Back to the Mac

At year ago, we had 10 teachers at my school agree to go ‘iPad Only’, to do their day-to-day work as a teacher just using a 10.5″ iPad Pro with an Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil. So how did it go?

Things people liked:

  • The iPad Pro is a lovely iPad. It’s a little bit more spacious than your average 9.7″ with basically the same footprint as the original iPad The ‘ProMotion’ retina display is also really nice.
  • Having a keyboard makes a real difference in terms of productivity, both for specific typing tasks and general use.
  • For those who made use of it, the Apple Pencil was a really great bonus, making the iPad really fulfil the dream of replacing the SmartBoart.
  • We bought people Office 365 licences, which was a hit! Having full fidelity read and write access to planning documents is just really useful.
  • Having everything in one place has always been the great thing about iPads for teachers, and the iPad Pro amplifies this effect further.

Problems…

  • Ergonomics. Possibly worse than with a laptop, having to hunch over and look down at a screen, as opposed to looking at eye height at a properly positioned iMac display, isn’t good for posture. Plus the 10.5″ is just a bit too small to be a main machine (9 out of 10 teachers said they would happily swap for a bigger iPad, given the option). And reaching up to touch the screen isn’t as good ergonomically as the traditional mouse plus keyboard.
  • Being second/third class citizens with the shared network drive gets wearing after a while. Our teachers still access a Windows SMB shared drive, which can be accessed natively on a Mac in Finder but requires to Documents app and WebDAV for use on an iPad. With an iPad it’s still very much the case of make-a-local-copy-then-upload-new-version-when-done. A switch to Google Drive in the summer will in some ways alleviate this.
  • You just sometimes need a desktop. Like for writing 30 reports. Or printing off stuff for displays. Or using legacy and outdated educational resources that bizarrely still require Flash. Or accessing Apple School Manager (looking at you Cupertino!).

So, in light of the above, we decided to roll the trial back and put iMacs back into the ten teacher’s classes.

The biggest clincher was the ergonomics: if teachers use their iPad a lot because it’s the best device for them, that’s a different matter than being required to use it all the time.

It was also interesting to reflect on the motivation and reasoning behind the trial; in many ways, it was an attempt to save money when looking ahead at looming Mac refreshes. Saving money isn’t always a bad motivator for a decision: after all, we made huge savings on printing through getting rid of many colour printers and encouraging the use of black and white copiers (and Showbie) instead. But with the attempt to go ‘iPad Only’, money was the primary reason for the switch. To attempt it again, we would need to be able to articulate the reasons why it would be better for teachers, not just for my budgetary spreadsheet!

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