How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop.

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That the iPad is a great content-consumption device has never been disputed. But just 30 months after its launch the iPad is now in some ways a more powerful content-creation device than a laptop in the hands of students in the classroom.

When the iPad was introduced in 2010, my school (Wanganui Park Secondary College) was one of a handful in Victoria that included them on the booklist for the following year, a move that raised eyebrows! Critics decried the iPad as “a content-consumption but not a content-creation device”. Admittedly, at first there was limited content creation software available – there was no way to make or edit a movie, take or edit a photo, record or edit a podcast or screencast, or even to annotate a PDF!

Now 2.5 years down the track, the iPad is a swiss army knife of content-creation tools. It can be used to make movies, music, podcasts and screencasts. You can write blogs, and eBooks, publish websites, and make cartoons. You can use it for time-lapse photography, claymation, freehand drawing and painting and to edit PDFs.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m arguing that it’s more pedagogically productive, NOT that it is more technologically capable than a laptop. If professional production quality is your imperative, then the iPad is not your best tool. I doubt Peter Jackson produced any part of The Hobbit on an iPad! Likewise, any serious photographer is bound to be shooting with a DSLR and editing in Adobe Photoshop on a 27” iMac. There is no way the iPad camera and iPhoto can compete. Even as a prosumer podcaster myself, I don’t use my iPad for podcasting. I use a Blue Yeti Microphone connected to a MacBook Pro running Übercaster, Audacity or GarageBand, any one of which is far more feature-rich than GarageBand on the iPad.

But comparing podcasting on an iPad with podcasting in Übercaster on a MacBook Pro with a studio-quality external microphone is making the wrong comparison. A more valid comparison (for students in many teachers’ classes) is made beween podcasting on an iPad vs not podcasting at all. The same applies to movie-making, website building, eBook creation, etc.

We’ve had computers in schools for years, but in reality many (most?) classroom teachers don’t and never did have their students making podcasts, movies, eBooks and websites. Doing so seems too time consuming and for many non-technical teachers the learning curve appears disproportionate to the benefits realised.

But producing comparable creative content on an iPad is relatively quick, simple, yields impressive results with minimal fuss, and the learning curve is … well, there almost isn’t one! There is no need to connect an external microphone (the built-in one is better than that in any laptop), no need to adjust recording levels, no need to use a pop-filter. No need to import media from a recording device to the editing device (becasue they are one and the same), and it’s unnecessary to allow 10 minutes at the end of a class, to save, unplug devices, shut down and stow the laptops. Instead, when the bell sounds, students simply flip their iPad cases closed and walk to the next class!

It is getting easier all the time to create content on laptops, too. But the iPad’s seemless integration of technologies and relative simplicity of use further lowers the entry barrier for many teachers – and that has the potential to encourage significant pedagogical change in a school.

50 thoughts on “How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop.

  1. A great blog – I agree with you, there are many more apps available for content-creation than there used to be. However, I do think some teachers are unaware of these and the benefits they can reap. Too many teachers are still saying “look at this app!” with a view on content-consumption over content-creation.

    • Thank you mrchurchblogs. I agree with you that many teachers don’t realise the creative potential of the iPad – and really just treat it as though it is a laptop. They have their students looking up information on it and typing up assignments on it. Nothing wrong with those things – but my point in this post was to show that it can now be so much more than that.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for an informative posting … you have done a great job in pointing out the ACTUAL value of the iPad in the classroom. I assume that your premise is that students do better on individually owned iPads than they do on shared sets of class laptops. If so, I agree. I am not so clear on whether the iPad outshines other devices if a student actually has the luxury of choosing either as a personal device. I will illustrate this by means of my personal (and, possibly, limited) experience …

    As a middle and senior school English school teacher, I personally own both an iPad and a laptop PC. I have found the iPad to have a number of major limitations for my students. In short, my students who use laptops/Macbooks simply “out-write” those on iPads. By the time my iPad users have produced some writing in Google Drive, the laptop students have long since done so (even writing more extensively), posted it to the class blog, tweeted and shared it to their classmates via Google Docs. The iPad does not not seem to deal well with text; and not with Google Forms at all (which is where my kids keep their reading logs and personal spreadsheets). Even Hootsuite (which we all now use) provides much greater functionality on laptop than it does in the iPad environment.

    Now, while I understand that the iPad is not intended to be a word processor per se (and is quite poor at doing so), too many of my students have actually lost all their written work by unintentionally pressing the wrong ‘key’ on the iPad (no “undo” in QuickOffice). Then, of course, there is the whole ‘Flash’ issue …

    Where the iPad does shine is when visual content creation is the focus – one of my students animated parts of the Shakespeare play beautifully on iPad and finished it in iMovie; another painted a scene of her favourite character on iPad. A laptop would not have done this nearly as seamlessly. Notably, this both these student have now forfeited their iPads for a Macbook. Watching my students paint in Gimp, the functionality of the mouse is still very much alive.

