Top 3 Problems with Tablets in the Classroom

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Educators—and students—are enthusiastic about tablets, but the new technology can be problematic.

Educators—and students—are enthusiastic about tablets, but the new technology can be problematic.

One million iPads. That’s the number of tablets Apple sold to schools and colleges in the year before the current school year. It’s roughly double the number sold in the education market during the previous year. In the same conference call where Apple announced the exponential growth of iPads, they also announced a decline in sales of Macintosh computers to schools and colleges.

Education, traditionally slow to adopt new technology, is bucking tradition snapping up iPads faster than many people have expected. K-12 schools all over the United States are integrating tablets into their classrooms and opting for iPads instead of laptops or desktops.

This rapid growth of tablets in education will have far-reaching implications on digital publishing. That’s why I’ve started this DBW column dedicated to education.

Tablets are appealing to educators and it’s easy to see why. They’re portable, powerful, connected, colorful, interactive—and kids think they’re cool.

To get all the ebook and digital publishing news you need every day in your inbox at 8:00 AM, sign up for the DBW Daily today!

Tablets contain cameras for taking pictures of science projects, video players for watching movies, and apps that allow students to look at 3D models. They play music for humanities classes and voice-overs for language learners. And of course, they offer email and the internet so students can communicate with far-flung experts.

Tablets are less expensive than computers and students can carry them easily from class to class. They carry infinitely more information than a stack of text books—information that doesn’t go out of date—and they weigh a whole lot less.

Students with tablets are no longer tethered to computer labs, and they can’t hide behind a big box to avoid attention from their teachers. They let children move forward with lessons, or review, at their own pace.

Related: The ABCs of Kids and Ebooks

Problems with tablets in the classroom

As versatile as tablets are for learning, educators are still in the infancy stage of integrating them into their academic curricula. A quick survey of the environment reveals the three essential problems today:

Problem #1 Not enough dollars to purchase content

Budgets are always a concern in education. In a recent survey of more than 225 Kindergarten through grade-12 educators in the United States, 57% of responders selected “No budget to purchase applications/e-books” as the biggest challenge in integrating tablets in their lessons.

Though educators were able to select more than one answer in the survey, more than half of teachers felt they did not have access to funding for making full use of the hardware. The survey was sponsored by the web site, a blog that addresses digital

Lack of keyboards on tablets  is an issue for many educators.

Lack of keyboards on tablets is an issue for many educators.

publishing issues for teachers, librarians, and independent publishers.

Problem #2 Input

Getting information into a tablet has never been easy. Tablets are more about receiving information than inputting it. Schools, however, require students to read and respond. Still, entering responses in to a tablet can be awkward.

Teachers complain about the lack of keyboards on tablets. Separate, connected keyboards sap battery power. Accessory keyboards also reduce the simplicity and portability that make a tablet so appealing. Plus, though many schools have purchased iPads, very few of them purchased keyboards to go with them (see problem #1, budget).

Sure, many apps have onscreen keyboards. But generally they are small and quirky, and they often cover up part of the viewing area. Still, if digital publishers want to take the education market seriously, they are going to have to address the input problem by coming up with new, graceful ways for students to share their thoughts onscreen.

Problem #3 Monitoring use

Though tablets allow students to learn at their own pace, some educators are worried about how to handle a classroom full of independent learners. The survey included opportunities for write-in answers and several educators expressed concern about monitoring children while they use their tablets.

Teachers report difficulties in monitoring tablet use in classrooms.

Teachers report difficulties in monitoring tablet use in classrooms.

One teacher wrote of her concern about finding it “hard to control what ‘other’ activities students do other than the lesson.” Another educator commented that her biggest problem with tablets was “students visiting sites other than those for learning.” Of course students who stray around the Internet is an issue with desktop and laptop computers as well. A third teacher wrote that her greatest difficulty was “keeping students on target” while they used the iPads.

