In this blog entry, I offer one set of responses to the following questions:

1) Is the iPad the right device to do a one to one?

2) Does an iPad project really cost more than a technology replacement?

Before I get started, I want you to know that I own my own iPad, have written extensively on my explorations with it, and am in the midst of deploying iPads. They are wonderful devices, but in light of the responses to the two questions above, schools and districts should spend some time reflecting on how to proceed in regards to these devices. I know that these numbers make me want to ask, Are all or nothing iPad deployments really wise? I set out to find the answer to that question.

For some, I know, it may be too late to answer these questions. The lid to Pandora’s Box has been cracked open and trying to put the little horned aberration–the iPad–back into the box is nigh impossible. Still, there are some who may consider this information useful. Here’s why….

A colleague recently wrote with this request, which after some deliberation, I regretfully declined realizing a few million things were taking place between now and then. Here’s the request:

Did you get my message on Google+! I’d like to offer your viewpoint in a panel I have coming up at ISTE, and was hoping you could send me a video. If not- a link- to one of your articles spelling out your ideas on iPads and 1:1. I couldn’t find it on your site.

He couldn’t find it on my site? After some searching, I couldn’t find it either. Sheesh. The truth is, making videos takes time, but cranking out a blog entry isn’t that difficult. Then, earlier tonight, another colleague wrote, asking me how they should go about re-assuring their district leadership that the cost of the burgeoning iPad initiative was worth the benefits. Worth the benefits? Hmm…

Let’s not forget that iPads are a force of nature, magical and mystical…just like unicorns. 

When I first parted the bramble path into iPad territory, I had high hopes that maybe I was crazy but that I’d find a way into the future. You know, you hear great things about a technology that’s pushing itself into schools, being adopted left and right by folks drinking the kool-aid, and then, whammo, you realize you were right all along. Your premonitions were correct…and you start choking on the Kool-Aid you thought was going to slake your thirst.

Maybe that in itself is a sign that something is wrong.

1) Is the iPad the right device to do a one to one?
No. Allow me to count the ways it’s NOT the right device for a one to one…and, if you’re not convinced by my mystical math, go read Ben Grey’s comparison.
  1. Costs more money than a technology replacement – Have you figured out the cost of what it would take to do a replacement of equipment in your school or district? Good. Now figure out how much it would cost to implement the iPad in your situation, including additional apps, carts, Macbook Pro computers as sync stations, and then tell me what the difference is. Yes, don’t be shocked…the cost is equivalent to doing a technology replacement for more people, or, (gasp) twice as much. You didn’t save anything by switching to iPads, and, in fact, you broke the budget.
  2. iPad doesn’t work with GoogleApps for Education – Yes,  the money you save on getting rid of MS Exchange for your organization will fly out the window as you spend money on the iPad. The iPad is the best, locked-down proprietary tablet on the market, but it is difficult to create content and get it off the iPad using the standard ways we get content off (e.g. GoogleDocs, saving the file to internal storage then uploading it elsewhere, unless you buy a $17 app like Documents to Go Premium). For example, in a shared cart environment, how would students get large videos they’ve created out of the Camera Roll to you, the teacher (go ahead, say it…buy an app, right?)?
  3. Data Storage is an exercise in frustration – If you want to easily get content on and off the iPad, you’ll need a WebDav server (I recommend OwnCloud–read more here) to interface with iWorks suite (Keynote, Numbers, and Pages), or you’ll have to invest in a solution like eBackpack.
  4. iPad = Management Nightmare – So, Apple restricts what a Mobile Device Manager (MDM) can do. Why bother getting an MDM? It’s nigh impossible to manage remotely; instead, you have to use a MacMini ($600) or Macbook Pro ($1100) to run Apple Configurator for a cart of iPads, which means the teacher responsible for iPads, cart, sync station, app selection, etc. has a lot on his/her plate.
  5. Where’s the darn keyboard?!? You pay $500 for the iPad, then, if you want to use it for text processing, buy an additional $50-$100 keyboard to enhance it. “I have to buy a keyboard for this iPad!” If you’re going to do any serious typing/writing–a fundamental literacy not superseded by digital literacies afforded by a tablet like the iPad–you have to, as I heard one teacher put it in a workshop today, buy a keyboard.
  6. Nickle and dimed to death – You get nickle-and-dimed to death for the apps you need to do real work (e.g. Keynote, iMovie). I know because even though I’m using AppsFire (great app, BTW, to find free apps), my iPad is still a black hole where I pour money in when I want to accomplish something. The ultimate purpose of the iPad is to keep you spending money and siphon funding from your wallet, or if a school district, school coffers. Of course, this is what Apple designed the iPad for, right?
  7. Districts Lack an Assessment Model for their iPad initiatives – Ask a school district, “How do you plan to assess success for this iPad initiative?” and the response may not be dis-similar to what they would have said if they’d deployed netbooks. In fact, in spite of SAMR model making the rounds, the bald truth is that iPads are magical but no specific model exists that puts them to use.
  8. eBooks and eTextbooks – As beautiful creations as the iPad iBooks are, they strive for vendor lock-in, not allowing you to create content in freely available formats like ePub. While there are some educators who are creating great textbooks with an iPad, the question is, Was it the device that made it possible or a change in expectation? I honestly think teachers who could create textbooks were never expected to, but once the ipad came out, the expectation changed.
2) Does an iPad project really cost more than a technology replacement?
Let’s take this question in parts because this all depends on the size of your school or district.

