George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Now that we are well into summer, thoughts turn towards the next school year. For many teachers, fall may bring a classroom full of new devices. While this is an exciting prospect, it could also be a paralyzing endeavor, particularly with the question: "Where do I begin?"

iPad as Crutch

Why not use an iPad, or any other mobile device, as a crutch -- quite literally -- to get started on a path toward innovation? I've been on crutches for the past few months. If, according to definition, "A crutch is a mobility aid that transfers weight from the legs to the upper body" (source: Wikipedia ), then why the negative connotations of using a crutch? Having broken my leg, I might have spent the past few months confined to a bed without this device. With crutches, however, I have support, access and mobility -- not unlike what can be gained with iPads.


We would all like to provide constant, individualized support to our students 100% of the time; however, that is far from a reality in the classroom. Speak Selection lets students listen to text in eBooks, on web pages, or in any app where type appears. A student who needs to hear directions or questions read aloud can now do so independently, and a struggling reader can focus on comprehension, rather than decoding, since he or she can listen to passages. Numerous apps (Evernote, Notability, Audio Notes and Sound Note, to name a few) support audio recording.

For students who struggle with output, the option now exists to record ideas directly "onto a page." Similarly, teachers can leave audio feedback for students who benefit from hearing input multiple times. With the built-in camera, students can quickly snap pictures of class notes on a board, or record a quick video of teacher instruction. Leveraging just these few features has the potential to personalize learning and differentiate instruction where it might otherwise be impossible.


In addition to having near-instant access to the Internet, students with iPads also possess dictionaries, encyclopedias, calculators, graphing tools and atlases. Beyond print-based materials, they can watch videos, listen to audio, and even manipulate 3-D models. Without iPads, research and learning depend on immediately available resources. With iPads, students can potentially transcend time and space -- accessing primary source materials, curating content from their teachers or peers, and connecting with content in the modality that best suits their learning needs.


Given their size, weight, dimensions, battery life and easy-on-easy-off nature, iPads are true mobile devices to be used anywhere and anytime. Like with a literal crutch, mobility then provides freedom. Students no longer need to confine their exploration and learning to the walls of the classroom or a computer lab. Having a student walking around with a laptop can be cumbersome (and even terrifying), but with an iPad, it could become the norm.

iPad as Innovation

The ultimate goal is not to walk with crutches but to walk without them. So, much like crutches support walking, iPads can buttress teaching. Once support, access and mobility become the norm, new ideas can form -- like using crutches as giant chopsticks to pick things up off the floor -- leading to innovation.

Kindergarten Butterflies

Consider this video:

Students read books, sing songs, draw pictures, and . . . go outside to take photos, shoot video of themselves offering explanations, collaborate with their teacher, and publish to a broader audience. iPads provide the vehicle for innovation, allowing the students to make deeper connections with the content and the teacher to extend the learning context.

AirSketching Math

Imagine creating a student-driven math class -- quite literally -- by passing around a single iPad. Chris Harrow began using AirSketch as a means to project his problem-solving notes onto student devices. However, because of its mobility, the iPad became the key to unlocking new ideas as he handed it off to the students in his class. As Chris describes on his blog, passing around his iPad suddenly created a student-driven learning experience where more of his students had opportunities to explore, hypothesize and take a leadership position in the class.

Bat Bonanza

What about when support, access and mobility allow for cross-grade collaboration? Teachers in two Chicago Public Schools -- Autumn Laidler, Kristin Zeimke, and Ben Kovacs -- developed a cross-school, cross-grade-level project where students both learned and taught each other. From the creation of research questions to reflection on their learning, iPads facilitated the undertaking, allowing the teachers to implement an innovative new curriculum where students created, collaborated and connected in order to deepen their understanding of bats as well as the research process.

From Crutch to Innovation

As Ruben Puentedura describes in his SAMR model, technology integration often begins as a substitution. In a similar vein, iPads (or any other mobile device) may initially be used as a crutch to get started on a path towards innovation.

Have you tried taking advantage of the iPad's support, access or mobility benefits? Please share any experiences or thoughts with us.

