• James Geiger

Graduate school final paper

Students and iPads: A Key to Success?

James W Geiger

University of South Florida

Students and iPads: A Key to Success?

Technology is becoming more and more prevalent in the education system. It is allowing students to interact with their material like never before. Students can go on to the internet and chat with people from the other side of the globe in an instant! They can also use products such as Google Earth to actually visit different parts of the globe. Two years ago, Apple changed the game with the iPad. The iPad allows students to interact with objects on the screen via touch, instead of a mouse. This allows students to become engaged in ways that empower them to want to strive for the best. Therefore, using iPads is pivotal for supporting students’ learning, motivation, and success in the education system. The use of iPads can be beneficial for all students but is especially beneficial for students from special backgrounds (e.g., ELL students, students with mobility issues, students with autism).

This research paper will focus on the following components to support my thesis: the constructivist theory of learning, intrinsic motivation, two empirical studies examining iPads in education, and an interview with a high school assistant principal.

The role of the iPad in promoting constructivist learning

According to Swiss biologist, Jean Piaget, constructivism is defined as, "a theoretical perspective proposing that learners construct, rather than absorb, knowledge from their experiences" (Ormrod, 2008, p. 28) This theory is important because it allows for freedom of expression, to learn in new ways. One may think of it as experiential learning. Constructivist learning goes beyond the classroom and into the everyday lives of students. This can occur in two ways: alone and in a group. Also known as individual constructivism and social constructivism, respectively.

The iPad aids that theory by giving students a new way to look at and interact with learning. The iPad does much more than provide text on a screen; it allows students to interact in ways that are unconventional for the classroom. They can actually touch, push, and move objects around the screen. Piaget writes, "Children often construct their beliefs and understandings through experiences." (Ormrod, 2008, p. 28). I, too, believe that children learn better with hands on experiences rather than listening to a teacher talk all day; that is why the iPad is so revolutionary!

The role of iPad in supporting motivation

Motivation is key to success. If students are confident in their ability to succeed in the classroom, they will be motivated to complete assignments on time and ultimately pass all of their classes. Items of technology, such as the iPad, allow students to take control of their education, which is extremely empowering for students. In my interview with Leslie, an elementary school assistant principal, she explained how students use games on the iPad to learn math and English. She also spoke about how science students utilize the iPad's camera to show their knowledge of various concepts. (L. Rogers, personal communication, October 21, 2011). This development shows how students are becoming and staying engaged with the iPad. It also helps greatly with the concept of intrinsic motivation.

With intrinsic motivation, students want to better themselves and expand their minds (Ormrod, 2008). The iPad does exactly this by putting learning physically in their hands. In one study conducted in Illinois, researchers found that students with the same native tongue often primarily associated with each other. When presented with the iPad, they mingled among people of different cultures, because they now had a mobile tool to search for words to communicate with each other, thus, intrinsically motivating them to interact with and learn from other cultures (Demski, 2011). iPads put the world at student's fingertips. It's fascinating!

iPad studies with students from different cultures

The first source of discussion deals with students in "English Language Learners" program or ELL. This contains two separate studies; one that deals with iPads in a high school in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and the second deals with iPod Touches in a middle school in New Braunfels, Texas. (Demski, 2011)

The Newcomer Center in Illinois is an alternative school for immigrants to help them work on their English, before entering a school in their own district. The administration noticed that during lunch students were not pushing themselves; instead the students conversed with people from the same country so that they did not have to worry about language barriers. That trend changed in September of 2010 when the school launched their own iPad initiative. The school decided to use a test group of 30 students. The students utilized the iPads in each of their classes and were even allowed to take them home. The results were astounding.

The students became engaged with learning new cultures. The iPad gave them a portable device enabling them to search for words immediately. Classrooms were no longer segregated; they were full of multicultural conversations which had no boundaries.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a different study was conducted with iPod touches. This time a student really showed his true prowess through the use of technology. This student, Alejando, whose native language is Spanish, never spoke English in class, and the instructor did not know why. When given the iPod touch, Alejandro was able to go home and record himself reading English out loud. This was the first time Alejandro's instructor heard him speak English. This was a major breakthrough!

The major commonality between these iDevices (iPhone's, iPod Touches, iPad's) are apps or applications which are programs that run on the iDevices. Students at the Newcomer center used a dictionary app to assist them with their English, a physical education app to track their progress in PE, and other apps for various subjects. The students in Texas utilized the built in voice memo app to record themselves reading English.

iPad studies with college students

The next two studies of discussion, deal with college students. Abilene Christian University (ACU) in Abilene, Texas conducted a three year study on iDevices, and saw extremely positive results. "The iPad promotes both efficient use of time and more learning moments." ("ACU Research Sheds Light on Mobility in Teaching", Learning, para. 2)

There was a 95% satisfaction rate of graduate students in an ACU program using the iPad to complete the online coursework. It can thus be seen that the iPad was very popular in all grade levels, especially among college students. One detail of interest in this study is that when the college students, mainly undergrad students, used the iPad to access the social networks they also expanded and gained more academic assistance.

The next set of studies to be observed are at Oklahoma State University, Spears School of Business and Arizona State University. Both studies found about the same information. The students felt that the iPads enhanced their learning. One of the reasons for this is that the iPad holds complete textbooks, so they did not have to carry textbooks every day.

