In 2019, Reddam House Private School, located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, officially banned iPads and went back to regular textbooks. The school has developed a bring-your-own-device policy with a preference for laptops. Reddam House Private School has used iPads for e-textbooks for the past five years.
The school says that teachers agree with the decision to ban iPads as they were found to do nothing in improving students’ technology skills and instead hindered learning. However, parents had mixed reactions, some saying they believed digital devices were essential for modern education.
Principal Dave Pitcairn said messages and other alerts on the iPads distracted students and that researching and note-taking was easier for students with hard copy textbooks. Pitcairn also believes students learn better and use more senses when searching through textbooks.
The school says the decision was based on the feedback they’ve gotten from students, saying that they prefer pages to screens. This change comes at a time when growing bodies of students and schools around the world are incorporating iPads and other digital devices in their classrooms. While this may have happened in 2019, it’s still a relevant topic. When does technology undoubtedly help us, and when does it hinder us? Here’s what research has to say about whether or not this decision by Reddam House was the right move.
What Does Research Say About Learning and iPads?
While a lot of research exists about learning when it comes to digital devices, it’s far from conclusive. Research in Canada, where more than 6,000 students use iPads every day for learning, highlighted both the pros and cons of using iPads in the classroom. The study noted that access to information and student motivation were among the pros, and distraction and writing skills being among the cons (apparently, students lacked the ability to type longer papers on the iPad) 
Numerous other studies, including one small study that evaluated learning among students with autism spectrum disorder, showed the pros (increasing independence) and the cons (math skill development) of using iPads in schools .
Other years’ long studies say using iPads in the classroom increases engagement of students . But still, other research calls for more data, saying that the educational benefits of such device use for learning haven’t been formally evaluated .
What’s perhaps not surprising but an excellent point is that other research and education leaders say that teachers lack the skills to truly leverage the potential of using these technologies to support empowered learning and technology skills among students .
Clearly, the data for using iPads has been somewhat mixed and needs to be more concrete before we can say with certainty that the use of these devices in classrooms is actually helping children.
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School Banned iPads and The Case for Sticking with Regular Textbooks
There are numerous, legitimate points that support the idea of sticking with regular textbooks. People note that the changing nature of technology with these devices are going to require upgrades, which is certainly a concern as education budgets suffer worldwide.
Adopting the use of iPads and other devices in the classroom also forces schools to adopt new policies for these devices in an effort to control how they are used, especially when it comes to internet access.
And, of course, there’s also research that shows that students engage better with a physical textbook, which conflicts with what some of the research we noted above shows with the use of iPads .
Other studies show that while students were found to read digital print faster, their comprehension was better when learning from actual printed textbooks . And still, other research suggests that we don’t yet understand the impact of digital print on children’s learning and comprehension .
Given that iPads were only introduced in 2010 and adopted into classrooms in the subsequent years, I’d agree that long-term data is certainly lacking when it comes to this dramatic change in learning. Perhaps more than anything else, the conflicting research between iPads and textbooks shows that there are pros and cons to everything.
Other Considerations—Blue Light, Physical Activity, and Language Development
Of course, there are other considerations to take into account when it comes to children, iPads, and other devices that extend beyond learning and classrooms. Children are particularly susceptible to the blue light that is emitted from such devices, and research suggests there may be some concern . Mental health in children is also a growing concern when it comes to these devices.
Other experts note that the use of iPads in classrooms and other technology use among children can delay language development while also contributing to obesity due to encouraging the use of digital devices over physical activity, problems with sleeping and attention, and more.
Some even note that the use of digital devices such as those in schools could lead to addiction, depression, chronic stress, and irritability . Clearly, there’s not only still more research needed, but perhaps even more hesitancy when it comes to using iPads in place of traditional textbooks when learning in classrooms.
Although Reddam House Private School’s decision to ban iPads appeared to be based on both student and teacher preference for traditional textbooks, perhaps they made the right decision in switching back to print.
There appears to be a need for more teacher training if iPads are to continue to be used in schools to their full advantage, but there also needs to be more data to show that kids are actually benefiting from these devices.
Parents who object saying that modern technology usage is a necessary skill for most job markets aren’t wrong; however, placing an emphasis on learning with iPads hardly seems to be the solution—a simple technology course or at-home use of these devices could suffice.
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- “The iPad in Education: uses, benefits, and challenges. A survey of 6057 students and 302 teachers in Quebec, Canada.” Research Gate. Thierry Karsenti, et al. December 2013.
- “Effectiveness of Using iPads to Increase Academic Task Completion by Students with Autism.” Files. Eric. Patricia O’Malley*, et al. 2014.
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