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In K-12, iPads Are a Detour

Fact: In the general public, the sales of 10 inch-screened tablets, e.g., iPads, are dramatically dropping.

Sample Evidence: "Growth in tablet sales, particularly among end users, has slowed dramatically."

Speculation:  A fad starts up quick; sales happen; and then sales fizzle. That pretty much describes the iPad craze. iPads hit the scene; they were purchased; either one has a tablet already or one doesn't want a tablet. Unlike the repeated purchases of smartphones and laptops — that continue to come out with new features that support new opportunities, a thinner, more lightweight, more pixel-rich tablet doesn't have the same draw.

Fact: In K-12, the sales of 10 inch-screened tablets, e.g., iPads, are increasing.

Sample Evidence: "Interest in tablets as the preferred back-to-school device has grown over the past year, while demand for laptops has fallen off ..."

Speculation: K-12 is like an oil tanker; it takes a while to get moving, but once it is moving, it takes a while to stop. K-12 started buying iPads later than the general public, and now that school budgets include funds to purchase iPads, iPads will be bought!!

Fact: Sales of big-screened phones — so-called phablets — is dramatically increasing.

Sample Evidence: "Worldwide sales of phablets, smartphones with screens between 5.5 and 7 inches, will top sales of portable PCs in 2014 and surpass sales of tablets in the next year ..."

Speculation: While Steve Jobs may have been right in 2007 when he said: "no one's going to buy [a big screened phone]," it's 2014 and....

"The more time we spend staring at smartphones, the more we discover that bigger is better, at least to a point. There's more room for data, and the bigger display is easier on the eyes." Ed Bott

Bottom line: Unlike the general public, that can make more rapid transitions, schools are going to be buying iPads for the next few school years.  Yes, Los Angeles' purchasing of iPads has come to a screeching halt — but they are the anomaly. Schools and districts that have spent time and energy raising bond money, raising grant money, convincing parents — and teachers —  that iPads are a good thing, are NOT going to change directions now. That's just not how schools operate.

Here's the problem with the iPad direction — and here's the solution:

The Problem: In K-12, iPads are a Detour.

Here's why we believe that:

  • The goal in K-12 is to support teachers and students as they engage in an inquiry pedagogy, a why-and-how oriented, learning-is-in-the-conversation, pedagogy ... as teachers and students move away from a direct-instruction, what-and-when, fact-based, memorization-oriented pedagogy.
  • Inquiry is all-the-time, everywhere — inside the classroom and outside the classroom.
  • To support 24/7 inquiry, a student needs a mobile device that is "ready-at-hand."
  • A 10 inch-screened device is not truly ready-at-hand; a 10 inch screened device is not a mobile-device, especially for younger students. A 10 inch-screened device is not in a student's pocket, but at best, it is buried in a student's backpack — or more likely, it is sitting in the iPad charging cart in the classroom.  
  • Now, 7 inch-screened tablets, e.g., mini-iPads, Nexus 7 Android tablets, are just about ready-at-hand, just about mobile. The jury is still out: are 7 inch-screened tablets mobile devices or, like their 10 inch-screened cousins, are they transportable devices? Answer: it depends. Sigh. We will leave this discussion to another blog post.

The detour notwithstanding, the reality is this: K-12 will continue to buy iPads!  (And, if the choice is between no tablet or a 10 inch-screened tablet ... THAT choice is easy! )

The Solution:  If you have lemons, make lemonade. 

We need to use the 10 inch-screened iPads for inquiry.  Inside the classroom, 10 inch-screened iPads can support inquiry; and, with careful planning, e.g., field trips, 10 inch-screened tablets can even support some outside-the-classroom inquiry. Of course, the 10 inch-screened devices, not being ready-at-hand, will make it more difficult to take advantage of those the serendipitous learning opportunities that occur while walking in the mall, while riding in the bus, while talking at the dinner table.  So be it.

There are sites (e.g., Kathy Shrock's "Guide to Everything," Common Sense Media's Graphite reviews) as we have mentioned before, that list apps where children use the 10 inch-screened devices not for drill-and-practice, but for inquiry — for exploring ideas, for writing, for drawing, for working collaboratively with others!

Bottom line: A detour is a detour ... a detour is not a road to nowhere! Making lemonade is thus very important: It will nourish the students and teachers on their circuitous journey.

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at