Other problems expressed buy educators

With more than half of those surveyed selecting “no budget” as their biggest complaint about using tablets in the classroom, educators noted other issues as well, though in much smaller percentages:

  • 17% of respondents answered: Don’t know how to evaluate or guide kids in their tablet use
  • 16% answered: Don’t understand how applications integrate into my lesson plans
  • 8% answered: Don’t know how to get applications/e-books
  • 7% answered: Applications/e-books aren’t educational enough
  • 7%: The technology is confusing
  • 22% filled in the “other” form with comments, mostly about monitoring tablet use.

Some schools have had problems with stolen iPads, but the thieves generally come from outside of the school communities. Very few educators have complained about misuse, breakage, and loss among students.

Related: The ABCs of Kids and Ebooks

A new column for DBW

Now that an unprecedented torrent of tablets has entered K-12 schools in the United States, new learning methods—along with new modes of digital publishing— are on the very near horizon. This column will be a record of these changing times in in education.

To get all the ebook and digital publishing news you need every day in your inbox at 8:00 AM, sign up for the DBW Daily today!

22 thoughts on “Top 3 Problems with Tablets in the Classroom

  1. Paul Sadler

    I saw the title, and cynically thought, “oh great, another person is going to trot out the same old tripe about learning retention, etc.”. Imagine my surprise that not only did you NOT include the false hypothesis that people don’t retain what they see on a screen (german research not funded by paper pushers has disproven that myth), you have three very solid practical aspects.

    My apologies for assuming otherwise before I even got to your article…waving from “Silly Readerville, Population: Me”.


  2. Kelly Dumont

    I agree with the above comment. However I don’t believe this list is particular to tablets. We’ve been dealing with all 3 of these issues since computers first started coming into schools. I don’t even feel that the tablets have exacerbated the conditions, it has just changed the hardware.

  3. Tere

    As an educator in a school hoping to someday realize better technology integration, I can clearly see a few challenges ahead. We have not yet embraced a one-to-one laptop initiative and have held back feom doing so due to funds as well as staff training.

    If we hope to be successful with tablets or laptops, teachers must first commit to creating course content, which integrates technology. As a first step, we are on our way.

    As far as textbooks on tablets, online resources are far often more up-to-date than their printed counterparts. Printed books are hugely expensive, heavy for students to carry and do not always get treated as items of value. Online resources, as long as internet is availalabe, has already proven its worth.

    Yes, there are challenges. The best blackboards weren’t created in a day. Staying aware of obstacles, such as those mentioned in the above article, will be of great importance as we traverse rocky trails toward better education for our students.

    My response was typed from my phone. I apologize for any typos.

  4. Eric

    The issue I have noticed is that schools ever want to jump on a craze such as buying iPads or are difficult to engage with. But this comes down to setting time aside from their busy routines to sit down and see what is available and what advantages it presents and how to do it. And unless it is as simple to use and integrate as google and Facebook they’re not interested.

    There are plenty free, useful resources out there so funds should not be the big hurdle it is presented to be. In fact, smarter use of existing facilities in a school (such as an interactive whiteboard) can outweigh the need for every pupil to have a tablet. This way you’re in control of the content, everyone is included and content input is done as easily as ever.

  5. Sheilah

    It is not necessarily true that the information doesn’t go out of date. That all depends on how often the content provider updates, and based on some of the databases often found in school and public libraries, the information is not updated often enough.

  6. Pingback: Tablets slow to catch on in class. « eBook Rumors

  7. Ryan Potter

    I’ve been a middle school social studies teacher for 19 years and have always embraced technology in the classroom. In my district, last year was the breakout year for tablets in terms of the numbers of students who owned their own e-device. This year we’re getting close to purchasing tablets (iPads) for staff, and I think classroom sets of tablets aren’t too far behind.

    Although I agree with several of your points, especially the concern many educators have about lack of training on how to utilize tablets in the classroom, I disagree with “Problem #2: Input.” I’ve watched countless students master onscreen keyboards the past few years. In fact, they prefer them because it’s more like texting, just without the spelling and grammar shortcuts. So I would argue that getting information into a tablet is pretty darn easy and that the positives of using tablets in the classroom far outweigh the negatives.

