I’m a Mac-enthusiast. Someone who gets the philosophy of making beautiful products, that “just work”. I work on a mac, use iDevices and, like a lot of people, am stirred by the next big thing: the iPad. Is this object something we could use in education? Is it a device that will change the way we learn? Can it deliver when we give it to a student? First off, let me just tackle a few elementary items about the iPad:
Is it an eReader? Well, you can read books and pdf’s on them, but it’s so much more! It’s not a single purpose device!
Is it a netbook? You can surf the web while listening to music, browse your holiday photos, etc. but again, not “just” a netbook. It’s capable of more because of the design. You can use it while standing up, lying on a couch. The iPad works more intuitively than other devices. For instance showing photos is like actually giving a photo to your friend while passing on the iPad. The tablet has a more natural feel to it than a netbook.
Well, what is it then? I just called it a tablet. Maybe that’s the safest name to give it?! For me its best quality is the way of using it. It doesn’t feel like a computer. You’re not someone from the IT-departement showing off his latest gadget (although, it obviously is a gadget) but the feel of it is very natural and recognizable. Apps are downloaded very easily. The gestures to control it are quite simple. The fact that you can actualy touch the things you need, make it almost like being a kid all over again.
Now, how do you use this in the classroom? Let me begin with a few handy apps. You can give a presentation with it. You can make notes, write on your blog, surf the web, check you calendar,… do a lot of the things that you already do in class. The difference is the way you do it. Because you’re using a lot of apps (which are adjusted to make the best out of the 11″ screen), you’re not dependent on a web browser. This doesn’t sound like much, but to me it’s a big advantage. The apps feel as they are custom made for you.
Go paperless! Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of all those papers you have to cary around? In my school, there’s still a lot of information that’s distributed by means of paper: calendars, notifiers, etc. This could all be done digitally, off course, but with the iPad it’s really simple to keep track of it all. Do you need to pass out a new text to your students? Just place it in the cloud, and they can all access it on their own device, ready to make their personalized highlights, notes, adjustments,… The device works pretty fast. Start-up doesn’t take minutes, but seconds, which enables a quick look at your calendar, the uploaded papers of your students, etc.
Apps come for free and paying. So as an institute or teacher, do your homework in advance, so you can help the students make the right choice about what to buy for their iPad. Even if your decision is to pay for an app, prices are low, so if it’s valuable to you, invest in tools that can help your workflow.
Anytime, anywhere learning! Set up your schools wireless network in such a way, students can go online anytime, anywhere on the premisses. This will enable them to make the most of their cloud experience. They can look things up, connect with a lot of other people, watch an online video, in a very intuitive way. Battery life is no problem either. 8-10 hours of pure working pleasure!
Ok, a lot of benefits but what about the downside? The iPad will set you back a minimum of 499 eur/usd for a WIFI-only 16GB product. Add an extra 100 eur/usd for every memory step-up (32GB – 64GB) and 100eur/130usd if you want the WIFI/3G edition. This is a lot of money for some households, and according to me something we must keep in mind as an educational facility! On the other hand. By making this investment, you can cut back on other expenses: books, diary, calculators, etc. It’s best to check this out for your own institution.
No usb? Well, not on the device. Apple has made a way around it in the form of some extra cables to connect some devices, but the intention is to connect those things to your computer and synchronize it with your iPad. Remember, an iPad is by NO means a substitute for your desktop! It just isn’t! What you have here is a device to accompany you in your daily life, but when you come home, the idea is to connect with your library and sync!
No keyboard? There is one that appears on your screen for typing in a url, make quick notes, etc. but I can imagine that extended periods of typing are a drag. Again, you can always ad a bluetooth-keyboard to your backpack and easily connect that to the iPad if you want to type for longer periods.
Graphics? For me the biggest disappointment. You can always use the iPad for a presentation, but you can’t project everything you do, like you can with a computer. The graphics card can’t handle its own screen and a beamer. There are work-arounds for this, but you shouldn’t have to do this…
So, bottom line, there are possibilities! A lot! Drawbacks are present to, but I think it is possible to work around them. I for one, can’t wait for the second version which would feature a camera and better graphics. Off course, we will only be sure off this when the iPad 2 is in stores. In the mean time, we have a device that has a lot of potential, but it remains up to us, teachers, to make it into something special!