Abstract image of tablet used for education

An iPad Alone Does Not Make an Instructional Program

If Apple’s stock depended at all on the number of districts purchasing the iPad, it would be a strong buy right now. At least that’s how it seems, when every district leader I work with has one on his or her desk and every district technology specialist asks me about iPad compatibility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad. In fact, I come from an iPad-only family. My husband, parents, brother, and sister all have them—with different colored covers so family vacations don’t become confusing. The only one without an iPad is my four-year-old nephew (although as far as he’s concerned, he has six iPads with different colored covers).

But I digress … So now what?

What are we going to do with all these iPads? Well, the good news is that districts are already well equipped to answer this question. Good curriculum is good curriculum, whether it’s in print, online, or in the App Store. It includes systematic and explicit instruction, not just a collection of practice games. It is focused and coherent, not just a playlist of unconnected skills and activities. It provides appropriate feedback and adapts to the learner. It includes rigorous assignments and assessments and is standards-aligned. Most importantly, it is not just a textbook published on a digital platform, it leverages the power of the Internet to pass real-time student performance data back to educators in actionable ways.

Great tools for evaluating digital courseware exist.

Luckily, great tools for evaluating digital courseware exist and can help curriculum leaders differentiate high-quality courseware from supplemental resources and games. Schools and districts looking to move toward true blended and online learning can rely on the iNACOL National Quality Standards, as well as the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute’s Research Clearinghouse for K-12 Blended and Online Learning. Organizations such as these can help educators refine their own rubrics for evaluating online instructional curriculum and craft their own definitions of what online curriculum can and should be.

Back to my four-year-old nephew

In addition to Netflix (his favorite app by far), he likes a number of the learning apps his mom and grandma have on their iPads. He touches letters to watch them transform into animals, he matches numbers and pictures, and he taps words to hear them read aloud. And when you’re four, that’s an awful lot of learning.

But someday, I hope he’ll want to make a multimedia presentation to communicate a strong argument, write an analytical lab report, engage in online discussions and collaborations, and all the other academic stuff that occurs in middle school and high school. I’m sure by then he’ll have an Apple product implanted in his brain, and this will be a moot point.

For the middle school and high school students of today

The real work of critical thinking, collaboration, and creation requires more than a ninety-nine-cent app. It requires carefully planned and well-paced instruction, robust and meaningful assignments, and a variety of assessment opportunities that allow all students to show what they know.

The future of learning is here. Let’s just not let it be Angry Birds.

About the Author


Deborah Rayow

Deborah began her career as a fifth grade teacher. After several years in the classroom, she shifted to curriculum planning and professional development, eventually focusing on e-learning, instructional design, and product development. Her expertise was gained while working with some of the most recognizable names in education, among them being Kaplan K12 Learning Services, Scholastic Education, and the New York Times Learning Network.