    For me, the ideal would be if every student could have an iPad in addition to their keyboard device of choice; but that is not always possible. Until then, I will allow my students to choose between iPhone/Smartphone, iPad, Macbook/laptop. Right now, the laptop is preferred by far …

    Thanks again for your insights,


    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment edteach3r. When it comes to word processing, I agree with you – there is no comparison. Especially for a student who can touch-type, but even for those who type with two or three fingers, typing on a physical keyboard is more expedient. Myself, I don’t write much on my iPad, although having recently discovered Byword this has changed somewhat. (in fact, a large portion of this blog post, I wrote in Byword on my iPad). Even still, I agree with you.

      There are other things that a computer is better for, too. Managing and sharing files for example! This can be done on an iPad – but it’s Oh so much faster and easier on a laptop!

      I guess there is no one perfect device, and as you say it would be wonderful if every student had a laptop and an iPad.

      I don’t think the iPad replaces the computer – my intention in this post was merely to point out that, the iPad is now a quite capable content creation tool (wheres initially it wasn’t) and at least for creating certain kinds of content – it is easier than using a laptop. Also that these tend to be the kinds of content-creation that teachers have not traditionally had students do.

      • The iPad may be capable, but I don’t think it is unambiguously better than a laptop. The headline of your post is way overstated. Each device has significant strengths and weaknesses.

      • Thanks for commenting David. But I nowhere said the iPad is “Unambiguously better than a laptop”. In fact I went to lengths to explain that it is not “better”. (in fact I pointed out that it is less “technologically capable”.) You can make a “better” website, a “better” podcast, a “better movie” or a “better” screencast on a laptop (and not just a bit better – a LOT better). In terms of capability, a laptop is “better”. My contention is that an iPad has more potential to shift classroom practice, because all the tools are integrated in a single device, the software is relatively simple, and set-up and pack-up time is negligible – and in this way it is more pedagogically powerful. Personally, I still prefer to use a laptop myself – as most of us in the edTech subculture probably do. If you are good with a laptop – it is more efficacious. I think it’s a bit like driving a manual vs automatic car. In the hands of a skilled driver, a manual transmission is “better”. (I doubt there are many Automatic transmissions at Bathurst). But I’d prefer my own kids to be driving an automatic transmission on the road – because it lets them focus on the traffic more and the car less. I think an iPad is a bit like that.

      • Andrew, your headline states, explicitly and unambiguously, that an iPad is more powerful. I completely disagree. It may have the potential to become more powerful, but it is not there yet.

      • Again thanks for your comment, David. It’s a good discussion to have. I believe the iPad is more powerful as a platform for students in class to create certain kinds of content. I think it’s entirely possible for one tool to be more powerful in one respect, and another to be more powerful in others.

        I understand that you completely disagree with me. That’s OK. We may have to agree to disagree 😉

      • Hi Andrew,

        Thanks for the quick response, and additional comments.

        I think we are on the same page here … loving iPad for what it can offer our students, but understanding that it has limitations; particularly with regard to developing writing skills in my class (as explained above). I understand that this may be more applicable to the older students, which is where I teach. I have just downloaded Byword; which is new to me – thanks for the tip! I will give it a run and let you know …

        In any case, your post seems to be generating a lot of interest (which is what blogging is all about!). Keep up the excellent (and provocative) articles – I have now subscribed to Douchy’s Blog.

        We seem to share a number of common interests, so I am now following you on Twitter as well!

        Compliments of the season to you and yours,

        God bless,


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  7. Hi,
    I absolutely loved this article and will share it with my staff. However, I was planning to write something similar as a reflection on how my iPad has helped me create a lot more, and how that can be accomplished with students. Do you mind if I wrote my blogpost and referenced parts of this article and referred to it? I will surely give full credit. My blogpost will also be less persuasive and more descriptive, so more like a how-to than a persuasive written piece.

    • Hey Mohamed, that’s fine by me! send me a link when you’ve written it – ill be looking forward to reading it!

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  9. Great post, Andrew. I plan to link this to a rationale for my board of education. We are looking to go schoolwide with iPads K-5. Not 1:1, but making them available in every classroom for students.

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  11. Hi Andrew, just published the post yesterday right in time before Xmas eve. Would appreciate any and all feedback when you get the chance 🙂
    Have a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year 🙂

  12. Mr. Douch,

    I agree with your sentiment on laptop and ipad. What I take away from the post was how far the ipad has come in 2.5 years. The laptop has been around for awhile and has not made the advancements as fast as the ipad. I do agree that when producing research based work or typing the laptop is by far better. However the ipad allows for everything to be done on one platform this is great for student work. We are currently researching the different advantages of laptops and ipads. I am still a believer of ipads for younger students and laptops for older students, but am starting to see the advantages to strictly ipads for all. I appreciate you taking the time to give us insight on the laptop/ipad debate.

    • Thanks for the comments Chards74.

      I’m interested in the results and conclusions of your research. Do you plan to publish anywhere?

