Guest Post: UK teacher describes bringing iPads into school: "It is finding many uses."

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

Fraser Speirs is a software developer and teaches computing at Cedars School of Excellence, an ‘independent’ (non-publicly funded) all ages school in the UK. He maintains a blog and recently wrote about bringing iPads into their school. After the news that Chicago Public Schools will be introducing the hand-held devices to 20 schools this year, Education Innovating asked Speirs to describe his own experience supplying all 106 students with an an iPad, giving them space to use it as they see fit. "It is finding many uses."

On January 10th 2010, I chaired a meeting of the staff of my school to try and thrash out an answer to the problem of the laptops in our portable lab being about twice oversubscribed.

We are an Apple-based school and we considered more Apple laptops, but they were out of our budget. We considered the iPod touch and felt that it would solve a small number of problems for a reasonable cost, but that there were serious limitations: no hardware keyboard, no "proper" word processor and no ability to connect to a projector.

Then the iPad was announced and it solved the issues we had with the iPod touch. In August, we deployed a 1:1 iPad program for all 106 pupils in the school.

The iPad is finding many uses around the school but I strongly avoid trying to be too prescriptive in what the iPad is to be used for. My opinion is that the iPad should be used everywhere that it's appropriate and nowhere that it is not. Individual class teachers are best placed to decide that.

The iPad is being used to replace paper textbooks in Mathematics with PDF versions of the same materials. It is being used in early years to teach phonics and mathematics. It is being used in middle years as a electronic book. It is being used in Art as a drawing tablet. It's being used in science as a dynamic, animated Periodic Table of the Elements. It's being used in English as a word processor. It's being used everywhere to access the web and email and to record homework assignments.

It is still early in the deployment but we can already see engagement with in-class work and homework increased. Pupils are spending more time on task and parents are reporting engagement with homework like never before.

The iPad and such other touch-based systems as may follow it are unique in that they literally become whatever software makes them. Laptops are always laptops. Even tablet PCs with convertible screens still feel like laptops, and netbooks are just more of the same but smaller.

The iPad feels like a book when it's acting like a book. It feels like a piece of paper when you're drawing with it. It is more humane, more shareable, more social and more collaborative than any form factor we have yet seen outside of Hollywood movies. Anyone who has taught from the front of a computing lab knows the feeling of teaching at a 'wall 'o screens'. With the iPad, I'm finally teaching to children's faces again.