Screen Reading versus Real Books

The beginning of the school year is always a busy time for administrators but it is also a time when many of us look forward to being able to discuss with our colleagues workshops and training we have experienced or given over the long summer break, or reading we have done during the period away from our classrooms and offices. Two reports that have appeared in shortened form in the education Press were hotly debated in the first week back – at least if the e-mail exchanges I was copied in on are anything to go by.

The first of these reports appeared in the national and education press in August and discusses research led by Anna Mangen from Stavanger University that suggests readers of a short story were better able to respond to test items that demanded certain mental reconstruction skills such as sequencing if they had read the story in traditional print form than if they had done so on a Kindle. Mangen observed that her study appeared to support the findings of an earlier study in which 73 tenth grade readers in a Norwegian secondary school were divided into two groups and required to read a short story. The control group read the story in traditional print form and the experimental group read the same story in pdf form on a computer screen. The experimental group performed significantly worse on test items that measured immersion constructs such as empathy, transportation and narrative coherence.

The Kindle study that attracted such attention in August 2014 appears to have been extremely ill-structured. One report claimed only two individuals constituted the entire experimental group, but Mangen, whose recent work has also included a study that explored phenomenological reflections on the digitization of literature in early childhood learning contexts, concludes from the earlier Norwegian study that reading comprehension is significantly impaired when students read on a screen. She postulates that haptic elements such as the compression of the pages and the sense of progress internalized by the reader’s feeling the amount of reading already completed, as measured by the increased number of pages held in his or her left hand (assuming the reader is reading left to right), may contribute to the superiority of the printed form over the on-screen form for fomenting reader immersion. The study has clear implications for policy forming and the development of technology resources to support reading programs in schools. It also, rather neatly, provides a modern-day context for Jane Austen’s observation in Northanger Abbey that the physical presence of the book in the reader’s hand constitutes an interplay between text and textuality and limits the ability of the writer to control the reader’s assumptions.

                 The anxiety which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

This is the sort of research that all of us can relate to and extend to ourselves. Following Nicholas Carr’s famous example of self-study described in The Shallows, I began to reflect this summer on my own screen and paper reading habits.  Although I am not a Kindle owner I do read books on my iPad fairly regularly, and I have even read one or two entirely on my iPhone.  More frequently, I begin reading in one form and continue switching between the two depending on where I am when I find myself with time to read. For example, when I read Moby Dick last year it happened to coincide with a month I was travelling quite frequently. Although I did not want to lug my heavy hardback edition of Moby Dick around with me on trains and planes, I did prefer to read the novel in that form when at home. I, therefore, read about half the book on screen and the other half on paper.

However, a year on, I find I cannot remember which sections of Moby Dick I read in which format. This contrasts sharply with my memory of reading from the time when all my reading was done in traditional printed form. For example, I last read Northanger Abbey in 1984. However, thirty years later (i.e. just now) when I needed to quote a passage for this blog post I could remember that the passage lay on the left-hand side of the page towards the end of the book. A few minutes ago before beginning this post I went to the high school library to get the same Penguin paperback edition to quote from and there it is – top half of the left-hand-side on page 234, some two and a half pages from the end. It took me literally three or four seconds to locate the exact quotation I needed.  I doubt I will ever be able to do that with an eReader – although I accept there will be electronic tools to assist me when I lose that faculty.

Northanger Abbey

An equally interesting study was reported in the Times Educational Supplement last month that appeared to show high school students in the UK are showing less enthusiasm for working with iPads in schools than in previous years. The study, conducted by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) surveyed more than 600 British schools in an attempt to explore the extent of investment in iPads. According to Vaughan (2014), the study found that there are currently over 440,000 tablets in British schools with the number set to double by 2016. However, the study also surveyed teacher’s perceptions of interest in iPads among their students. This reflected a decrease from 89% in 2012 to 78% in 2014 of teachers responding that their students did have at least some interest in tablets. This pattern is indicative of the same product adoption life cycle as that observed in tablet use in the commercial world. A further analysis of the BESA data reveals a gap between the high levels of engagement teachers perceive being demonstrated by students at elementary school and the much lower levels of engagement teachers perceive are typically displayed by students in middle and high school. The existence of this gap is supported by more robust research (Marks et al., 2011) and suggests the possibility of social factors affecting the data. It is, for example, possible that tablet devices are now so commonplace in the lives of some middle and high school students that there is no special attraction to their presence in the classroom. Younger students, on the other hand, often appreciate being given opportunities to use devices that are possibly monopolized by older siblings at home. Although unexplored in the BESA report itself, this idea, in my humble opinion, would be worthy of pursuance.




