraging to find our world was the main thrust of an Apple event this week. The updated, marginally cheaper iPad with pencil support isn't about to set hearts ablaze, but the mostly stable and reliable environment of iOS …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An interesting insight into that sector for when the neighbours' kids' 5-11 school is asking me for donations towards classroom iPads.

    In IT the time-consuming problem of "keeping many plates spinning" has been true for decades in both development and support. Mass production is cheap - individual customisation is always eventually expensive somewhere along the line.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Windows

      The irony being that the bit that Apple get so badly wrong is the only bit that Microsoft seem to be able to get right!

    2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      At the AC...

      My son is a teacher in a K~6th grade school. He has said that "We've only got so much in the budget for the year. If it boils down to buying supplies for the students or paying for the massive IT required to admin all those devices, the devices lose every time."

      I don't blame his school for not wanting to go down that rabbit hole - it's an expensive & time consuming nightmare. I don't blame him for not wanting to deal with the devices either - 45 students per class times 6 classes per day equals 270 devices per teacher times all the teachers in school. That's a hell of a lot of time trying to figure out WTF just went titsup on little Johnny's or petite Penelope's device. Since he's not qualified to do the work (he's got a teaching degree in multiple subjects but technology isn't one) so he has to call the school's IT department. That's *one man* to handle all the thousands of devices on campus. Want to guess how long it takes for him to get to any one trouble ticket? Hint: a hell of a lot longer than the class length where the problem resides. So instead of using the device to help teach a lesson, he's forced to set them aside & go back to paper & pencil. Eventually it gets to the point where there's no point in reaching for the device in the first place, just use the old fashioned tried & true methods & Get Shit Done.

      So yes, schools that can't afford to administer the tech, teachers that can't get problems solved in any reasonable amount of time, students with the attention span of goldfish & the inability to sit still, all combines into a situation where the teachers just throw their hands up, ignore the devices, & fall back on the stuff That Just Works.

      Can you blame them? It costs money to buy, configure, admin, repair, & maintain all those shiny bits, money that can be better spent on Getting Shit Done instead of fattening the already buldging pockets of some corporate exec whom wants to make his company look as if it's thinking of the children.

      *Shakes head & sighs*

      1. Snorlax Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: At the AC...

        @Shadow Systems:"My son is a teacher in a K~6th grade school. He has said that "We've only got so much in the budget for the year. If it boils down to buying supplies for the students or paying for the massive IT required to admin all those devices, the devices lose every time."

        ...I don't blame him for not wanting to deal with the devices either - 45 students per class..."

        45 students per class? I see where the budget problem lies, and I hate to tell you it's not IT. Your son's school has more fundamental problems.

        1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

          At Snorlax...

          45 students per teacher per class is nothing. There are some with 50 or more per class, depending on the subject.

          It's not the school's fault for overcrowding classes, it's the government's fault for underfunding schools to the point where they *have to* in order to make what budgetary money they get make ends meet.

          His school recently had to stop serving breakfast to the students. They didn't want to do it, they just couldn't afford the extra expenses any longer. They applied for more money to cover the costs, but the grant request got turned down & the money just wasn't there. So kiss one meal a day offered to students, many of whom relied on it because they're too poor themselves to afford it from home, that the school can no longer offer. If the money ever comes back & they can afford to offer it, then breakfasts will be back on the table. But in the mean time, it's either cancel breakfasts or fire a teacher or two. Oh wait, firing a teacher would increase the overcrowding problem & exacerbate the issue. So kiss breakfast goodbye.

          I used to work at his school back when he was still a student at it. Back then they could afford to pay me to be a Yard Duty & Crossing Guard, & I volunteered to be their Computer Lab guy. Fast forward a few years, he graduates & the budget isn't there any more for my services. So I stick around volunteering to be the Computer Lab guy, but they can't afford to pay for the Yard Duty nor Crossing Guard. Budget solution is to get an already overworked teacher to do those jobs (in addition to everything else), & hope said teacher doesn't burn ou- whoops, one stroke later & that person is now on permanent disability, no longer teaching, & all the load they had been shouldering left for everyone else to make up & take up the slack.

          Want to take a wild ass guess what their tech budget looks like? Here's a hint. That "Computer Lab" was filled with Packard Bell Windows 95 machines using 10-base-T. I had to pay out of my own pocket to upgrade them all to ethernet networking cards so I could switch them to CAT5. When I left they were still on Win95, but another student's parent was in the process to get Intel to donate a bunch of new computers running Win XP! I don't know if that ever came to pass, merely that last year I ran into one of his old teachers in the market & the teacher asked if I could come back to help with a computer problem.

          This is nearly two decades later & they *still* asked a blind guy to come back to help with their computer lab. Why? Because there's no budget for a full time guy. The district has a dedicated IT Admin, but that's *one man* for *the entire district*. Take a wild guess how fast any issues can get dealt with at my son's school. "Fast" is measured in geological terms.

          So before you start bashing the school for making my son handle 45 students per class, take a look at the books & realize that *only* 45 students is a luxury he enjoys because he's still just starting. The moment he gets tenure & qualifies for a full time position, it's up to 50 per class & all the headaches that budgetary shortfall entails.

          He knew from the outset that he'd never get rich being a teacher. "If I wanted to be rich I'd become a psychologist. I'm in this for the kids, Dad."

          On one hand it makes me sad that he'll probably be barely better off than some of his students, but on the other hand he makes me so proud it hurts.

          I take my hat off to teachers that do it for the kids. Those are the ones that will go out of their way to encourage & help a kid to strive & succeed.

          And that's *in spite* of the budgetary shitstorm.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: At Snorlax...

            10-base-T IS twisted pair ethernet. It would have to have been installed in a fairly narrow-ish time frame to be Cat 3 UTP in order to require upgrade to Cat 5. Do you mean 10-base-2 aka Thin Ethernet, perhaps?

            1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

              At TRT...

              Now I know I'm going senile. =-)p

              The stuff with the fat coax cable that didn't bend worth a damn, required the metal "T" style connectors, a connecter with a "dead" tip on one side to terminate the loop, & that was as stable as a one legged ice skater on a pogo stick.

              What I remember clearly was having to wind up all that coax cable on a big drum because it refused to bend in a classic palm-to-elbow winding strategy. Laying the CAT$x cable was an orgasm in comparison. It took longer to take out all the old networking cards, wind the coax, collect all the terminator/connectors, & put them in boxes as backup equipment, than it did to install the new cards, configure each computer, string the CAT$x cable, & make sure the network was working.

              It was ~20 years ago, I'm allowed to go insane. =-D

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: At TRT...

                10-Base 2 using coax and BNC connectors going through a t-piece and a terminator at each each end of the cable. Still used on the Space Station, so I'm told.

                I recall the building cables with them and repeater hubs, last time was before some people in our office were born.

                Then there was Token Ring and MAUs.

              2. TRT Silver badge

                Re: At TRT...

                Hey, I laid the same shit, bro. That AND 10Base-5. Even less bendy, and required vampire taps about the size of a single volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. That was for a cluster of Vax/VMS machines. For DECNET I believe they called it. That, too, was so long ago it has been swept into a dusty corner of my mind.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: At Snorlax...

            Err. Saying your son has bigger problems is not bashing the school.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: At the AC...

        Schools and technology...

        There are government incentives for buying new electornics for educational purposes. There is even a company here that refurbish decent business hardware into decent school devices. Alright, school board says. School board buys lots of devices. What's missing? There's only one IT guy for the whole school board.

        My class' PC has a faulty SSD for at least two years. Each day we are greeted by Windows saying the SSD's about to die. There's a 50% chance the PC won't boot each day.

        Education is the worst place for IT, simply because no one is taking it seriously there. They look at the car, not the mechanic.

    3. Mark 65 Silver badge

      I think that iPads work great in education for older kids who have their own personal one and use it to cart around text books and to take notes etc - more something for the private school than the state one. Same for University where you may want the texts, the multimedia, the touch/pen interaction, the battery life and the low weight. For me the typical state school use should revolve more around a computer lab with machines that run off of network images like an internet cafe such that the machines are ready to go at the start of each lesson and pretty much guaranteed to work. Storage can be quota'd on a network.

      I've always felt the "hand out the shared iPads" mentality smacked of convenience over outright practicality. Just because the kids have them at home doesn't mean they are fit for purpose in the classroom, especially once cost and budgets are considered.

  2. James 51 Silver badge

    I always wondered, why not get a robust ereader and use calibre server to distribute epub files? My sony ereader from 2012 has built in drop box support. I know it can't edit files but would be a good way to allow students to get a copy of the notes they can annotate.

    1. Thomas Wolf

      Because these days teaching includes animations and video, not to mention multi-media web sites - none of which work well on an eReader.

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        Epub3 can handle multimedia pretty well and there are apps on multiple platforms that can read them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah, you're forgetting that a lot of education policy / planning is riddled with fashion and corporate greed. Google and Apple are keen on being education friendly simply because once they've snared young impressionable pupils and locked them up in their Walled Garden IT ecosystems, they're likely stuck for life. It's pretty disgraceful. Pus, it's bloody expensive for schools to buy all that kit, and pay someone to run it all.