This study also elucidated some of the downfalls of the iPad. The iPad is often very expensive at around $500, and the price could drive some students away from purchasing it. Secondly, e-textbook publishers will often set the e-textbooks to expire so that one must purchase the e-textbook again after it expires if he or she desires to continue studying the e-textbook. However, these setbacks, in my opinion, are not very significant when compared to the overwhelming amount of positive feedback that I have found in all the studies I have talked about in this paper.

Interview with assistant principal

I have had the chance to interview an assistant principal who will go by the name of ”Leslie” in this paper. Leslie began her teaching career in 1995 with a Bachelor’s degree in Special-Ed, but interestingly she worked for Apple for one year. Leslie has extensive experience, in special education and instructional technology. I thought she would be a perfect candidate to interview for my paper.

At first, the school- based leadership team worked with the iPads to track students’ success in the classroom, which was more of an administrative use of the iPads. However, through a special donor, the elementary students were able use iPads in the classroom. With the money that the donor gave, every single third grader was given use of an iPad. The iPads are checked in and out every day and are not taken home. However, Leslie told me that not one of the iPads have been damaged. This just shows that the students care about technology and they see its value even, in third grade.

Leslie gave me several examples. One example, was that they have some special education students with physical disabilities and for them it is hard to write and an on screen keyboard, the iPads were easier to type on and don’t have a big monstrous computer in front of them. They can type in their lap or on their desk. And it really improved their writing skills. “Using the iPad makes writing fun for students and allows them to develop their writing process skills.” (L. Rogers, personal communication, October 21, 2011)

“Not only are students ‘doing’, but they are providing evidence of the learning.” (L. Rogers, personal communication, October 21, 2011) This idea goes all the way back to the constructivist theory of learning. Hands on learning with the iPad generates much better results than simply studying from a textbook.

Leslie did point out the limitations. When I was originally planning to do this interview, it was going to be Leslie and another teacher who was spear-heading this program. This teacher resigned right before I was able to get her the questions. (L. Rogers, personal communication, October 21, 2011). They didn’t have anyone else who was trained to use the iPads in the classroom. Making sure we have enough teachers equipped to use iPads and how to use them effectively is very crucial if a school is going to implement the iPad program. There are still a great deal of old fashioned teachers who like chalkboards and letting getting their hands dirty physically, and are not so welcoming of technology of today. Having a limited amount of teachers, trained or willing, to use the iPads in the classroom is a big setback.

Additional information regarding iPads and education (60 Minutes, Facebook)

I conducted some extra research on Facebook and through 60 Minutes. I belong to a Facebook group called “iTeach Special Education: iDevices in special education.” I polled the group members and most of the group members agreed with my thesis. The iPad definitely helps motivate and encouraged students to want to do well. This Facebook group also discusses other applications in relation to special education. They discuss one of the apps, Proloquo2go, which is basically an app that has pictures and words for students who cannot speak. They point to the word or category and find the exact word they want. Touch the word and the iPads will speak it. This is revolutionary because it allows students who cannot speak to verbally communicate; it gives them their own voice. It also gives them a bit of independence, it is really empowering for them ("iTeach Special," 2011)

Last week on 60 Minutes (Sughrue, 2011), there was a special on Steve Jobs and iPads, and how it has helped so many people, especially students with autism. One student was shown who could not speak at all. He was very introverted and one could not tell what was in his mind at any given time. Through the iPad, he was able to express himself to tell his mother what he needed to do, or express whether he was happy or sad or any other kind of emotion. The most inspiring story was at a restaurant and a waitress came up and she asked the young man what it was he wanted to eat. Previously, his mom would have had to order for him. But 60 Minutes showed him pointing to the iPad to order his own food. And when he was done he had a huge smile on his face. That is enough proof to me that the iPad is worth something.

The iPad also allows teachers to better understand students. One observed student who could not communicate at all, but by using that the Proloquo2go app, the teachers learned he was fascinated with classical music. He loved symphonies, and would sit in the classroom watching symphony orchestras, all this comes out when students have a way to express themselves, via touch, students are able to tell you what they like and don’t like and what their dreams are! (Sughrue, 2011)


In conclusion, the iPad has revolutionized the education system for millions of students and teachers. The iPad has allowed for the students to express themselves in new and exciting ways. It gives them different alternatives to learn material and acts as a study tool for students who have trouble with Math, Science and English. Constructivism implies that students learned better when doing. And through my research I have shown you that this is definitely true and students learn better when they are able to interact with the iPad. This also goes hand in hand with motivation, as it motivates them to learn and accomplish scholastic goals in a more intuitive way, such as typing papers or playing a game, taking pictures or recording video all on one simple device. This, I feel, is why it is so revolutionary.


ACU research sheds light on mobility in teaching, learning. (2011). Retrieved October 20, 2011, from

Demski, J. (2011). ELL to go. T.H.E.Journal, 38(5), 28-32. Retrieved October 20, 2011, from

iTeach special education- iDevices in special education. (2011, ). Message posted to

Ormrod, J. E. (2011). In Smith P. A. (Ed.), Educational psychology: Developing learners (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Sughrue, K. (Producer). (2011). Apps for Autism [Television Broadcast] 60 Minutes. New York, NY: CBS

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

I'm fed up with DoorDash.....Here's why.....

Let me tell you what happened last night on my one and only dash last night. I go pick up the customer’s food. Everything went great! I drive to the home of the customer, give them their food, they


Tampa, Florida


  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Grey LinkedIn Icon


© 2020 Geiger Designs - All Rights Reserved.