That is a very good question and one that I get asked at least once a week by a new school wanting my support to develop use of mobile technology in the classroom. The answer is not straightforward and depends on several factors.
One of the first things that will have become apparent to anyone who has read the overview section of this blog is that in my opinion the device has to fit the user, not the other way around. I take myself as an example. I use an iPad most days of the week, mainly at work, in meetings or maybe sat on the settee at home (working obviously!) but I don’t carry it about with me as a rule like I do with my iPod. I have to make a conscious decision whether or not I take it somewhere with me as it obviously needs to be carried, stored and looked after. My iPod simply sits in my pocket until I need to use it. It does everything the iPad does and it fits my life much better. I tend to carry my iPod everywhere with me, work and home as it is no effort to do so, that is why it has the majority of my notes, photos and idea sketches on it. So when schools ask me whether they should go for iPads or iPods I ask them to look at the children they are working with, which option will fit their lives better? In the schools where the children are using a personal device, not shared and they can take it home it tends to be the iPod which comes out on top for the reasons outlined above. I would also say that the more durable battery life that the iPod has over the iPad is a key consideration here. In fact the last two points, portability and battery life were two of the non-negotiables that appear on the device requirement list when we have looked at new devices each year.
So bearing in mind what I have said above, is there any situation when the iPad is the better choice? Well, yes, probably. The Pad is obviously larger and is therefore better for when you want a larger format. If you look through some of the recent posts I have made describing the Early Years projects there definitely seems to be an advantage for younger learners who are developing motor control. Tracing letters for example or “colouring in” are better suited to the larger form. Reading is also easier on a larger device. Given a choice I use my iPad for reading on but in reality I read as much on my iPod because it is more convenient to carry about. We have also seen that when devices are bought as shared class devices a larger device is sometimes easier to work with in pairs or more. I have also been working with sixth form students recently and I can see that in a situation where students are used to carrying a work netbook or laptop about, the iPad may fit their lives quite easily.
A point to bear in mind that needs to be considered is where students are asked to share a device. The “i” in iPod s there for a reason. iOS devices are NOT designed to be shared, they are personal devices. You don’t set them up like a networked laptop so that you log in and get your work. There is a strength in this in that most of the schools that I work with use very little technical support to successfully use the devices (except in terms of the wireless infrastructure that makes the best classrooms work seemlessly). The techie bits are very little and the devices are easy to set up and are then managed the vast majority of the time by the children. However, I fully understand where schools want to buy a class set of devices (or a set of 6 maybe) to try them out before committing to a complete 1:1 roll out. In most cases I believe that the school recognise that the real learning gains are when 1:1 deployment is used but just want to get their feet wet first. That is one of the reasons we have built up a stock of loan devices (iPods and iPads) so that schools can do this at no expense. So by all means schools should seek to experiment with small or shared sets at first but the whole point of using these devices is that they will become personalised, be a “second brain” for the child that can be carried around with them in most situations. The ability to take them home, live with them, play with the apps out of the classroom makes a HUGE difference to simply using them in some lessons in the classroom.