      It's also far from clear that it actually makes a substantive difference to how well educated kids turn out to be. There's nothing less creative about using pencils, paper, paint and so forth than using a Chromebook. Audio / video is different of course, but that it. It's purely an adult perception that using a smart device is somehow better than using a pencil. It's not. Also, paper and pencil doesn't need a full time member of IT staff to administer it.

      IT is an excellent way of accessing reference material, but there's no need to force kids creativity into the narrow and proprietary confines of a Chromebook or iPad. I suspect that this happens simply because it's fashionable, and because it's convenient for educationalists to have a machine mark kid's maths homework, or spell check their essays. Plus there's the costs the education establishment has to pay to services that'll check for plagiarism in homework. At least if a kid has handwritten something there's a chance that they've read and abbreviated something else.

      Of all places, education should be a realm of open systems and open standards. Letting Google or Apple provide closed systems and proprietary standards is abhorrent. Getting kids used to using IT is important (though these days I strongly suspect they'd learn anyway at home), but nowadays using IT as a means of education seems to have become more important than the end result.

      1. Snorlax Silver badge
        WTF?

        @AC

        @AC:"It's also far from clear that it actually makes a substantive difference to how well educated kids turn out to be. There's nothing less creative about using pencils, paper, paint and so forth than using a Chromebook. Audio / video is different of course, but that it. It's purely an adult perception that using a smart device is somehow better than using a pencil. It's not. Also, paper and pencil doesn't need a full time member of IT staff to administer it."

        Eee when I were a lad....uphill both ways to school...in the snow...a turnip for lunch...etc

        People moan when kids are given access to tech in school.

        People also moan when kids show no interest in STEM subjects.

        There's no pleasing some people, i it would seem...

        BTW, in a lot of countries parents pay for their kids textbooks - over five years of secondary school that can add up to the same as two or three iPads. Also an iPad is a lot easier to carry than a rucksack full of books...

        Your way of thinking is outdated, Grandpa. Get with the times

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: @AC

          "People also moan when kids show no interest in STEM subjects"

          I doubt that arsing about with animated emojiis is going to make anyone interested in STEM.

          Taking said expensive iPads apart, now that might get some interest...

          1. Doctor_Wibble
            Trollface

            Re: @AC

            > Taking said expensive iPads apart, now that might get some interest...

            I like the idea but will the budget stretch to one hammer each or will they have to share?

            1. truckinnutter

              Re: @AC

              You won't need a hammer, the iPads will break just by looking at them.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @AC

            Have you ever taken apart a modern device like an i thing or a phone, once you are done being impressed with how small it all is, there is nothing much to see. Well done you planned 1 lesson.

            If you are thinking raspberry pi then it's an extra curricular thing, since lessons (in the UK) have to follow a strict curriculum.

        2. Mike 16 Silver badge

          Tablets and STEM

          @Snorlax

          ---

          People moan when kids are given access to tech in school.

          People also moan when kids show no interest in STEM subjects.

          ---

          I think you have explained your own conundrum. Tablets as they are today teach primarily one thing about tech: It is unreliable and capricious, and will defeat most attempts to Get Stuff Done (tm).

          It's a miracle when a child exposed to technology only through such a device is interested in "Technology" at all. "Yeah, we realize that getting waterboarded can be unpleasant, by why have you lost interest in swimming in the Olympics?"

          1. Snorlax Silver badge

            Re: Tablets and STEM

            @Mike 16:"I think you have explained your own conundrum. Tablets as they are today teach primarily one thing about tech: It is unreliable and capricious, and will defeat most attempts to Get Stuff Done (tm)."

            No, I don't think I've explained 'my' conundrum at all.

            As a society we want kids to embrace technology in a meaningful way, yet we have people with no clue harrumphing about computers in the classroom - either seeing them as a distraction, or as part of some global conspiracy on the part of Google or Apple to brainwash our kids.

            Some genius further up the comments actually wrote something about "arsing about with animated emojiis" as if that's what happens in the classroom. Other complainers moan about management of Apple devices and then propose, wait for it, Linux - as if schools would find it easier to manage that scenario.

            If that's the level of insight into education technology displayed by commenters on a tech website, $deity help us...

            1. P. Lee Silver badge

              Re: Tablets and STEM

              I suspect we can all agree that ipads (or any other tablet/chromebook) are nice. The question is, in an educational environment, do they warrant the cost associated with keeping them usable.

              I think not.

              Tech is fragile, that's generally why we cosseted it in data centres and keep data off corporate laptops and on corporate servers.

