We went to the Kidsmeet event last week and I know I haven’t blogged about that yet, but I was asked many questions throughout the afternoon. Some were about Google Apps, so many in fact that I held an impromptu discussion with 10-15 people about it, but another conversation that came up 3 or 4 times was the use of ipads in the classroom. Now, as many people know, I prefer Android. For no real reason except that I tried iTunes once and it annoyed me, I haven’t gone back.

So these schools were asking me about my opinions on different devices, this could have been because I brought some netbooks to Kidsmeet and they intrigued the teachers. Why hadn’t we gone with iPads? Would we be buying some? In short, no. So why?

I think that many schools are doing amazing things with iPads but for me, I haven’t heard of many schools approaching it in the way that I would, and have. So maybe I’m wrong, maybe I just haven’t seen the blog posts about the choices made, maybe there haven’t been blog posts about why they have used them and not other devices. Lots of schools seem to get iPads because everyone else is doing it. I’ve tried discussing WHY people have gone iPads instead of other devices but no-one seems to be able to answer and very few have tried alternative devices at all.

For me, when we started thinking about devices in school, we thought not about what was out there and what was available, but what we wanted to achieve as a school. There are many decisions made in school that baffle me, the decisions by many to sign-up to a VLE for example, but for me it has always started with…why? Why are we doing this? Why will it make a difference to our teaching and/or learning? And that is exactly where we started with the device conversation.

We have two trollies of netbooks and an ICT suite of 21. The suite is 4/5 years old and aging, it will last another 1-3 years but it is rarely used as you can’t fit a whole class in there, it is upstairs so children can’t used unsupervised and people rarely use it as some computers aren’t working. I fix them, but give it a few weeks and they restart randomly again. Not worth buying new bits for them really. So we talked about replacing them. But with what? Even if we had 21 nice, shiny devices up there, would anyone use it if they could only fit 21 children in there? The space is far too small for 32 children. Maybe we let them die and get more netbooks? These have gone down very well so far, but would more be useful? Another trolley is expensive, probably £12k or so. The discussion moved to portable devices such as tablets. This gave me two choices – iPads or Android tablets. Then the wonderful Pete Richardson (@primarypete_) discussed the Playbook on his blog here: http://primarypete.net/tablet-time.

I tried, in vain, to get a range of devices to play with in school. My thinking was that if a company was willing to sell me devices, they would let me have some to play with. Totally wrong there. I did arrange a time and date for one company to bring some tablets in but they didn’t even show up. This lead to a class of disappointed children!! Maybe one day we will look at Apple or Android devices but until I can get some to play with and test, it just won’t happen. I could go and find a school that are using them to have a look, but I really want my children and my staff to play with them too.

So in the end we have bought a Playbook. Now when I tweeted that we had one of these, many people mocked me saying that the apps were rubbish, email support was awful and the device was a joke having sold about 17 compared to Ipad’s 65bajillion. But my thinking is that you need to buy a device that will work for your school. Also, as it didn’t sell very well, it is now very cheap compared to the price when it came out! So why Playbook?

With an iPad, yes the apps are amazing and there are some truly great tools that can be used (epic citadel for example) but these involve the teachers re-planning certain areas thinking about how to use these apps within their curriculum. Not this is probably the best way to do it, but for my school, right now, this is not going to happen. We need something that will fit in with what we are already doing. For us, the Playbook offers a few simple tools that enhance what we are already doing. Let me explain…

Firstly, it is cheap. £170 (inc vat) compared with the iPads mean that we can get more devices than if we went the iPad route. These are about the same price as iPods but are bigger and easier to use.

Secondly, yes the apps are limited, but you know what? We don’t want that many of them. I’ve installed one so far, WordPress. This has been setup with our blog login details and now whenever the children take a picture on the Playbook (or a video) then we upload it via the app. If they have a range of photos then they simple login to Animoto and use that instead. Similarly for video, they chuck it onto YouTube and then embed into the blog. In one day, the class using it (http://www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk/class8) have blogged more than in the last few weeks. My vision is that children can blog while the teacher is sharing a plenary session. They could do this on a netbook too, but often the whole trolley of netbooks is being used, maybe we could buy a c ouple of spare per class? There’s no space in class for fixed PCs.

Also, yes, Animoto works. As does Purple Mash, Busy Things, and most of the other sites we use in school because it has Flash support. Love it or hate it, at the moment, Flash is used a lot within school. So having a device that works with Flash is a massive bonus.

It’s still early days, the Playbook has only been in class for a day-and-a-half, but so far 4 children are ‘trained’ to blog pictures and the teacher is planning what her next blog posts are going to be already. I’m now looking into how we could move forward and buy a few more. Maybe we could have two per class? Who knows.

I just wanted to share my thinking so far, we may change our minds, it may not work, but I’m interested to see how it will develop over the coming weeks and months…