Are tablet devices really worth the hype?

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Or the (hundreds of) thousands of dollars spent on purchasing tablet devices for entire cohorts of students? Many administrators of colleges, school boards of public schools and even kindergartens appear to believe so.

Many schools, programs, college departments across the United States are investing heavily in tablet devices such as the iPad. The Boston University's School of Management is providing iPads to all its M.B.A students after a successful trial of the device last fall, according to an article in U.S. News. Satisfied with the results of its student iPad initiative program that began last summer, California's Monterey College of Law has even expanded its program to include faculty members who are teaching core subjects, according to an article in Campus Technology. The president and dean of Monterey, Mitchell Winick, hopes that the iPad would enhance educational effectiveness and make faculty jobs easier.

Citing the benefits of tablet devices as being mobile, cost saving (paperless so students do not need to print materials), convenient, and versatile with a multitude of applications with educational uses, proponents of tablet devices are eagerly replacing course packs, textbooks and supplementary materials with the paperless device. They are doing so for good reasons too.

The University of Notre Dame has recently reported the results of its yearlong experiment to replace textbooks with iPads. As part of an experiment by the university's e-publishing working group into the use of e-readers, every student was given an iPad to use during the duration of a course, as reported in an article by The Chronicle. Mr. Angst's project management course was one of several classes at the university to be involved in the experiment and had mostly good things to say about the iPad. Unlike laptop screens that can create barriers between professors and students during class, students using tablet devices have no folded-up screens (similar to a laptop) to hide behind. He felt that students were more connected in and out of the classroom as a result of that. The students involved in the experiment were also surveyed multiple times throughout the course and said the iPad made collaborating and managing group projects a lot easier.

The few downsides to the iPads noted in the article can perhaps be attributed to individual habits, or simply part of the switching cost, which is common when adjusting to a new technology. For instance, some students lamented not being able to write in the margins of their assigned readings while others found it difficult to take notes without a keyboard. Furthermore, without an actual "save" button (though work is constantly saved within the iPad's writing program), some students felt uncomfortable using the iPad when they were working on something important. These minor inconveniences or disadvantages of the iPad in particular can probably be solved with new applications or an improved design aimed at reducing the switching cost.

However, at a time when many colleges and schools are forced to tighten their belts, it comes as no surprise that not everyone is eager to jump onto the iPad or tablet devices bandwagon. Though not completely ruling them out, Reed College chose to take a more cautionary approach, according to an article in Campus Technology. Martin Ringle, CTO of Reed College, said the college wanted to put the prospective tool through rigorous research and testing before investing in it or introducing it to the college population. In other words, they wanted to be absolutely sure that adopting tablet devices will benefit students and enhance learning.

Referring to the iPad as the "single-purpose e-reader," the team responsible for evaluating the iPad said students found the tool to be "flexible and versatile enough to allow them to read course materials, annotate and highlight passages of text, pull up reference materials, store notes, and prepare reports," as reported in the article. In line with Mr. Angst's observations, the team also discovered that students were less distracted (i.e. less apt to be using e-mail, instant messaging or social networking sites) when using the iPad because they were unable to hide behind their iPad screens. Despite these positive results, Ringle said the college is not yet ready to invest in the iPad. The next step will be to get those involved in the evaluation to participate in a roundtable discussion. Depending on the outcome of the discussion, the college will decide if the iPad is really worth the (hundreds of) thousands of dollars many school districts, colleges and schools are currently paying for.

For related articles, please read Big Pad on Campus.

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This page contains a single entry by Michelle C published on February 15, 2011 11:52 AM.

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