              Tech is expensive. Yes, bits are infinitely copyable... unless the license agreement says otherwise. Those ipad textbooks mean people get charged year after year, rather than holding down the cost of education by people having physical books which they can pass on - maybe even donate them to the library. What would be the reaction if every year all students had to burn their textbooks because Pearson said so? Welcome to textbook licensing.

              It's great that kids can always find their homework online. Wait, do we want to teach them that they don't need to learn to remember to write things down they will need to know later? There is little point hoping that IT *usage* skills taught in junior school will still be relevant in the work place, even if you believe the role of school is to subsidise work-training skills. Surely school should be about learning life-skills, the idea is to enhance the child, not the software. If the output is provided by the software, the child didn't do it. So what's the point? Do Apple and Google get a gold star?

              If you have the resources to do IT in the classroom well, great and good for you. Most schools don't however, and when you try, you end up worse than if you didn't.

              Personally, I see tech as non-beneficial to learning. The point of tech is to do the work for you. The point of school is learn to do things yourself. There's no benefit from the output of thirty more kids essays on the structure of a single cell. The benefit is in the process the children go through. Tech messes with that process. Schools need to look at the total cost of ownership and see if they can achieve a better result by spending elsewhere.

              1. Keven E

                Re: Tablets and STEM

                "Tech messes with that process."

                Well done, sir.

          2. BongoJoe Silver badge

            Re: Tablets and STEM

            >Mike16. Upvote from me for the obvious comparison of being waterboarded and working in IT.

            Yours, who has moved into a new county and have told the neighbours that I know nothing about computers and, thus, can't fix anything.

        3. riparian zone

          Re: @AC

          Are those the times that are filled with over stimulated young people locked into blue screens that don't help with sleep? When young'uns weren't to be running around enjoying the only portion of their life filled with the potential for no responsibilities, carefree climbing of trees and making camps? ah, right, just wondering. Where's the snorkel icon?

        4. dbtx Bronze badge
          Facepalm

          "having things that work is outdated, Grandpa. Get with the times"

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Walled Kindergarten

            "My kids are used to Ticonderoga pencils and Croxley Heritage Wove. How will they cope in a school that uses Cumberland and Conqueror Laid?"

            Worried no parent, ever.

            1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

              Re: Walled Kindergarten

              The name is Bond, Basildon Bond.

        5. notowenwilson

          Re: @AC

          "BTW, in a lot of countries parents pay for their kids textbooks - over five years of secondary school that can add up to the same as two or three iPads. Also an iPad is a lot easier to carry than a rucksack full of books..."

          You still have to pay for the books, though, just because you own the device doesn't mean that the content is free.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        From what you have written it sounds like you don't work in education IT.

        Microsoft's walled garden is no different from Google's or Apple's.

        Open standards sound great but actually using and mamaging them in a dynamic school environment and getting systems and data to share and work together is a nightmare. Yes it is do-able but you need to have a skilled expert to run it and the school falls apart when they move on.

        The best open standard is the use of the web and Chromebooks enable this at a low cost, with excellent management. You don't even have to use Google's productivity tools to deploy this - i.e. using Google as infrastructure.

        Finally, whilst there is a warm fuzzy feeling about returning to pencil and paper; we would not be doing kids any favours to deny them access to technology. Good teachers will teach well, irrespective of if they ask students to use a pencil or a PC, However technology used well can significantly enhance teaching and learning.

  3. James 51 Silver badge

    BTW are kids going to be allowed to type their exams? If not it will make marking exams (and takibg them) even harder.

    1. Uffish

      Re: "type their exams"

      Depends on whether there is a spell checker or not.

  4. djstardust Silver badge

    Hmmmm

    £120 extra for the cellular version ..... Apple are clearly still taking the piss I see.

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Hmmmm

      The price difference between any cellular and non-cellular device (not just Apple) is usually around £100.

      1. djstardust Silver badge

        Re: Hmmmm

        And how much do the components actually cost?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmmmm

          It's not the components you should be asking about, it's the patent licenses, some of which may be a percentage of the total cost of the end product. Whether that's fair or legal has been winding its way through various courts.

      2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

        Re: Hmmmm

        The price difference between any cellular and non-cellular device (not just Apple) is usually around £100.

        Which itself pales in comparison to the cellular service charges that will be paid over the life of the device.

      3. calmeilles

        Re: Hmmmm

        The price difference between any cellular and non-cellular device (not just Apple) is usually around £100.

        For a Kindle Paperwhite it's exactly £60 but that includes lifetime (of the device) data use.

        iPad you pay a premium to have a sim added and still have to buy a data plan of some sort do you not?

