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The iPad and its use on campus

Apple's iPad represents the future of personal technology more so than any other tool available today. Only a few months old, this disruptive technology has challenged the tired concepts of what a computer is, what it should look like, and how it should work. I'm excited about the changes that it will cause in teaching, tech support, and everyday life.

As a Star Trek fan, I've been expecting this device for a long time. The PADDs used on the Enterprise not only replaced paper, but you didn't see anyone lugging around a laptop either. I have no doubt iPads and their successors will do the same for us. This is technology that can make our lives easier and better, not just more complicated like many of the tools available today.

Captain Picard using a PADD, as viewed on an iPad. Picture taken with an iPhone by my equally-geeky friend John Mullen who is visible in the reflection.
Captain Picard using a PADD, as viewed on an iPad. Picture taken with an iPhone by my equally-geeky friend John Mullen who is visible in the reflection.

iPads on campus
If you attended our Google Migration and Orientation sessions this summer, you may have noticed that we used iPads for leading the presentations. We were approached often by faculty about how iPads work in the classroom, and although I cannot cover every question or application today, I'll share a few basics.

Can I access my email on the iPad?
Yes, Gmail works great, and it works very much like the full version you use on your Mac or PC. You can also configure the Mail app so you get alerted when new messages arrive, but we've found the Gmail tool to be more powerful. It allows you to search your entire email archive on the go and has threaded conversations—everybody loves threads, right?

Can I sync my calendar with the iPad?
Yes, Google Calendar works very well with the iPad and can be set to alert you before your next meeting. This was not possible with the University's UMCal tool (and you shouldn't be using UMCal anyway—migrate to Google ASAP if you are).

How do I teach with an iPad?
There are many ways to use the iPad in the classroom. Below are just two simple options for the instructor. When students start bringing iPads to class, there will be even more exciting opportunities for enhancing both learning and teaching.

Simple Presentations
You can connect the iPad directly to a projector and use Apple's Keynote (a better alternative to PowerPoint) for class presentations. This makes the iPad a very light laptop replacement. Importing PowerPoint or Keynote files is possible, but if they contain special effects or lots of text on each slide, plan to spend time making modifications on the iPad version. Note that this setup does require that the iPad be wired up to the projector or podium with a $29 adapter.

Remote Control
We used the iPad as a multifunction remote control during our Google sessions. We set up a laptop on the podium, connected it to the projector, and then wirelessly linked the iPad to the laptop as a handheld mouse and keyboard. This option isn't cheap or lightweight since it requires another computer, but it is fun. Roaming the classroom, we could control the slideshow, demonstrate features of Gmail, and even type email messages. I never want to teach again without it.

What can't you do with an iPad?
Edit Google Docs, but Google announced this will change soon. Otherwise, it can handle most of the day-to-day activities you do with a desktop or laptop computer today. Give it another year to evolve and it may serve as a person's only computer.

How do I buy software for an iPad?
Apple makes it very easy to buy apps for the iPad, but if you are using University funds like we do for desktop software, then it gets complicated. In fact, the iPad totally blurs the line between work and home life and challenges quite a few University policies. Give us a call if you have specific purchasing questions.

Will you buy me an iPad?
Not today. However, the iPad does represent a challenge to the traditional definition of computers, and I can see a day that we would offer an iPad option as part of the Computer Replacement Program. For now, I support the idea that an iPad would be a very useful tool for most people in the college, but I doubt you'd be able to restrict your activities to work only. The iPad is also great for play.

How do I learn more?
We have an iPad in the loaner pool. Call the CLA-OIT Service Desk at 624-4357 to reserve it. Also, central OIT has put together a Google Site for sharing ideas and information about the iPad on campus.

I love hearing people talk about their experiences with the iPad. I'd also be happy to provide more information if people are interested. Make a comment below or send me a note at hansenj@umn.edu.

1 Comment

I know that Apple was the first one out of the gate, but how about a mention of the other tablets that are emerging and on the horizon?

This feels a little too much like a commercial.

I can taste the kool-aid from here...

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