Developing a meaningful online experience for students in a classroom setting is a goal of 21st Century Learning.  If I put aside the political debate for the time being and focus on the student engagement piece for a moment I am left with a situation that I am sure many of us would love to have; do I choose laptops or iPads for my classroom?

I am piloting an online textbook (Flexbook) for my AP Biology class this year and through that pilot have been loaned a set of 15 laptops from my school board.  I have the laptops until the end of December and can then switch over to a set of iPads.  After having some recent discussions with colleagues I am debating whether moving to iPads is the right decision.  I have been using the laptops with all my classes, not just my AP Biology classes, and have had students produce a variety of work ranging from Toonlet cartoons on viruses to summary presentations on protein synthesis.  Students would then e-mail me their work for me to look at and provide feedback.  Expanding the use of the laptops from simple delivery devices of online content to productivity devices that allow students to collaborate and create is the obvious evolution from a paper based classroom to an electronic one.  Will iPads allow for the same level of input and output?  If the iPads come preloaded with Pages and Keynote then creating notes and simple presentations is not a concern but is the keyboard as intuitive and can more than one student take part meaningfully on a single device?  What apps would be the most appropriate for Grade 11 and 12 students and what limitations, if any, do the iPads have over laptops?  I own a laptop and an iPad so I am well aware of the technical differences but I guess I am wrestling with the user experience piece in the classroom and whether the novelty of the iPads will wear off sooner than with the laptops.

My initial motivation was to obtain a set of iPads (or comparable tablet device) to serve as a medium to deliver the content of the online textbook.  A substitute for the heavy, hardcover  paper alternative.  Having seen the level of engagement and excitement the simple introduction of laptops has created in my classroom I now question whether a simple content delivery device is what I need.  Student engagement is the essence of 21st Century Learning and has been the essence of meaningful teaching forever.  The WOW factor with technology in the classroom is amazing but temporary as more and more classrooms ‘come online’ so to speak.  One day the introduction of devices in a class will not be cutting edge it will be expected and firmly within the box of teaching and learning and not outside of it.