iPod Touch in the Classroom? Is it a good alternative to the iPad?

I love the resources, tools and interactivity of the iPad within the learning environment but how does the smaller and cheaper iPod Touch fare in the classroom?  Educators looking to purchase an iOS device (or devices) for their school or classroom can currently select from 3 different sizes or form factors.  Although my preference has been the full size iPad (now the iPad Air) sporting the 9.7″ touch screen, there are classrooms that make use of the 7.9″ iPad mini and the 4″ iPod Touch.  Along with a lighter and extremely portable form factor, the iPod Touch also provides a more affordable option for those looking to obtain iOS devices for their school or classroom.  But can the iPod Touch match the utility and productivity of the full-size iPad?  What compromises and advantages arise when opting to go with the iPod Touch over it’s larger siblings?

The iPod Touch that I will be referring to throughout this article is the 5th generation of this iPod running iOS 7.

iPod Strengths

Taking a picture with an iPod Touch
The iPod Touch handles much more like a camera than the iPad and iPad Mini.

1. Form factor fit for a camera (and flash too!) – Taking photos and videos with an iPad is about as elegant as it looks.  It is not surprising that the iPhone is a popular camera as it presents a form factor that is much more camera-like than the tablet. Similarly, the compact iPod Touch handles more like a typical point-and-shoot camera. Taking pictures with one hand is easy, especially when using one of the volume buttons as the “shutter” button.  The iPod Touch also has the benefit of an LED flash which is currently absent from the iPad Air and iPad Mini.

2. Active and versatile applications in the classroom – From my own observations, the iPod Touch is a popular choice in classrooms where the device is used as a tool that needs to travel with the student or is perhaps being applied in ways that would be too awkward with a larger iPad.  For example, students in health and physical education classes can easily document and record data and results on the iPod (number of repetitions, timed performances, etc.) and then quickly store the device in a pocket or armband so it is out of the way.  Science classrooms have used the iPod’s camera, gyroscope and accelerometer to record data related to motion, position and even light refraction.  Furthermore, the iPod’s smaller form factor make it possible for the device to be carefully attached or strapped to moving test objects or models.  Sensor Kinetics, Sensor Tools and Data Collection are just a few apps that make use of these sensors.

3. Faster charging time – The latest 5th generation iPod Touch boasts a 2 hour fast charge time that will allow you to recharge the iPod’s battery to 80% in 2 hours.  This fast charge feature may be a life saver in a school or classroom where a set of iPods could be used many times during the day and charging times may be brief and sporadic.

iPod Weaknesses

iMovie for the iPod Touch screenshot
With the limited screen space of the iPod Touch, I prefer to edit videos on the iPad version of iMovie.

1. Smaller form factor comes at a cost – The smaller 4″ screen size of the iPod Touch presents some limitations in its use within groups of students and its display of applications when compared to the iPad and even the iPad Mini.  Depending on the app itself, user experience may benefit significantly when accessed on a larger iPad screen. iMovie for iOS is an example an application that I find much easier to use and navigate on an iPad. Features and tool panels are easily accessible from one screen whereas the iPod/iPhone version requires the user to flip between different screens to access various iMovie tools.

The smaller screen of the iPod Touch is really only suitable for the single user. With a full size (9.7″) iPad, it is possible to have 2-3 students working around the device.  (Granted, it makes for a cozy grouping but I have seen it done!)  The dynamic is much different with an iPod Touch, and rather than having students gathered around its smaller screen, I would imagine that students would be more inclined to pass the device around the group.

Explain Everything is an app for the iPad only
Although many developers are creating iPod/iPhone versions of popular apps, there are still a few that are only available for the iPad.

2. Goodbye iPad apps – iPads have the benefit of being able to download and run apps that are native to the iPhone and iPod Touch. iPads will simply scale the display of the app to fit the size of the larger screen. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the iPhone and iPod. Apps that are available only for the iPad will not be available for download on the iPod Touch or iPhone. With that said, before investing in iPods with the intent of installing your favourite iOS apps, be sure to check that the apps are indeed compatible with the iPod Touch.

3. iPod specs are not on par with the iPad – The 5th generation of the iPod Touch makes use of an A5 chip which is a notable step back from the current A7 chip found in the most recent full sized iPad (iPad Air) and iPad Mini (with Retina).  The iPod’s A5 chip is on par with the chipset found in the 2nd generation iPad and the original, non-retina iPad Mini.  So what does this all mean?  The use of the older A5 chip may be an issue for those who are looking to purchase the most recent hardware with the intent to maximize the compatibility window to update to future versions of iOS and iOS applications.

Final Thought

So how does the iPod Touch stack up against the iPad and iPad Mini?  First acknowledging the differences listed above, it is critical to recognize that the iPod Touch is not equal to the iPad and iPad Mini from the perspectives of both functionality and performance.  Classrooms and schools looking to use the iPod Touch as a competent replacement for an iPad may be unhappy with the overall experience.  Although it is not uncommon to see iPods being used alongside iPads within a classroom, it is important to appreciate the unique discrepancies between these devices in order to avoid disappointment when an iPod Touch is simply unable to fill the niche of an iPad.  For certain subjects of study, learning tasks or applications, the iPod may be the more appropriate tool for the classroom.  Ultimately, educators will have to carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of the iPod Touch and decide if it is indeed a suitable device that can meet the learning needs of the classroom.

– K. Takahashi





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