      I think there is also a lot to be said for a BYOD arrangement. Why not let students choose the technology they find most useful for themselves? Such an arrangement is really only an issue if we are trying to keep all students doing the same things – which is a 20th Century paradigm I think needs challenging. (see my Christmas eve post for more on this)

  13. When students finish school and get a job, will they be using ipads to produce the best products? I doubt it. Then why should they use it in school?

    Besides, theres a great webbased tool for every native iPad app. Theres no real need for ipads.

    • Thanks for contributing to the discussion Niels,

      Unless the current pace of technological change slows (and all indications are to the contrary) I suspect you are quite right that the kids entering school now won’t be using iPads when they leave school and get jobs. But for the very same reasons, I doubt they will be using ANY of our other current technologies either. Operating systems, hardware, peripherals and even web-based tools will all continue to evolve, and new tools will replace older ones – that is the nature of technology. But just because technology will change in the future surely doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be using current technology in school.

      Furthermore I think there is little doubt that given current trends, in the future, many of our students ARE more likely to be using tablet-like mobile devices in their jobs than they are to be using PC laptops and desktops. I don’t believe tablet computing is a fad – I believe it is a trend). I don’t think laptops have been replaced yet – there are certain kinds of work that are still done more efficiently and to a higher standard on a laptop – or even better yet on a desktop computer with a huge display – but you don’t have to look at the trend too closely to see the direction it is going. “Tablets are doing to the laptop market what laptops did to the desktop market.” (that’s a quote from Brendan Barnicle in today’s Age). I don’t expect ten years from now we will all be using iPads, but I think whatever devices most of us are using then, they will bear closer resemblance to an iPad than to a laptop.

      Sometimes I think we focus too much on devices. In the end, the device is not critically important. Kids can do great stuff on any device – what matters more, I think is learning processes; pedagogy. While today’s technologies and gadgets may all be surpassed by the time our current students join the workforce, what WILL persist throughout their lives is the competencies they develop in aesthetics, design, effective digital communication, story-telling, self-publishing, online collaboration, digital citizenship and building a PLN. These skills are transferrable irrespective of the particular tool used to learn them.

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  16. Nice article! I agree with you at this point an iPad is a more powerful Content-Creation device than a laptop! but i also think many teachers are unaware of these and the benefits they can reap. But i believe some day they can aware this benefits.

    • Thanks mobilemates. I agree… there is a lack of realisation of the capability. Maybe teachers are just so time-poor they haven’t had enough time to investigate and experiment, to see it.

    • Haha I must admit I’d prefer to type on a mechanical keyboard, too. The old guard always struggles to adapt to new technologies. But it seems that kids cope very well, and I must admit, these days, while I still prefer to type on my computer, I very often write blog posts and tweet etc from my iPad – and am finding it easier to do all the time.

      I recall when I first got a smartphone (it was a pocket PC – well before the iPhone was introduced) and was raving about how much faster it is to have a QWERTY keypad for texting. A student challenged me to a typing contest. He had a basic cell phone (the kind where you have to press the ‘2’ key three times to get the letter ‘c’). I thought that with my QWERTY keypad I would win by a mile! But he beat me!! amazing! I guess one becomes skilful with the tools one uses most.

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  19. Andrew,

    Great article, and fantastic image (iPad as the Swiss Army Knife of content-creation tools). Can we use this image (giving you full credit of course) in presentations to our parents and community?

  20. I agree with your approach but have you found a way for English students to produce text/image rich material like Word or Publisher as I have hit a deadend in this use of an iPad in class.

    • There are a few options – Pages is the first app that comes to mind. It excels where you want text and images, and exports in .doc format (compatible with Word). The other option (and my preferred one would be to have your students use a blogging platform like edublogs or WordPress. This had the added advantage that your students are writing for an audience – rather than just for their teacher. If you find a better option from your perspective as an English teacher, please let me know and ill share the good oil with others!

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  23. Great article Andrew! I think you’re spot on regarding the iPad’s ability to be used as a entry level content creation device for use in the classroom. All too often, they’re just used as a content consumption device, failing to make use of full capabilities of the device (such as iMovie).

    For most people, it’s more about how easily they are able to create and publish content online rather than ensuring it’s comparable in quality to traditional broadcast media, which has often been the focus with the tools for podcasting and vodcasting on PC’s and on the iMac/Macbook.

    • That’s an interesting comment. Because with the move to HD – and now to 4K – traditional broadcast media has pulled even further ahead (both in cost and quality) of what students can easily do on a laptop. We are seing an interesting divergence: On the one hand, consumer demand for higher and higher quality movies, TV etc (to watch on our massive LCD TVs) but on the other hand we ALSO see the equally meteoric rise of amateur production via YouTube etc. When watching YouTube videos we don’t really care (or even take notice) much about production quality – it’s more about being part of the connection economy. I think the iPad fits beautifully into that scene as a content creation device. No good for filming professional TV / Cinema / etc … but awesome for creating content that contributes to the connection economy conversation.

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  25. The iPad is a powerful content consumption device and the App Store provides me with every tool I need to carry out my business with efficiency and integrated social networking with greater portability! Liked and shared on FB!

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