Flood, A. (19 August 2014). Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study     finds. The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2014 from

Mangen, A., Walgermo, B. R., & Brønnick, K. (2013). Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal Of Educational Research5861-68. doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2012.12.002

Vaughan, R. (8 August 2014). Once it was “wow”, now it’s “whatever”. Times Educational Supplement Connect. Retrieved on 13 August 2014 from



Learning Chinese on the iPad

The summer holidays, as always, is a chance to reflect back and project forward.  The new school year starting in August will be the first where we introduce large numbers of iPad Airs, and the first where we begin the year with Casper as our MDM system.  Further afield, we have collaborate research projects set up with Hurstpierpoint College and with our sister schools in the ACS group, and invitations to present our research at several international conferences.

But I’m keenly aware of how easy it is for the researcher to become too intensely focused on the mechanics of the research process itself, and to lose sight of the connection research must have with real life.  This is a danger to which researchers whose day to day school role is in administration, not teaching, are especially susceptible and so the subject of this month’s blog is deliberately pragmatic and stems from my classroom experience teaching my weekly Chinese class.

Language teachers commonly complain that there are no decent apps for teaching language. This may be true (although the picture with all apps is so fast-changing that it is difficult to make definitive statements about anything), but it misses the point.  The conversations I have had most recently with teachers of French and Spanish at my school certainly leave me better informed about apps like Linguascope and Duolingo, but they also make it very clear that the most engaging activities that teachers appear to find effective are those where the students are using the target language incidentally, rather than as a conscious exercise in mastery.

When I was training as a language teacher more years ago than I care to mention, the prevailing (but at that point untested) thinking was that the best way to master a language was to study something other than the target language through the medium of the target language.  At International House, where I studied for an RSA Diploma in TEFL, I observed students in a film studies course whose fluency in both spoken and written academic English developed as they pursued their learning about film.  My own mother-in-law developed her English through studying a higher degree in Education. So we have known for a long time that making the target language incidental to the learning can be effective, and the lesson for teachers teaching with iPads is to make the iPad the tool to achieving tasks other than directly learning French, Spanish or, in the case of my own students, Chinese.

In my Chinese classes I have been known to set the odd quiz in Socrative, but I admit that these serve little pedagogical purpose beyond giving the students a mental break from other tasks.  The biggest benefit I have seen in quiz setting (other than giving the impression to some parents – and a recently-departed education minister – that real learning was going on when it wasn’t) is the experience it can give students in mastering test-taking techniques. But passing a test, rather than acquiring mastery of the learning the test is supposed to assess, is a very limited horizon for which to set one’s course.

This is where one needs to consult the research and adapt pedagogies and instructional strategies that we know assist language acquisition.  These include (but are not limited to) the following:

Hands-on activities
Project-based learning
Reciprocal learning
Student-centred learning
Simulations & Rôle Play
Reflect & Write
Anything involving Rhythm, Rhyme, Music & Rap
Graphic (visual) Organisers
Collaborative learning

I’ve written on most of these before, but in the context of teaching Chinese there is a resource I am prepared to endorse that I have used for about six years now and which, with a bit of tweaking, allows the teacher to cut out a lot of the donkey work involved in lesson planning.

The resource is called Chinese Pod and it started many years ago as a podcast. You could download the podcast and listen to it on your iPod as you got on with your day. It often involved conversations about topics that were in the news or of general interest to ordinary folk at the time. Therein lay an important difference between Chinese Pod and even the best textbook – it was fresh and unpredictable; relevant and topical. You couldn’t flick ahead and see what was coming. Although pre-recorded, it felt live and the presenters (typically two – a waiguoren and a native Chinese speaker) didn’t worry about the odd slip of the tongue. It had the feel of people enjoying themselves.