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Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Sonja Luchini's picture
Sonja Luchini
Parent of student with disabilities

When schools have been laying off teachers, nurses, and support staff while increasing class sizes during this severe budget crisis, we see a national movement to destroy public education by outside business interests.

Seeing our public education funds utilized for items that will be obsolete within 3 years (not to mention losing access to the "instructional materials" that they come pre-loaded with) is not such a good deal for a district such as mine. With charter/corporate interests buying many of our board members, this was pushed through at LAUSD while ignoring public concerns about the costs and benefits.

Until we can wrestle back the control of academics and educational policy from outsiders who only see our public school funding as an opportunity to make money (at the expense of our children) - we cannot "welcome" these devices into our classrooms. Especially when we are not being fully funded in regards to needed services for students with disabilites, English language learners, Foster and homeless youth.

What's not mentioned here is that a requirement of Common Core is that all students take the tests online. But their private/personal information must be included beforehand. Private corporate interests will control the "cloud" where this information will be housed. Our children's information will be a data-mining bonanza for third-party businesses. We have NO idea what will really happen with the data as it will not be controlled by the school districts, but by these outside corporations. These businesses should not be determining academics, curriculum or education policy, but they a price and at the expense of our children's future.

Link here to LAUSD Board's approval of a billion dollar boondoggle:

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Thanks, Jon! The key certainly isn't the device, but it happens to be something that can help us get down the path towards true innovation.

Sam Wertheim's picture
Sam Wertheim
Teacher, Author, Professor, and Technologist

Well written article. Thank you for the information.

Vanessa Liburd's picture
Vanessa Liburd
High school French teacher from Hollywood Florida

Beth I really enjoyed your article. I have a personal Ipad and I often wonder how I can use it in my class aside from putting grades into the gradebook while walking around the room. Although my school does not have the funds to provide each student with their own Ipad, I will be looking into ways to integrate using my Ipad in the classroom.

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor


The "one iPad classroom" happens a lot. As Chris Harrow illustrates, it can be a great device for passing around to let students drive the learning.

From a foreign language perspective, it could be a good opportunity to use your iPad as a language-lab center. Here are a few ideas -

Finally, I'm a HUGE fan of using Evernote for curating student portfolio work. While the students may not have accounts, that doesn't mean you couldn't use your one iPad to build portfolios for them. I wrote a bit about this on the EdTechTeacher blog -

I hope that helps!

Wowzers's picture
Wowzers offers online Game-based Math curriculum for Grades 3-8

Well done, Beth. Devices supplement and provide learning. We love how you narrowed it down to three simple, but vital advantages of iPads: support, access, and mobility. That helps clearly show what the iPad can do for the classroom, and then allows the educator to take it from there.

To learn more about how to optimize iPads to enhance student learning, check out this blog post -

Quentin Donnellan's picture
Quentin Donnellan
High School Calculus/Engineering teacher; part-time software developer

Great article!

I especially like the analogy to a crutch - yeah if you are struggling to perplex your students, perhaps the added tech can put them over the edge. One trend that I with iPads lately (which I hope doesn't continue) is the move to view all learning as "crippled" and then just throwing iPads into the classroom hoping that the "crutch" will make everyone able to walk again, as is magically.

But yes, great examples of how to use the iPad looking past the "crutch" analogy. Thanks!

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Hi Quentin.

I agree with your statement. Throwing iPads into the classroom to magically make everyone "walk again" will be about as successful as handing me crutches without any physical therapy. Just as it took some time to be able to move around and navigate stairs on literal crutches, pedagogically, it also takes professional development and experimentation to move towards innovation.

Brandie Amato's picture
Brandie Amato
Elementary Special Education Teacher and fan of Technology

I am a "newbie" when it comes to my knowledge of technology especially with IPADS. I find it interesting that although I consider myself a "newbie" I have already given two professional development in-services at the district level. I learn most of what I know through playing, webinars, and lots of "digging" on the net. I am hungry for more! Thanks for this post.

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