There was a lot of excitement generated around the idea of the Apple tablet. And even though the iPad Steve Jobs delivered had most of the requirements people were looking for, it somehow left a feeling of disappointment in many.
There was an especially high level of excitement on what the iPad could accomplish in the educational space. The ability to have all your books on one small device, the idea of a multimedia tablet in the hands of every student, and the thought of a teacher having an interactive clipboard with hundreds of features made just for them, were all reasons for the educators to watch the keynote with great expectations. But what is the reality of the iPad for schools?
The idea of having all a students books on one device was great. No more headaches of running out of books, or kids forgetting the books for class. Digital text books would help everyone literally stay on the same page, while also free people of lugging around up to 20 pounds of dead trees.
In reality the technical ability has been around for a while now. The Amazon Kindle was a breakthrough device that allowed people to read books on a simple device with e-ink technology that eliminated the need for back lighting on the screen. Users could also purchase books directly wirelessly through Amazon.com. One problem was the selection of textbooks was never as big as most would have liked, and therefor never achieving the goal of freeing students of carrying some books. Another problem was the price, which most considered high for a standalone e-book reader. Other problems, like the lack of color, and limited interactivity with the book, helped the Kindle fall short of an educators dream.
Apple has created a device that looks to be revolutionary for e-books. The book ordering process is colorful and fun. Steve Jobs has made it clear that this is a device that is meant for education, and will therefor be going hard after textbook makers. The touchscreen allows for not only color, but a level of interactivity with text books the Kindle can only dream of.
But there are some areas where the iPad falls short. First, how the screen looks beautiful and sports colors, this is still a backlit screen, unlike the Kindle e-ink display. It will likely cause eye strain while reading for over 30 minutes. Second, the device weighs over double the Kindle, making the iPad a bit more heavy to handle. There is also the price, which is of course more than a Kindle.
If there is one place where the iPad should excel, it’s on custom built applications. There is little doubt that we will see hundreds of custom applications being built around professionals in just about every area, and teachers will likely be included in this mix. a custom application built for teachers to track student progress, make notes on assignments, and even auto-grade tests, will likely make the iPad an indispensable part of an educators daily life. The only thing standing in the way is the price.
Other Problems with the iPad
The chief complaints around the iPad are centered around two areas. First is that lack of multitasking of third party applications. This means you cannot have one application running in the background while you work on another. Since Mail is capable of running in the background, it is unlikely that this will provide too many issues in the education space. But one issue that could limit the iPad use in education is the lack of Flash support. Flash Video is the most common form of video used on the Web today. Many great sites have incorporated Flash video to further learning experience.
Some educational programs, such as universities offering online degrees, use Flash as an essential part of their curriculum. These schools will have to either create custom Apps for their program, or offer these videos in an iPad friendly format like HTML 5 Video.
One final not to make is on the battery life, which is supposedly set at 10 hours! This is a big win for educators. Nothing would kill a device faster than students running out of juice mid-day. But it also stand to reason that “I ran out of battery” will be the new “I forgot my book” excuse. And without the option of a removable battery, this could be a whole new issue for teachers to tackle in the classroom.
The Future of iPad in Education
When you consider the possibilities of the iPad in the classroom, there is much to be excited about.
- The possibility of students having all their books in one device.
- The possibility for students to take an interactive quiz at the end of a chapter, and to have that quiz auto-graded and sent to the teacher.
- The ability to video record a class lecture, and have that lecture available to review before the students leave the classroom.
- The ability for teachers to share chalkboard right to each students personal device for easier viewing an interaction.
The possibilities are mind blowing and could be the jolt in the arm needed for a lagging educational system. Now all that remains is the cost.