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Hmmmm

      While I agree with you, do those who Might just possibly use an iPad in Education need a cellular version of the device?

      I don't think so but you do make a valid point. Apple do take the piss. Mind you HP were not that much better when charging a similar amount for a mobile card for my old work laptop.

      1. Snorlax Silver badge

        Re: Hmmmm

        @Steve Davies 3:"While I agree with you, do those who Might just possibly use an iPad in Education need a cellular version of the device?"

        In the US, the Lifeline Program is a federal program to provide discounted 3G internet access to low-income customers.

        So a kid in a low-income household submitting homework through Blackboard or Moodle on his government-subsidised connection is just one possible example of somebody who might use a cellular version of an iPad...

  5. Joerg

    Just nonsense from teachers that are too dumb to do anything...

    "and teachers became frustrated by the lack of simplicity for kids saving and retrieving work" .. seriously? Anyone telling that Apple products are not easy to use and it is hard to save files in apps must be seriously out of mind !

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      Re: Just nonsense from teachers that are too dumb to do anything...

      While you clearly know the requirements for teaching, and it would be easy for you to do their job. Ahem.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Just nonsense from teachers that are too dumb to do anything...

      Try managing 30 kids at once who don't quietly follow instructions. Duh

    3. doublelayer

      Re: Just nonsense from teachers that are too dumb to do anything...

      >Anyone telling that Apple products are not easy to use and it is hard to save files in apps must be seriously out of [their] mind!

      Er... no. I'll be the first to admit that I have an iPhone and I prefer IOS to things like android, but it is not simple to save files on IOS devices. You have no disk. Some apps will use iCloud only. Some of those apps will fail if you're offline, because the file is only in iCloud. Other apps will save internally and allow uploads to iCloud. Other apps were built when there was no such thing as iCloud drive, so any file they saved got synced, but not downloaded. Thus, they usually link with dropbox or google drive. Sometimes you get apps that require you to use an http server on the iThing or sync the file using iTunes file sharing. It gets worse when you try to move a file between programs. Writing an essay in whatever word processor you like is fine, but just try to move it from the word processor you like to the one I like. At best, you end up shuffling the file around through iCloud drive so that I can get to the open in... button. Other times, you end up with emails or more annoying mechanisms. It's not impossible. It's not infeasible. It's not even difficult most of the time. But it definitely can be annoying.

      1. Lorribot

        Re: Just nonsense from teachers that are too dumb to do anything...

        Also an iPAD has no concept of the 300 different users that might logon so can't save to a specific childs area.

        Apple iOS products are designed for single users which makes sense when you are talking a phone, but an iPad in education is a a much more complicated thing and the concept of an Apple server is something that could tie it all together is something Apple gave up on about 10 years ago.

        Apple are learning that when you jump on a bandwagon you had better put your full effort behind it or you will end up looking a bit pathetic.

    4. ridley

      Re: Just nonsense from teachers that are too dumb to do anything...

      I think they may be getting at how easy it is to get the kids work to the teachers and back once marked. Google Suite for Education using Chromebooks/bases/boxes/pads makes it very easy and intuitive.

      Many teachers are not technology gurus, why should they be? They just want something to work and work easily esp when dealing with 30+ kids at a time. GSFE does this.

      Oh and the administration of hundreds of chrome devices used by many users each is a breeze with GSFE.

  6. TVU Silver badge

    Apple, if you want to win in education, look at what sucks about iPads

    All the issues highlighted in that article illustrate just why Chromebooks are now doing so well in the educational sector and it's not all down to their lower price either. Current Chromebooks can have access to to some Android apps and, later on, they will be able to run Linux apps which includes loads of free educational software.

  7. revilo

    spot on

    The article is spot on. I use the ipad since the very first version (mostly for reading) but for productivity, it is till a problem. The main reason is no reasonable file access. It should be possible to rsync a directory with books or documents quickly over, keeping the directory structure, the logical entities as they are. I have a well organized library which is easy to access under OSX or linux because it is structured in a directory tree. That is all lost on the ipad. Ibooks is nice for a few dozen or hundreds books, but with a library going into the thousands, it is difficult to find books. A second major problem is the mess with apps for note taking or drawing. Not that I mind variety, the problem is that the apps change or worse, change ownership. There was a nice note taking app for example, called Penultimate. It had then been "absorbed" by evernote, where the app of course relies on a cloud service. At some point I was no more able even to keep private copies of the files. Again, also here, every software has its own way to handle the file storage or sync.It would be just great if every app could be based on the same directory based file system. From the desktop, I could sync this over and in one swoop and continue working on the directory tree elsewhere.

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