3 Conditions Where 1:1 iPad Programs Make Sense

Executive programs, robust instructional design, and a commitment to experimentation.

January 26, 2015
Does your school have a 1:1 iPad program? A 1:1 Chromebook program? Are you thinking about going in this direction?  
A 1:1 (one-to-one) iPad program is a tough sell.  Why invest the scarce dollars to buy students iPads when just about everyone is arriving on campus with a smart phone? Why restrict everyone to an iOS device when many prefer Android? Why not work towards mobile parity, where all your educational platforms and materials work as equally well across mobile apps as they do on full-fledged browsers?
Despite these 1:1 iPad hesitations, there are still a number of cases where buying every student an iPad makes sense. 
Condition 1 - Executive Programs:  
If you want to know the future of tuition dependent / higher cost undergraduate degree programs then look no further than today’s executive master’s programs. I’m actually a big fan of executive master’s program, as I’ve witnessed these programs drive innovation and quality in adjacent degree programs. Executive master’s programs need to compete in the marketplace on quality, as they attract participants that are long on options and short on disposable time.  
A 1:1 iPad program in an executive program is a comparatively inexpensive way improve the learning experience of the program participants. It is considerable work to pre-load all of the course materials (course videos, articles, books, etc) on an iPad, but once that work is done the student will enjoy a high quality curricular consumption experience. Importantly, the iTunes U Courses app enables offline viewing of video and articles, a feature prized by busy professionals who may find themselves out of range of a quality network. An iPad can also provide good branding for the program, as a custom case with the name of the program can be a conversation starter.
Condition 2 - Robust Instructional Design and Technical Support:  
I would only roll out a 1:1 iPad program if there are considerable resources available to assist faculty with course development. Successful implementation of 1:1 iPad programs that I have observed utilize the iPad as a complementary technology. The main course development and student interaction still takes place on a learning management system (LMS). The use of the LMS will differ by the degree that the program is delivered in person or online, but even fully residential programs will utilize the LMS to organize and distribute class materials. Programs that shift the balance to more online and less residential learning will utilize discussion boards, blogs, and synchronous learning platforms (like Adobe Connect) to a much greater degree.
The iPad, and the iTunes U Courses app, does not replace the LMS. Rather, the iPad becomes another option that students can use to watch class videos and read and annotate articles. A robust staff of instructional designers is necessary as the course needs to be built twice, once in the LMS and once for the iTunes U Courses app. While there are iOS apps for every major LMS, they cannot match the offline features and clean UI of iTunes U Courses. The availability of dedicated technical support staff is also critical for a successful 1:1 iPad program, as it will not work to have the central Help Desk assist students with their iPads. Students will have more sophisticated and nuanced questions, such as the best methods to annotate readings or use the iPad for synchronous meetings (there is an Adobe Connection iOS app), questions that will seldom come up in the regular Help Desk.
Condition 3 - A Program / School Wide Commitment to Experimentation:  
The third condition where I’ve observed a 1:1 iPad program working really well is where everyone involved, from students to faculty to staff, are committed to experimentation. This is not (usually) an executive program, where the focus is on efficiency and a consistently high quality learning experience. The paradox with setting up a homogenous platform environment is that consistency and ubiquity can catalyze innovation. If everyone is reliably carrying around the same device, with the same operating system, any efforts to leverage that device for teaching and learning will be universally adopted.  The work necessary to develop creative and active learning experiences, say using TechSmith’s Fuse app to have students create and share quick instructional videos, is only really worth doing if everyone in the class will have the same experience. 
The presence of ubiquitous platforms changes the dynamics of how technology is integrated into teaching and learning. Many of us have been trying to replicate the advantages of 1:1 programs with a BYOD approach, but the presence of even a few students lacking high quality enough tablets (or computers) can derail even well-planned activities that rely on technology. Ubiquitous platforms are, of course, insufficient to ensure experimentation in teaching and learning.  There needs to be good faculty training and support (and they should also get the same iPad as the student), and the availability of instructional designers to partner with the faculty.  Ideally, the school or program should also enroll students that are predisposed to want to experiment and try new things. The most innovative use of the iPads for learning will often come for the students, not the instructors of instructional designers.
What is your current thinking about 1:1 iPad programs?  


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