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Special Ipadagogy: The iPad in Education and Special Education

Updated on May 12, 2013


IPads have revolutionized the world of technology beyond imagination. Due to the mass availability and affordability of the iPad, it has become a device which is sometimes more favorable than the normal computer (Bush & Cameron, 2001), even though it cannot totally replace a computer so far. Despite that, Apple Company believes that this will soon be possible (Ackerman, 2012). Still, an iPad can perform many tasks such as browsing the internet, taking notes, e-mailing, reading books, watching videos, listening to music, playing games and many other things (Benton, 2012). Each of the functionalities is done through a program called an app (short for application). While some apps require the user to pay fees, many others are for free while others are demos. Despite that, many free apps are very useful especially those specialized for education (Kadane, 2011).

In education, the main feature which makes the iPad very desirable and helpful is that it's intuitive to use and not complicated. Also, it is very sturdy and does not get damaged easily. Moreover, many educational apps are free and offer a lot of very interactive and engaging activities for students of all ages (Moore, 2012). In special education, researches have shown that the iPad has a positive impact on special needs student performance in almost all academic areas (King, 2011) and with various disabilities (Vanderwerf, 2012).

This research paper seeks to provide ample information regarding the effectiveness of the iPad in a special education classroom in order to make it easier for the reader o make a judgment regarding the use of the iPad in the classroom. It seeks to do so by reviewing some of the literature written about iPads in education such as Michael Bush and Andrea Cameron’s dissertation entitled “Digital Course Materials: a case study of the Apple iPad in the educational environment”, Melissa King’s thesis entitled “Effectiveness of the iPad in Enhancing the Mand Repertoire for Children with Autism”, in addition to reviewing the educational section of the website and then answering the following questions:

1- How is the iPad used in a General Education classroom?

2- How can the iPad be used in a special education environment?

3- What is the difference in the quality of education between an iPad and a regular PC or Mac in the classroom?

4- What may be some of the negative side-effects of using iPads and how can they be overcome?

Answering many of these questions may be sometimes done by recurring to commercial websites due to the lack of sufficient research in the field of iPads in education. Even though Apple does have an education committee, the iPad has only been around for a couple of years which means that no sufficient research into the field has been done as of yet.

The iPad in General Education Classrooms

Within the two years since the official appearance of the iPad, it has taken the world by a storm, selling over two million devices within the first two months after its release (Jones, 2010) and reaching over eighty-four million devices in September, 2012 (Costello, 2012). The difference between the iPad and other electronic tablet devices is that the Apple Company, producer of the iPad, offers specialized training in using iPads in education with the help of international Apple Distinguished Educators (, Apple in Education, 2012). Through its many educational apps, the iPad provides many electronic substitutes for various instructional activities (, The Device that Changed Everything is now Changing the Classroom, 2012).

Some schools worldwide have started enhancing their educational systems through iPad technology under the guidance and supervision of Apple Distinguished Educators. The latter have provided staff trainings in order to optimize the use of iPads in the classroom. Other schools have tried implementing the iPad into their curricula, however, this was only done to the extent of uploading the regular curriculum books into the iPads. On the other hand, schools that have fully integrated the iPads into their curricula have moved beyond uploading books and into creating original content for their students through the Apple educational platform called iTunes U (Germany, 2011) in addition to many other apps. Many of the top-tier international universities have already jumped onto the iTunes U bandwagon while some international schools in over 26 countries including Lebanon also joined in (, iTunes U, 2012).

Research done on the perception of students regarding the effect of the iPad on their academic performance showed that most students believed that the iPad is a very valuable academic tool, that it is personally useful and that it helped them focus more and become more organized (Bush & Cameron, 2001).

The iPad in Special Education Environments

The iPad has also infiltrated the world of special education by creating a multitude of apps which are specialized for different disabilities. Certain iPad apps have been proven to enhance learning with kids with autism (King, 2011), ADHD (Mcclanahan, Williams, Kennedy, & Tate, 2012), visual impairments (Moyer, 2010), cognitive disabilities (Webby, 2011) and communication impairments (Valentino-DeVries, 2010).

In general, research has shown that technology infinitely enhances and assists in special education environments (Sherod, 2012). The good thing about the iPad is that most of the educational apps available are very intuitive, interactive and stimulating with a possibility of going online with a lot of the work which is produced through them (Anderson, 2012). Additionally, there are apps which can assist in teaching almost everything for a special needs child such as Speech and Language (Communication Skills HD and iCommunicate), Social Skills (Everyday Social Skills HD and Model Me Going Places) Sign Language (iSign and Sign Smith ASL), Organization and Scheduling (Audio Notes and IEP Checklist), Literacy (iCDL Books for Children and See Read Say) and Numeracy (Freddy Fraction and Motion Math), Music (Garage Band and Magic Piano), Songs (Toddler Jukebox and World of Lullabies), Arts and Photography (iColoring Book and SculptMaster 3D), Early Intervention (iLook and Tap Tap Baby) and even Fine Motor Development (Touch Trainer and Touch Tutorial) (Sailers, Coppin, & Marden, 2011). Moreover, the iPad itself comes equipped with many accessibility options to help users with visual impairments, hearing impairments or dyslexia (, Useful to everyone, 2012).

It is very well known and documented that students with various special needs require more engaging materials in order to become more productive. This is surely also the case for regular students but more so for students with various impairments or difficulties (Polloway, Patton, & Serna, 2007). The iPad does provide a lot of the required modifications and functionalities. Moreover, the iPad is not just a static device, it is constantly changing and improving with new content and apps which are being created daily (Carr, 2012).

iPads at Eastwood College - Lebanon

Quality Education Differences between iPads, MACs and PCs

Thus far, the iPad is still somewhat limiting without the assistance of a regular laptop, whether PC or Mac (Murphy, 2012). However, continuous updates and model changes have enhanced the usability of the iPad to bring it closer to the regular laptop computer (Wilson, 2010). There are some instances where schools jumped into the iPad bandwagon but ended up in a nightmare (Kobie, 2012). However, this is more due to the lack of staff training on using the iPads in education. In fact, most schools that have jumped into the iPad platform are very satisfied with their work (Kaufman, 2012) while those who are not pleased with it usually attribute their failure to some of the following reasons:

- “Focusing on Content Apps

- Lack of Teacher Preparation in Classroom Management of iPads

- Treating the iPad as a Computer and Expecting it to Serve as a Laptop

- Treating iPads like Multi-User Devices

- Failure to Communicate a Compelling Answer to “Why iPads?”” (Daccord, 2012)

Research looking into the use of the laptop in the classroom showed that in certain cases, it may be better because it causes less of an attention barrier for students (Tualla, 2011). However, the same research continues to report that, in other instances, the iPad proved to be cumbersome and impractical because of Blackboard and others websites’ limited functionality on the iPad. On the other hand, the iPad was unanimously voted as being better than the traditional laptop in the areas of speed, ease of access, e-mailing, auto-correction, transportation and battery life (up to ten hours).

For children with special needs, the iPad is much easier to use and learn through because of the following reasons. The iPad:

- Enables students to participate better in class (Edyburn, Higgins, & Boone, 2005)

- Helps enhance retention of social skills and academics (Dyal, Carpenter, & Wright, 2009)

- Helps compensate for academic underachievement (Messinger-Willman & Marino, 2010)

- Improves outcomes in the community and in the workforce (Williams, Krezman, & McNaughton, 2008)

- Improves focus of visually impaired students (Flocken, 2012)

Therefore, as we can see, the iPad has a lot of positive benefits in the special education as well as the general education classroom. What is really needed is the teacher’s will to try to implement this assistive technology and incorporate it effectively into the lessons.

Negative Effects of the iPads and Possible Solutions

Every rose has its thorn and every good piece of technology has its negative side effects. Likewise, the iPad has some negative side effects. These side effects may be psychological, medical, or simply technology problems. Following is a list of some of the negative side effects and some of their proposed solutions:

1- Some students may be playing in class on the iPad instead of actually working on the task at hand (Tualla, 2011). The solution to this may be in more effective classroom management whereby the teacher walks around the classroom instead of remaining in one place (Daccord, 2012).

2- Replacing regular computers with iPads in the classroom is causing a lot of chaos and problems for the teachers (Laden, 2012). This is due to the fact that a lot of the curricula are based on certain computer software which are not yet available as apps. So far, we can only wait for these apps to appear, and they are quite rapidly.

3- The LCD projectors owned by schools are not equipped to project data from iPads (Gray, 2012). This can be resolved by either purchasing a special VGA adapter or an Apple TV (Herb, 2012).

4- Internet connectivity problems and sudden technological crashes happen sometimes (Shepherd & Reeves, 2011). This is very natural and, research shows that laptops crash a lot more often than an iPad because the latter is a closed source device, which means that its internal programs are not easily manipulated (McCracken, 2009).

5- The multitouch display enabled on the iPad, which allows the user to manipulate the device through a variety of hand gestures may be causing musculoskeletal harm (Iltifat, 2010). This has not been proven so far. However, research is being done in order to determine whether any harm is being caused and to find solutions for any potential risks.

6- In a lot of places worldwide, iPad devices are being Jailbroken in order to allow the user to install and use pirated apps which otherwise have to be purchased. This has been known to cause instability in the device (Asad, 2010). Unfortunately, cyber pirates are everywhere and not only iPads can be cracked. The same can be done, though differently, with regular computer software.

7- Radiation created by the iPad may be very harmful to children and may cause cancer or even death (Davis, 2010). We live in a world full of radiation and the iPad is part of that world and it looks like it’s here to stay. However, certain things may be done in order to decrease this radiation such as turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not being used, make sure it’s in a different room from where kids sleep, use Pong cases which have been tested to decrease radiation levels and use the loudspeaker if the conversation is not too confidential to decrease the time that the phone spends too close to your head (Zerbe, 2012).

8- Some children develop an addiction to playing games on the iPad and may lose touch with reality (Xiangxin, 2012). Unfortunately, kids tend to develop addictions to a lot of stuff. Previously, children used to develop addictions to certain foods. It is certainly not the fault of the food, but of the parents who are not monitoring their children or disciplining them effectively. Likewise, an addiction to the iPad is not the fault of the iPad, but of the parents who lack basic childcare knowledge.

9- The iPad is an all-screen device and doesn’t have a keyboard. Typing on the screen creates fingerprint smudges all over the device which eventually creates glare and makes it annoying to use the iPad (Kane, 2012). This can be partially resolved through a purchase of a Bluetooth Keyboard (, iPad must haves, 2012).

There may be other problems created by the iPad however, none are negative enough to call for the banning of its use in the classroom. However, this does call for an education in the use of the iPad educationally before actually incorporating it in the classroom.


The iPad has gone through many upgrades and currently four models of the regular iPad exist while the iPad mini, a smaller version of the iPad, is making its appearance. In addition to that, the hundreds of millions of sales of the iPad coupled with the creation of millions and millions of apps can only mean one thing: The iPad is here to stay.

Just like everything else, it has some side effects however, also just like everything else, moderation and awareness are the key to the solution. It may be the new shiny toy on the block and kids worldwide desire it, however, in the educational world, it is creating a revolution like none before.

Currently, there may be some competition between the market of the iPad and the market of the Android devices, but, in the world of education, Apple is still in the lead. This is due to the fact of the presence of educational app development by the company itself and the availability of staff training worldwide.

The iPad has been proven useful in many schools and universities around the globe. Additionally, in special education, the iPad is also proving its worth. Every day, new apps are being created and rapidly, the iPad is replacing the computer in the classroom.

In conclusion, this literature review went through many of the pros and cons of the iPad in the general education and special education classroom. An education in the uses of technology in teaching is very much needed in many schools and especially in Lebanon in order to enable teachers to make better calls on the uses of assistive technology in the classroom.


Ackerman, D. (2012, March 7). Will the third-generation iPad finally replace your laptop? Retrieved December 23, 2012, from CNET:

Anderson, G. (2012). Glenda's Assistive Technology. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from AT Classroom: (2012). Apple in Education. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from (2012). iPad must haves. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from (2012). iTunes U. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from (2012). The Device that Changed Everything is now Changing the Classroom. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from (2012). Useful to everyone. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Asad, T. (2010, April 22). Apple Warns Against Jailbreaking iPhone and iPad. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Redmond Pie:

Benton, B. K. (2012, August). THE IPAD AS AN INSTRUCTIONAL TOOL. Henderson State, Arkansas: Henderson State University.


Carr, J. M. (2012). Incorporation of iPads into Fifth-Grade Mathematics Instruction: A Focus on Mathematics Achievement. Incorporation of iPads into Fifth-Grade Mathematics Instruction: A Focus on Mathematics Achievement . Arizona, USA: Northcentral University.

Costello, S. (2012, September 21). What are iPad Sales All Time? Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Daccord, T. (2012, September 27). 5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make With iPads (And How To Correct Them). Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Davis, D. (2010). Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry HasDone to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family. USA: Dutton Adult.

Dyal, A., Carpenter, L. B., & Wright, J. V. (2009). Assistive Technology: what every school leader should know. Assistive Technology Education , 556 - 560.

Edyburn, D., Higgins, K., & Boone, R. (2005). Handbook of Special Education Technology and Research Practice. Whitefish Bay: Knowledge by Design.

Flocken, E. M. (2012). iPads and self-determination. iPads and self-determination . California, USA: California State University, Fullerton.

Germany, L. (2011). iTunes U: An Opportunity for Students. Campus - Wide Information Systems , 175 - 182.

Gray, T. (2012, August 24). Using the iPad with a Projector. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Palomar College:

Herb, J. (2012, May 22). Apple TV in the Classroom. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Instructional Tech Talk:

Iltifat, H. (2010, June 10). Side effects of multi-touch screens on the iPhone, iPad, and other devices being studied by Arizona State researchers. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Jones, D. (2010, June 10). International Sales Push iPad Over 2M Mark. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Kadane, L. (2011, June 27). Preschoolers embrace the iPad; Apps help children with learning disabilities. The Ottawa Citizen , p. D.6.

Kane, Y. I. (2012). IPad Side Effect: Greasy Fingerprints. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from The Wall Street Journal:

Kaufman, M. (2012, December 16). iPad Invading the Classroom. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

King, M. L. (2011, June 30). EFFECTIVENESS OF THE IPAD IN ENHANCING THE MAND REPERTOIRE FOR. EFFECTIVENESS OF THE IPAD IN ENHANCING THE MAND REPERTOIRE FOR . Carbondale, Southern Illinois, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Kobie, N. (2012, September 11). The school that swapped its laptops for iPads… and wants to switch back. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from PCPro:

Laden, G. (2012, May 25). iPads in the Science Classroom: The Bad, The Ugly, and The Good. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Mcclanahan, B., Williams, K., Kennedy, E., & Tate, S. (2012). A Breakthrough for Josh: How Use of an iPad Facilitated Reading Improvement. TechTrends , 20-28.

McCracken, H. (2009, May 2). 8 reasons why a Mac is better than a PC. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Messinger-Willman, J., & Marino, M. T. (2010). Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. NASSP Bulletin , 5 - 16.

Moore, A. F. (2012, August). Piloting the iPad®: A Case Study Evaluation in a K-12 School District. Piloting the iPad®: A Case Study Evaluation in a K-12 School District . Washington: Washington University.

Moyer, J. E. (2010). Audiobooks and E-books: A Literature Review. Reference & User Services Quarterly , 340-354.

Murphy, S. (2012, August 13). Should You Get Your Child an iPad or Laptop for School? Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Polloway, E. A., Patton, J. R., & Serna, L. (2007). Strategies for Teaching Learners with Special Needs. USA: Pearson.

Sailers, E., Coppin, M., & Marden, J. (2011). iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch Apps for Special Education. Online: Scribd.

Shepherd, I. J., & Reeves, B. (2011, March 1). iPad or iFad – The reality of a paperless classroom. iPad or iFad – The reality of a paperless classroom . Texas, USA: Abilene Christian University.

Sherod, L. D. (2012). Learning and Use of Technology within High School Special Education Classrooms. Learning and Use of Technology within High School Special Education Classrooms . Minnesota, USA: Southwest Minnesota State University.

Tualla, L. T. (2011). Mobile Engagement at Scottsdale Community College: The Apple iPad in an English Honors Class. Mobile Engagement at Scottsdale Community College: The Apple iPad in an English Honors Class . Arizona, USA: Arizona State University.

Valentino-DeVries, J. (2010, October 18). Using the iPad to connect --- Apple tablet allows special-needs kids to communicate. The Wall Street Journal Asia , p. 10.

Vanderwerf, L. (2012, June 1). Willmar, Minn., special education students benefit from iPad technology. McClatchy - Tribune Business News .

Webby, S. (2011, March 28). iPad gives new hope to special-needs families. Oakland Tribune .

Williams, M. B., Krezman, B., & McNaughton, D. (2008). Reach for the Stars. Augmentative and Alternative Communication , 194 - 206.

Wilson, L. (2010, April 7). My iPad Journey - Getting Closer to Being a Laptop Killer. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from ABI Research:

Xiangxin. (2012, February 18). Effects of iPad on Children. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from Xiangxin:

Zerbe, L. (2012). Top Tips to Avoide Wireless Radiation. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from


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