I’m not a computing leader, just someone with a very keen interest in technology. As a school, we have a PC in each classroom, a Computing Suite with both PCs and laptops, 3 trolleys full of out of date and partially defunct laptops for class use, a few iPads (in KS1) and a class set of Learnpads. I’ve written before about how much I love the Learnpad, but the time has come as a school for us to make a decision. The trolleys full of laptops were purchased many years ago and are no longer fit for purpose, so some kind of replacement needs to be purchased.

The choice seems to be whether to purchase a class set of iPads or another trolley full of Learnpads. It’s a difficult decision, as obviously the financial implication for the school will be rather large. The trolley full of Learnpads lives outside my classroom door, and my year group love to use them. Since my last blog about them, I know at least 2 other year groups have ventured down my corridor to collect the trolley, but that’s it. The staff are still scared of them: luckily, we have training scheduled for our staff meeting this week, so all of that could be about to change. In my opinion, there needs to be some insistence by the SLT that staff use them at least once in class this term, otherwise the impetus to use them will be lost once again. It’s not logical for us to even consider purchasing more if those we have aren’t being used.

In my house, we often debate the advantages of Learnpads versus iPads. I’m an Android Learnpad user, MVNTH is a huge fan of the iPad. As yet, we haven’t reached a conclusion as to which is best, but here are some of the points we have argued.

App availability

There are clearly thousands of iOS apps available and regularly promoted on Twitter. There are many teachers sharing incredibly inventive ways of using the apps on iPads. I’m always exrtremely jealous of the lessons and activities I see people using. Mark Anderson, amongst others, shares ideas on #appsmash to satisfy a huge range of learning objectives. While there are bloggers and tweachers sharing Android equivalents, my Twitter feed seems to be predominantly Apple centred. The Learnpad store does have many good apps available in it, and schools can select some themselves to make them easier for teachers to find. However, adding Android apps yourself can be a challenge: I have just spent over an hour trying to work out how to add them via the Google Play Store. I have figured it out, I think, but whether the apps will appear on my lessons in school tomorrow remain to be seen.

App organisation

The Learnpad wins for me here. If a child uses an iPad, they have access to all of the apps installed on it: the ultimate temptation for some. However, the Learnpad enables teachers to just give the children access to the apps or websites they want, ensuring they remain focussed on the task they have been given. This is especially important for younger children, who inadvertently exit apps and end up somewhere completely different. I like the way you send out different lessons to the Learnpads and can have different children working on different tasks. I have lessons set up for my maths passports which we use from time to time: the children scan the QR codes for their passport and away they go.

Ease of use

For me, I find the Learnpad easy to use. I have spent enough time working with it to understand where to find menus and how to overcome problems. However, staff might have iPads at home, as might the children, so they would be familiar with them. The Learnpad can be very daunting at first, which is a huge worry for staff. What is important to consider is the investment the school has already made. We already own 32 Learnpads for the children and one per year group for the teachers. We are investing more time and money into training. Having both iPads and Learnpads available might just cause confusion, which could result in neither being used. I think either tablet would be best being used exclusively rather than trying to flit between the two.

Security for the children

The Learnpad has inbuilt security online, so that children can only access websites added by the class teacher. This is a brilliant feature, although it does have drawbacks. Any links that you want the children to access from a page have to be whitelisted, which is time consuming, or else the Learnpad needs to be unlocked, which defeats the object of the online security feature. A feature that I particularly like is the class dashboard – the children’s Learnpads can all be monitored from a computer and can be controlled – they can be frozen, paused or muted, either individually or as a class, at any time. It’s a very “Big Brother is watching you” type feature, but I have found it really useful. It only needs one child to be caught out doing something wrong to ensure that none of the others ever dare to try. A supply teacher was teaching a lesson in my classroom using the Learnpads. I just happened to log on to the website on the other side of the school and found one of my boys had logged on as a rather inappropriate name. It just so happened that I was working with the Computing Leader (who is also the Deputy Head) at the time, so we both paid my class a little visit. It goes without saying that their Learnpad etiquette is now impeccable!

Using the tablet for demonstration

Both can be used on an interactive whiteboard, but for the Learnpad, it is a free feature of the website. Any of the Learnpads can be accessed at any time and shown on the whiteboard, which is brilliant for demonstrations and showing work. My main concern with the Learnpads is that our computers aren’t up to the job: setting up a demonstration on some of them takes several minutes (with the newer computers, it’s instant) and the connection can be unreliable. In a recent staff meeting, I was demonstrating using Evernote to create our portfolios of work when the connection was lost: my demonstration froze and I ended up showing people on the tiny Learnpad screen. Clearly not a fault of the tablet or the website, but something to consider all the same. The same computers also won’t allow the “handout” facility – sending out documents or files to individual Learnpads – as the operating systems are too old. The iPad can be shown on the whiteboard, but either through an Apple TV box or an Air Server, both of which cost money and could be cost prohibitive. The iPad could be hard wired to the computer, but would need both visual and audio cabling, which is not ideal. This would be a further cost implication for us if we were to buy a class set of iPads: it’s not essential to be able to connect to the whiteboard, but a definite advantage.

Printing work

The iPad seems to win here. If you have the right kind of printer and the right password, you can print directly from it. Easy. With the Learnpads, though, it’s more difficult. Maybe it’s just our set up at school – I don’t know enough about it to know whether direct printing is possible, but for us, it is a challenge. The children have to “hand in” their work, which sends it to the Learnpad website. I then have to print or save each piece of work separately from my computer. The children very quickly got to grips with how to hand in, but my part of the job takes time. It just makes life a little more difficult as the work often ends up being printed after the lesson and thenA takes time to give out. Not a big deal, admittedly, but an inconvenience all the same.

For me, the decision for our school seems a straightforward one: we should buy more Learnpads. While they might not be as commonplace as the iPads, there are certainly an awful lot of advantages with them. Given the right training, support, and eventually, confidence, I am sure that all children will be given access to quality lessons using them to enhance their learning.

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