    Having said that, thank you for an intelligent piece of writing on the topic. I enjoyed it.

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  10. Karen Robertson

    Apps with Curriculum is a site focused on using book apps in the classroom with accompanying Common Core State Standards-aligned curriculum activities –

    Apps with Curriculum was created by National Board Certified teacher, Cyndie Sebourn, who is passionate about integrating technology with literacy and curriculum.

    See this short video of 3rd grade teacher, Katie Moore Wainscott talking about piloting two of these curriculum activities in classrooms. These were created for the award-winning story book app, “Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island.”

    Here’s a link to the poetry activity video:

    And a link to the short video on the quicksand research activity:

    Cyndie could be an interesting interview for this exciting new DBW column!

  11. Pingback: עמי סלנט » טאבלטים בבתי ספר – תמונת מצב , אפריל 2013

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  13. umbrarchist

    There are 40000 works in Project Gutenberg. If 10 per cent of those are worthwhile then that alone makes $200 tablets worth the money.

    Try The Ethical Engineer by Harry Harrison.

  14. Arpan Stephen

    Well to solve all these 3 mentioned problems and much more, try using a Learning Operating System developed by Harness Handitouch called “Touch On Cloud”. Specifically designed for Ipads and other tablets, it gives a teacher control of whatever every student is doing on their Ipads by giving direct access of their screens in live session of any student she wishes to check. She also get small screen views of the entire class for keeping a regular. Check. She ensures that every student is on the same page of the lesson that she is teaching by one click of A button. Live broadcasting of teacher’s note to all student to help students focus on teaching rather than copying teacher’s note and enabling student to take their own notes on top of that is the key feature. Teachers and students embed different kinds of resources such as Videos, pt, pdf, doc, flash and other files directly from internet and take their own notes.

    And the cream on top, everything that’s done in the class gets automatically saved on cloud for anytime access at home or anywhere else.

    With many more features packed, Touch on Cloud is a one stop solution to all major problems in teaching. An award Winning LOS, it has been gaining recognition internationally.

    For More information visit

  15. Pingback: Ipads in classroom | Pearltrees

  16. umbrarchist

    “Not enough money to buy content.” !!!!!

    I don’t see too much talk about how much FREE CONTENT is out there by educators. Project Gutenberg has 45,000 works. Even if only 5% is worthwhile that is more than 2,000 works. That is more than what I read in 4 years of high school English Literature and Shakespeare in in Project Gutenberg.

    There Will Be School Tomorrow (1956) by V. E. Thiessen

    The Fourth R (1959) by George O. Smith

    Eight Keys to Eden (1960) by Mark Clifton

    The Year When Stardust Fell (1958) by Raymond F. Jones

  17. Pingback: Technical Issues with Tablets and their solutions - Techbalance

  18. Alan Greenwood

    As a student using an iPad, I would definitely agree with the point on input being difficult. Tablets are consumption devices much more than educational or productive devices. I also would like to point out that the iPad Air devices that we are using cost $400 with educational discounts, and AirWatch MDM and monitoring is another $55 per student per year. Other software is $15/student (for all of the apps).

    The main problem is that the quality of the software and of the devices is low enough that they aren’t a viable educational device. A computer is significantly easier to use for more complex projects and is infinitely more useful.

    E-books are one nice aspect, although they would easily be available using laptops (which are actually cheaper than the iPads we’re using AND more powerful).

  19. Kenziepoo

    Personally, I think tablets should be allowed. I’m in high school and our middle school already have kids with Ipads. Currently, I’m working on an assignment on “Should Tablets Replace Textbooks?” and I believe they should.

    ~ Your Friendly High-Schooler <3

    1. Beth Bacon

      Thanks for your reply, it’s interesting to see how thinking about this question has grown since this article was written in 2013. Still a relevant area of discussion!



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