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Allied to the podcast was a webpage from which you could download and print off dialogues at different levels. I’m actually a great believer in dialogues as a way of learning languages. I learned Chinese this way myself and occasionally even today I find myself slipping into phrases I learned wholesale from those days. Chinese Pod’s dialogues ran the gamut from Newbie to Advanced, with pinyin support available where appropriate.  They discussed things like pop music, St Valentine’s Day and who was going to win the World Cup – the very conversations I knew my students were having in the recess playground.  

Today, these dialogues are still there on the Chinese Pod website, and subscribers can make use of Lesson MP3s, Dialogue MP3s, Audi Review MP3s or just a straightforward pdf transcript of the dialogue.  We use all of these in my classes, and my students access them via their iPads either before or during the lesson, but they also give me ideas for prompting my students to write their own dialogues, and we record or film these after they have had a chance to practise them.

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Today, students can produce sophisticated translations using Google Translate (see above – and also on their iPads in the form of an app), and can have the phrases modelled for them by a native speaker to guide their pronunciation and tones, but this really doesn’t matter. Students get a buzz out of seeing themselves and hearing themselves speaking Chinese, and if they keep the recordings, they can use themselves as revision aids or teachers in the future.   

Of course, I also encourage the students to use the Chinese keyboard on the iPad, and we have had some success in the past with the app iChinese as a way to encourage students to master the correct stroke order (although it has been admittedly mixed success as it is time-consuming – and I have to say I sometimes get stroke order wrong myself even after years of learning Chinese), but it’s probably fair to say that reading and writing Chinese are the last two skills to be mastered (albeit, there is a thrill to be seen on the students‘ faces when they manage to translate a piece of text written entirely in characters!)

To that end, there are a number of apps for both iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch that have proved effective over the years.  Here are some I still swear by.  

Apps Screenshot

The Flashcards app can be especially addictive – in a wholly positive way.  Many years ago I would spend hours on trains across China taking a pack of flashcards out my my jacket pocket and trying to commit them to memory. Those I knew I would transfer to my right-had pocket; those I didn’t, I would shuffle to the bottom of the pack and try again when they surfaced.  The Flashcards app (see screenshot below) is the modern equivalent of that. So with that in mind, I’m now going to roll the clock back and see how well I do on the advanced set.


ECIS Seville, 2014 – adios, iPad 2; bienvenido Office Suite for iPad

Seville was a lovely surprise last month.  I was there to present the current stage of my research into iPads in the classroom at the ECIS Leadership Conference but I wasn’t prepared for how stunning the city looked in the late spring sunshine and how the whole place seemed to be blooming.  I had missed the Exposition during 1992 because I was on teaching practice in Lisbon and the only weekend my tutor could fly out from London to meet with me was the same weekend my colleagues and I had earmarked for a Seville trip.  So this was catch-up time and I made the most of it.  There was a moment, sitting under an orange tree on a street terrace with my wife and children, waiting for our (world class) tapas to arrive and listening to a street quartet playing just a few yards away, when I wondered if a moment in life could be any more perfect.  Then the tapas arrived and I realised it just had done!

The conference coincided with a couple of iPad-related news items that have already begun to affect schools.  One is the withdrawal of the iPad 2, the classroom stalwart that has served us so well since March 2011.  From now on this device will no longer be manufactured and schools will have to choose other options.  For schools such as ours in which iPads are leased, not bought, the removal of the iPad 2 from the Apple options list is significant.  It is not merely the new agreements with alternative models (I suspect most schools will opt for the iPad Air as we are doing) that have to be processed but also new cases (NutKase had an impressive stall at the Seville conference and although I don’t normally use this blog for the purpose of promoting brands I have to say I was struck by the student-designed protective iPad Air cover they demonstrated), new MDM set-ups and in some cases new insurance agreements too.  Most students and teachers will regard the replacement of their iPad 2 with an iPad Air as a good thing, but it is not without its issues for those administrating the switch.


Another recent development (and one that is still unwinding as I write this at the end of May) is the decision by Microsoft to throw in the towel on iPad apps and abandon the failed “Windows First” policy they stuck by under Steve Ballmer’s leadership.  The clearest manifestation of the policy change in Microsoft is the decision to release iPad versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint.