The parameters:

  • 20 schools
  • 18,000 students
  • 1000 computers = 2 labs of 25 computers at each school
  • 1200 computers = 600 classrooms (30 classrooms per school) x 2 computers per classroom
  • 120 office computers (6 office staff per campus)
  • $800 per desktop computer, or, if a netbook, $300 (on a bad day)
Ok, now let’s figure this out for iPads…
  • $479 per iPad, 3rd Generation 16 gigs
  • $2200 per 30 iPad charging/synching cart
  • $15.99 per protective iPad case
  • $15 per iWorks Suite (includes Keynote, Numbers, Pages) per iPad
  • $1100 Macbook Pro laptop as synching station for every 20 iPads
  • $25 iTunes card to buy apps via VPP
  • $104 USB External Hard drive per Macbook Pro laptop
  • $29 iPad VGA adapters (so you can connect to digital projector)
  • $8000 Server to house WebDav connected storage solution (or pay a hefty fee for eBackpack)
We throw all these numbers into a spreadsheet (link to GoogleDoc) (or get the Excel version and check my numbers) and what’s the verdict?
Scenario #1 – Total iPad Cost: $13,000,340.00
Scenario #2 – Total Computer+Netbook Cost with Windows: $8,965,750.00
Scenario #3 – Total Computer+Netbook Cost with Linux: $7,663,750.00

In pondering these numbers, I wondered, how many iPads should a school District have to start with? Why not start with 150 iPads to deploy for campus/district administrators, special education students? So, I included those in with the Total Computer+Netbook Scenarios for Windows and Linux. So, the numbers above ALSO reflect 150 iPads in Scenarios 2 and 3.

The Difference? 
  • You have to pay $4 million MORE for the iPad solution than you do for desktop computers and netbooks (both loaded with Windows OS) replacement plan. Savings increase to $5.3 million if you load Linux OS (which is free) onto the netbooks AND buy 150 iPads.
  • In the desktop computer+netbook replacement plan…
    • …every teacher and student gets a netbook AND every campus gets two computer labs of 25 computers each. You could save a little over $1 million dollars if you ran Linux on the 18,600 netbooks, which includes issuing one to EVERY student and teacher.
    • …GoogleDocs for Education just works, yielding savings from whatever MS Exchange system you were using. Linux OS runs Chrome OS, Firefox browsers.
    • …you get a video camera and digital projector per classroom (600 of each)
    • 120 office staff get a desktop computer which is running Windows, so they could still access Internet Explorer only services.
  • For the iPad solution you will end up paying MORE money for additional apps…that’s guaranteed.
Ok, so do I still use an iPad? Yes, I do. While I enjoyed learning a lot about the iPad, I have found it excels best as a media consumption device. While it can be used for more, the bottom line is that some may find the iPad a waste of precious taxpayer funding when that funding could be spent equipping all students with a computing device that, while not magical, will be affordable and get the job done. Other districts have done it.
The job remains, as ever, critical thinking, problem-solving, constant learning in an hyper-connected world, and doing all of that alone as well as in collaboration with others.
Should public schools pay for expensive tools when less expensive ones are available?
UPDATE – Thanks for feedback from folks, both via email and tweets! Remember, the goal is to push back on your thinking, explore your biases and share those. That way, you can move ahead. If you don’t know what you believe, how do you know you’re really changing your mind?!?
dphillips51: Thanks to Miguel Guhlin for a well-reasoned piece on iPad initiative with REAL NUMBERS.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure