My colleague, Greta Cunningham, asked me for a quote for her recent blog post on iPad's in the classroom, spurred by a recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education on iPad's developing role in the classroom. Greta's piece, as well as the article, got me thinking about how well my iPad does and doesn't perform in the classroom.
I'll admit my bias upfront: I love my iPad. It is among the most satisfying and convenient computing experiences I have ever had. Though I'm not a Mac person, the iPad resonates with me. I think that's because it's the piece of technology to which I feel entitled after years of science fiction movies and television. We live in the future.
That said, I expected an easier transition over to the iPad when I sold my laptop to finance it this summer. There is a lot the iPad can and cannot do for me.
1. The iPad's long battery life (approximately 10 hours in my case) makes the iPad a workable study tool in all the classrooms at the U. While some classrooms have ample outlets, others do not. With my iPad, I've never had to fight to plug in or worry that the battery would die in the middle of class.
2. While 3G is not standard on the iPad, mine has the 3G wireless. Though the U has wireless throughout the campus, the 3G has been helpful for using study sites away from campus like coffee shops.
3. The iPad is lighter than a laptop and if I'm just taking the iPad can be carried with no discomfort, rather than having to schlep a laptop bag or backpack. There's also virtually no boot time, so I'm not constantly waiting for it to turn on or off like a laptop.
4. A downside to the iPad is its input mechanisms. Although I've bought a wireless keyboard to satisfy my complaints about the touch screen keyboard, it's an additional and somewhat hefty cost. The touch screen keyboard works well enough for internet browsing and other casual uses but is really not intended for paper-writing or intense note-taking. Although the finger-based touch screen replaces a mouse well in most ways, it's sometimes difficult to do finer tasks, like select just one or two letters when fixing a typo.
5. The iPad is not a stand-alone computer. That is, it requires a desktop or laptop to service it (e.g. update software).
1. I bought the iPad to use primarily as an e-book reader or PDF viewer. It has served well in those functions. Different apps have given me the capability to highlight and take notes within the electronic articles I read for my classes. I can access these articles quickly on my iPad, without a wait time to boot a laptop or lugging around endless piles of paper, which inevitably end up stacked with others on my kitchen table.
2. The technological drawback to the iPad in the classroom is that the software is developed as specialized programs, developed by programmers who submit the code to Apple. While having custom-built software is nice sometimes, many software specific to education and universities are unavailable. For example, iPad cannot read Ebrary, one of the many online textbook and library resources the U's library makes available. R, the statistical processor my program (Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development) uses, doesn't have an iPad app.
3. Flash, flash, flash. The common complaint that iPad doesn't use the resource-heavy flash or java interfaces. This makes accessing some internet resources impossible. For example, when attempting to download a dissertation from the library's fabulous Digital Dissertations collection, I ran into the problem that (rightfully, for security), I had to get through a java interface first. I ended up downloading the necessary materials on my desktop and transferring it over.
4. Unless there's an app I haven't discovered, one cannot print from an iPad.
As for the technological drawbacks, the good news is that the discussion is going on and that the iPad is an adaptable system. Many of these complaints will be addressed over time, especially with competing tablets heading onto the market within the next year or so. Apps for iPad, while subject to approval, are not closed systems so new programs can be written just for tablets or old programs can be adapted to a mobile format.
As a complement to a laptop or desktop, the iPad is a delight to use for work and school. It's portable, functional, and enjoyable to use. It's not a workstation. I wouldn't write a paper from it or do serious research. But I would and do organize my articles, read for class, take notes, do quick fact checks, browse the university's catalog, register for classes, and check into myU from it.
All in all, not bad if you're interested in going paperless.
For those interested in continuing this conversation, here's a few more links on iPad's in the classroom:
iPads on College Campuses? Maybe Next Year
An All iPad Classroom
How schools are putting the iPad to work