Of these, Excel is the most significant as it is the only one that is demonstrably and undeniably the superior application in its field.  Those of us who use spreadsheets regularly, and especially those who require pivot table facilities and more advanced tools, will welcome the arrival of ExCel to the iPad.  This isn’t the case for the other two apps. Word is easily replaced by any number of word processing apps, and PowerPoint … well how can I put it and still be polite?  But the move does put a final nail in the coffin of those who continue to argue that the iPad is for content consumption and not for creating new stuff.  Quite obviously, Office Suite apps are intended to create new stuff.  In fact, Microsoft has configured the release so that the only way they will make money is from subscribers who buy the creation facility.  those like me who simply download the apps to be able to read what Office users send us pay not a penny.

Collaborating in a 1:1 Setting

Reflective educators seldom accept received wisdom as something beyond questioning.  When it comes to iPads in the classroom received wisdom has less than four years’ provenance and it is, therefore, only right that we reassess what we think we know about these amazing tools and their place in the school room and the school day.

I was thinking about this earlier this month when I was observing a class of fourth graders working on scripts for a play set in Roman times.  The students had chosen a character from the Roman era, and their plays were to tell the story of their character’s move from their hometown to Rome, but other than that basic outline the students were free to interpret the task freely.  Most of the students in the class I was observing were using a combination of paper and pencil and their iPads to do the preparation.  Later, the scripts would be polished and published and then incorporated into a Readers’ Theatre presentation.


The iPad is obviously an excellent tool for all manner of tasks associated with such projects. Students can use it to research aspects of the Roman era (see above), and to draft writing or multimedia work for later editing or publication. But I knew that one of the skills the teacher had been focussing on was collaboration, and this interested me from the perspective of classroom management.  The received wisdom on collaboration from researchers such as Sugata Mitra has been that the ideal ratio of devices to student is around 1:4 with upper primary/middle school students (Mitra conducted his research with Year 7 students.  During his work with Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLES) Mitra found that students worked in an insular fashion if each had permanent access to their own screen.  Collaboration was facilitated by groups of four students sharing the device.  Our own research at ACS Cobham in 2011, which I discussed with Mitra the following year, found that although this was true with older students the conversations younger students shared in this ratio were overwhelmingly concerned with whose turn it was to use the iPad.  These conversations disappeared when the iPad-to-student ratio reached 1:2, and that observation shaped our development of our iPads programme in grades one and two for the next three years.


The observations I made in the first few minutes following the teacher’s initial presentation certainly supported the Sugata Mitra position that students worked insularly when each had their own iPad (see above).  But as the minutes ticked by more collaborative behaviours were observed (see below)

IMG_7994 IMG_7995 IMG_7998 IMG_8003 IMG_8009 IMG_8012

The difference the teacher had made was simply to teach the students collaborative skills.  We tend to talk a lot about the need for students to acquire skills such as collaboration, systems thinking, creativity, critical thinking and analytical problem solving, and we even joke about how we still find this battery referred to in the literature as “twenty-first century skills”, but we tend to talk less about the mechanics of teaching such skills. It’s perhaps the digital equivalent of that point in the 1980’s when we realised we were requiring students to learn how to take notes but nobody had bothered to do any research on how to teach it.

It turns out collaboration is admirably supported in the Responsive Classroom approach used in ACS Lower School (Responsive Classroom is a philosophy of teaching and learning that extends from research-based practice and training promoted through the Northeast Foundation for Children – NEFC).  The students were quite comfortable putting their own iPad down for a few moments to work with a colleague on their Roman project or to concoct something together that was greater than the sum of the parts either could have created on their own.  I am sure that other approaches would have worked too (although Responsive Classroom is certainly an extremely effective way to embed collaboration skills). The key was that the teacher had set aside some time to teach an interdisciplinary skill before the Roman project had ever been introduced.

I’ll be watching this development with some interest as it clearly has ramifications beyond technology-linked classes.  The key practices of Responsive Classroom such as interactive modelling, and the three domains of engaging academics, positive community and effective management on which it is founded may contribute towards how teachers develop other twenty-first century skills too. but this was by far the most collaborative lesson I have ever seen in a 1:1 iPads classroom and I would love to think that it came from a sustainable model of classroom practice. 


