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Schools are Switching Textbooks for iPads: Good for Education or Unnecessary Expense?

Apr 9, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments

Approximately 600 school districts have transitioned from traditional textbooks to the iPad—and the change may soon be coming to college campuses. Proponents of the iPad in schools claim a range of benefits—from lowered costs to less strain on students’ backs. But is the iPad really a good replacement for a textbook? Here’s a look at the pros and cons.

The iPad Advantage

They’re more portable

The issue with strain on students’ backs isn’t a joke. Students of all ages are used to carrying heavy books in a bulging backpack—and with the iPad, taking books and notebooks to class won’t be as onerous. For young students, it’ll be a relief not to have to carry a heavy backpack to class.

You don’t have to charge an iPad during the day

Student with iPad

While a few primary and secondary school districts have made a transition to the iPad, the device is still not ubiquitous on college campuses.


When comparing the iPad to a laptop, battery life offers a clear advantage for iPad users. Students relying on iPads don’t need to worry about bringing a power cord or finding an outlet to make sure the device will work throughout the day—as long as they remember to plug it in at night.

Access to a wide range of learning resources

Where the iPad really excels is in its role as a device for information consumption. Instead of simply reading a textbook, students can take in the e-textbook, online libraries and resources, news sites, and more—all with an easy click. The iPad streamlines research projects and, according to many, enriches learning because of the easy availability of online resources integrated with the e-textbook.

More room in schools

With iPads for every student, oinli colleges and universites won’t have to maintain distinct computer labs—freeing up space in many crowded schools. However, it should be pointed out that iPads work much better as personal devices than as shared—and there are logistical, privacy, and software difficulties with sharing iPads between students during the school year.

It makes students more computer-literate

In today’s economy, fluency with the Internet and digital devices is extremely helpful. Proponents of iPads in classrooms claim that the devices make students more technically literate and prepare them better for a world that relies on technology.

Drawbacks of iPads in a Classroom Setting


Some administrators and iPad supporters claim that the iPad will be cheaper—for both school districts and students. But iPads by themselves are not cheap. They retail at approximately $500, and while school districts can often secure a discount through Apple, they’re still in the three figures. In primary and secondary schools, some parents can’t afford the cost of the tablets up front—it’s likely this change will only be practical in high-income school districts.

For students earning degrees online who are used to spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year on textbooks, the iPad may actually be cheaper. A typical textbook on the iPad costs about $14.99—meaning that after you shell out for the cost of the iPad itself, your college textbook costs may drop significantly. 

There’s a learning curve

There’s a tendency among administrators and educators to believe that young people in particular are “digital natives” who will naturally take to new technologies. This isn’t always the case—the new technology, and particularly the touch interface, will require some amount of time to get accustomed to. Adding the task of learning to use a new device with all the other requirements of college may be an added burden for some students, at least at first.

It’s difficult to type on an iPad

The iPad’s touch-screen type interface is not generally considered easier to type on than a computer keyboard. If you’re taking short, annotated notes, it’s doable—parituclarly for students who are very accustomed to the interface. But for longer note-taking sessions or for writing papers, it’s often impractical. It’s not likely the iPad is ready to replace a laptop or even a spiral-bound notebook in this respect.

The availability of textbooks is still small

At present writing, it’s still not easy to find a wide range of textbooks in e-format.  Many teachers who use iPads now use a hodgepodge of content including web-based materials, digital documents, and information from the textbooks that are available. However, it’s generally believed that digital textbooks will soon be common and easy to access—and this is likely to increase along with the demand.

While a few primary and secondary school districts have made a transition to the iPad, the device is still not ubiquitous on college campuses. However, that may change—especially if administrators can find ways to cut costs by using the iPad. The technology has the potential to make some things easier in the classroom—but educators should also be aware of its limits.

The textbook. Reinvented for iPad.-


L Noah Over a year ago

I think it's a Great way to help the children learn, without carrying those heavy books,
however they will have to learn how not to use them when they are eating,
and to put them back in the case after, just in case it drops

JGro Over a year ago

The e-text entry fee is much bigger than the cost of an iPad. Currently, a class set of hardbound textbooks serves one or more classrooms of students for multiple years in an elementary or secondary school. While iPads make sense for post-secondary education where students make the textbook purchases, school districts cannot afford to buy a new e-text for every student every year, especially when publishers are trying to keep prices as high as hardbound texts. The same is true for educational software that has been sold as site licenses or lab packs in the past and is now trying to move to a per pupil annual cost for online access. Talk to me when you can get the per pupil price down in the $9.99 eBook range.

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