The iPad wasn’t just purchased by consumers when it came out on April 3: Colleges got their hands on the tablet device, too.
Already, three universities say they will incorporate the iPad into their curriculum: Seton Hill University, George Fox University and Abilene Christian University.
These educational institutions plan to use the device to bring a new level of high-tech sophistication into their curriculum.
Seton Hill said it chose to offer students the iPad over eReader devices because of the iPad’s additional capabilities, specifically media creation and taking notes. The university also hopes to replace physical textbooks with the iPad’s eReader functionality.
Abilene’s school newspaper has an app for the iPad and the school is looking to incorporate the device into its curriculum. It does not currently have plans to hand the devices out to students.
George Fox for more than 20 years has supplied computers for each incoming undergraduate student to keep upon graduating. This year’s new undergrad class will be able to choose between an iPad and a MacBook.
In a statement, the university said the decision to offer the iPad “puts George Fox on the cutting edge of technology in higher education circles.”
The university’s Chief Information Officer Greg Smith admitted that there were some uncertainties with choosing the iPad.
“The trend in higher education computing is this concept of mobility, and this fits right in with that trend,” Smith said in a statement. “At the same time, we realize there are a number of uncertainties. Will students struggle with a virtual keyboard? Can the iPad do everything students need it to do when it comes to their college education? These are the kinds of questions we really won’t know the answer to until we get started.”
These are also questions being asked by analysts who remain skeptical about the iPad’s ability to supplant centuries-old methods of learning.
“Both the iPad and the Kindle are products with a tough educational value proposition,” says Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe. “No matter what you do, these devices can only look at a couple of pages at a time at most. They’re not as rich a research tool as a real book.”
Howe’s comments are echoed by ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr and Frost & Sullivan analyst Mike Jude. “The dynamic of having books on an iPad denies you the opportunity of comparative reading,” Jude says. “I don’t think it would work very well as a replacement.”
Orr says he believes the iPad could be an addition to traditional educational materials but not a replacement. “The iPad could provide supplementary coursework in the eReader format, but the word ‘replace’ does not come up,” Orr says. “I think it has a role in education in the same way it has a role in business: There are some tasks that can migrate to it, but it’s not a replacement.”
The iPad’s eReader functionality is its highest-profile use to educators. The tablet’s full-color screen and ability to display different types of media content is an important differentiator to eReaders.
However, complaints about an eReader’s functionality in an educational environment center not around its black-and-white display but on the difficulty of making notes and annotations in the text.
A pilot program for the Kindle at Princeton University found that students and faculty were frustrated with the device’s annotation, highlighting and navigation functions, as well as the inability to view multiple documents at the same time.
It’s unclear whether academic users of the iPad will have similar frustrations. The verdict is still out, for example, on whether the highlighting and annotation functionality of the iPad’s iBook and Kindle apps is a step up from that of eReaders.
Aside from usability issues, Howe says the iPad may prove to be as much of a distraction as a benefit to educators. “It’s really hard to ignore – I had to put it in a drawer to get things done,” he says. “Because it’s a very engaging experience, it pulls you away from things that aren’t as engaging – like work.”