The Great War on a 9.7-inch Screen

This year’s centenary commemorations of the start of World War One have had a conspicuous presence on television and in the printed media and as the summer approaches and we mark 100 years since the Old Contemptibles marched in France it seems fair to guess that the coverage in the mainstream media will be even more thorough.  Schools across Europe are no doubt giving thought to how best to reflect those happenings in the classroom.  Certainly, we at ACS are pondering the question of what are the most appropriate and effective ways of giving children a context in which to understand the Great War.

kitchener_posterFor people of my age, schooled in the seventies and eighties, the Great War belongs to the twilight of living memory.  I grew up in an environment where the oldest generation, including several of my relatives had experienced the war either as soldiers on the Western front and other theatres, or as members of the home front.  My grandfather, great uncles and several members of my extended family had all been soldiers.  One lost a thumb at Gallipoli; another had been gassed and passed away at an advanced age in the nineteen-seventies after a lifetime of lung problems; two great uncles were killed in action in 1918 and my grandfather survived the war only to die of illness in 1929.  Tins could be found in the bottom drawers of various cabinets in my childhood home containing medals, ribbons, coins, letters and military badges from the period.  Two cards, lined with black and a few sepia photographs spoke to the memory of the two great uncles who had lost their lives.  The war felt part of my personal history.

That feeling is not possible in the same way for the current school generation.  My first two years as a teacher, in 1992 and 1993, coincided with the last two years anyone I knew of invited surviving World War One veterans into the classroom to address the children.  I remember one surprisingly sprightly nonagenarian telling my students how he had joined up in time to see the last few months of the war at the Western front – and how he had got through it “without even a scratch”.  He, and all his comrades, are now long gone.  The last British Tommy, Harry Patch, died in July 2009, and the last WWI veteran of any nationality, Florence Green, passed away in February 2012.  Today’s children’s understanding of the war – and their ability to make sense of it and relate it to their experience of the world, will depend not on hearing live first-hand accounts, but on their ability to navigate the multitude of resources available to them, and the guidance we give them in doing so.

A major part of those resources exist in places these students will access via their iPads.  The temptation for many teachers will no doubt be to regard online resources as material for consultation and review. iPads are certainly useful tools for such consumption of reference material, and there are scores of apps available for reproducing, sometimes in beautifully presented forms, the pictures, posters, newspapers and moving images from the war’s four-year period.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 13.03.36

These content consumption apps also include trivia quizzes and Top Trumps-style virtual card games (see below) that ostensibly teach the consumer something about the machinery or weaponry used in the war (with aviation disproportionately represented to a conspicuous degree).

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 12.35.18

Content consumption is also the driving force behind the many podcasts, television and film productions and even poetry recital and music albums currently being prominently displayed on the iTunes store, not to mention the books, audio books and games that take World War One as a backdrop or theme for the events or action they feature.  But there are also many opportunities for students to create appropriate content using the resources on the Great War. Posters in apps such as Trevor D’Arcy-Evans’ comprehensive World War One Posters (shown below) can be incorporated into student written work, artwork or combinations of graphics and images in presentations using Pages, Moodboard, Keynote, ArtRage, Puppetpals, iMovie and so forth.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 12.48.56Projects like these can be used to connect today’s students to the young men and women of 1914 who, informed and influenced by the media and social commentary of the day, joined up in their thousands to serve their countries.  Such work brings the period to life and allows today’s students to identify with and personalise the experience of the time they are studying.

More formal courses of study, some of which are connected to genuinely interactive work, are available via the iTunes U.  History and literature studies of the period of the Great War are offered, for example, by the University of Oxford (below).

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 13.04.43 The Great War is, therefore, extremely well represented in formats suited to the 9.7-inch (or 7.9-inch) iPad screens, and war resources available for iPads such as timelines, interactive archives, reference eBooks and the like can be incorporated into the modern classroom in a way that at least approaches the authenticity of my sprightly nonagenarian friend from 1993.  Imaginative use of authentic archive material also allows a multitude of perspectives to be understood, rather than one man’s personal memories, a caution Harry Patch himself mentioned in his only memoir, The Last Fighting Tommy.

For all those who did indeed get through the war unscathed – or at least in one piece, there are those who did not.  As I write this blog entry I have in front of me a letter written by one such member of the Fallen, my great uncle Syd.  The letter was written by Syd to his brother, Arthur, a private also on the front.  The envelope in which the letter was placed is addressed to M.G.C D Section, 106 Company, B.E.F. France, and is dated April 8th 1918.  In the letter, Syd says “…well, old boy, like you I am fed up with the whole thing, if it wasn’t for Bess and the children I should wish I was somewhere out of it but I think I shall trust to luck now I have had so much of it”.


Syd’s letter to his brother, Arthur. Written on April 8th 1918.
Syd was killed in action eight days later.

The letter was delivered to Arthur and it made it home to my family’s archive. Sadly, Syd did not make it home.  Stuck to the back of the envelope was the announcement of Syd’s death, killed in action at the age of 37, just eight days after he wrote the letter.

This letter has personal resonance for me and for my family, but there are equivalent stories in millions of families around the world, and there is deep and lasting learning associated with school projects that tap into such stories.  Clearly, we have a responsibility to ensure that events like the Great War can be understood, contextualised and made real for our students. Thanks to content creation apps and the efforts of teachers, iPads can have a useful role in that.

Top Tens

Recently, the Stephen Perse Foundation ‘s Daniel Edwards published a list of the top ten apps in use at his school’s two-year-old 1:1 iPad programme.  He noted that all ten apps were multipurpose apps, and he included in his list a description of how each app fitted in with the workflow developing at the school.

The list will make reassuringly familiar reading to FOMO-afflicted school leaders who have been dabbling or diving headlong into the world of 1:1 iPads, but it also indicates strongly how far the shift has been completed towards content creation.  With the arguable exception of iTunes U, every one of the’s top ten apps is primarily or exclusively designed to get users creating new content, not consuming existing content.  Here is Daniel’s list

Book Creator

Book Creator

Edmodo Edmodo Explain EverythingExplain Everything iMovieiMovie

iTunes U iTunes U

Keynote Keynote

Notability Notability


Showbie Showbie

Socrative 1.0 and 2.0 Socrative

Daniel’s list got me thinking about another list I realise I’ve been mentally compiling without actually writing it down.  In my many conversations with teachers and administrators in iPad schools across the country, I have noticed how the same questions are being asked and shared.  Not many of these questions have definitive answers – often it’s a case of personal preference or school philosophy, but here are some of the questions that are most commonly asked of me as an administrator in a school where our oldest 1:1 iPads programme is now entering its fourth year.

1.  What MDM do you use?

2.  Who pays for the iPads?

3.  What is your insurance structure?

4.  Do you recommend 1:1, shared iPads or a combination?

5.  What age range is the iPad best suited to?

6.  Do the iPads go home or stay at school?

7.  What eSafety issues do the presence of iPads raise?

8.  What training structure and timetable have you found most successful?

9.  Why iPads as opposed to Android or other devices?

10.  How do iPads best engage the students with the demands of the new curriculum (e.g. the demand for programming etc.)?

This list is by no means exhaustive. I could certainly add questions about how students save their work, what peripherals are most recommended, which subjects are best served or least well served by the apps on the App Store, how well iPads work with Google Apps schools and so forth. But following Daniel’s lead of naming only the top ten, these are the ones that are most often asked, and the ones to which I do find I have preferred answers borne of our experiences since we got started in January 2011.

I will endeavour to work my way through these questions and answers over the next few posts.

The Joys of Instant On and Elongated Battery Life

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Today’s power cut was a good illustration of the attractiveness of two features of the iPad that nowadays often get overlooked but which at the time the iPad was released made it so welcome to educators.  When the power cut hit Cobham this afternoon the computer teacher and students were able to switch immediately to their iPads without any need to wait for log on delays (worked out by an ECIS colleague of mine a couple of years ago as typically the equivalent of two whole days over a school year!)  Nor were there any concerns that the iPads would have flat batteries despite it being the afternoon and the iPads having been in use all day.

Instant On and a ten-hour battery life are taken for granted nowadays, but back in 2010 these two features rescued many of us from a huge IT headache.  Today was proof that these features are still essential.