I’ve now worked with an iPad for two months, and it has become the device I use more than any other. Rather seriously, my MacBook gets about 75% less use, and my iPhone is used significantly less, too. I still can’t, and won’t get rid of either of the other two devices. But there’s a strong chance we’ll be adding iPads (probably two) in the near future to our household computer inventory.
I believe that the iPad is positioned to become the key computer in American education, at the least in high school education, if not at the middle and elementary levels as well.
1) Form factor. The iPad, at 1.5 pounds, may not be light, but it is extremely portable, and lighter than any textbook I’ve ever used. Additionally, with the iPad keyboard, the device is 11″ wide and 7″ deep, fitting easily on any student desk (even the desks we have on our chairs in choir). And the ten hour battery (easily ten hours) is ideal for full-day use.
2) Instant on. One benefits of the iPad is that it goes instantly from sleep into action. Yes, Pocket PCs and Palm Pilots had this ability, too. But to go from off to full word processing in two clicks is a whole new ballgame.
3) Price. At the moment, $499, $599, and $699 for wi-fi versions (I don’t see education going into the 3G market) is a bit pricey. However, Apple is already selling iPads to schools for a discount, albeit a small one. Demand for iPads is exceeding availability of the devices, but eventually, supply will match demand (I don’t see a Wii situation where Nintendo failed to provide enough devices for all the interested parties). And eventually, we’ll see refurbished iPads on Apple.com for sale. I’d predict that Apple will eventually sell iPads for a price point starting at $299 (yes, I fully believe this), and that price point will destroy the market.
4) Competition. I haven’t used a Palm Pre or an Android phone. But I see enough reviews (some from the “fanboy” groups of that phone) to know that Apple’s operating system still beats the competition. Yes, we’ll be seeing Android and Web OS phones in the very near future…but that competition will only force Apple to make the iPhone and iPad OS (they’ll have to address the name of the OS eventually) better. I also expect future iPads to remove the need to hook up to a personal computer for the transfer of data; eventually they will be self-sufficient.
5) Ease of use. I posted yesterday that my two-year-old son can use our iPhones and our iPad, with accuracy and relative success. If a two-year-old can use the device, anyone can. Apple removes the barriers that have traditional existed between technology and the user–particularly the need of the geek.
6) Advancements in education, in general. We built a high school with a SMART Board in every room, as well as a sound field, and VCR/DVD. Every teacher has a laptop, and the idea is that classrooms can be mobile and flexible. None of this technology is new (all products have been available on the market for more than 10 years). What is new is having all of the technology available at one time. This is only the start of the continual merging of education (traditionally, a “low tech” practice) with technology (which, ironically, has been “self-taught”). We have the problem of buying nearly a double set of textbooks in our district next year, sometimes with books that have ISBN numbers that are ten years old (or older). Book storage is an issue. Book rental and replacement is an issue. eBooks are the solution. If you eliminate the costs of printing and shipping from the educational textbook industry, the industry can make more profit, perhaps pay the authors better, and have a product that updates either annually or instantly. Revisions for errors could be handled better. And students could carry those textbooks without hurting their backs (see the first point). The industry has to move to that eBook model…it’s time…forcing districts who might drag their feet with technology to get on board.
Are there challenges to the iPad in education? Absolutely. How do you deal with iPads that drop or break? How do you keep students from using their iPads during class to do things other than what they are supposed to be doing? What about iPad theft? What if students fail to charge iPads and they die during school? What about the wi-fi load on a building? And I’m sure there are a million other questions.
It might be too early to jump “all in” on the iPad in education, but I’d say that districts should start thinking that way now, before the tablet revolution takes them by surprise. At the least, they should be opening their policies to allow students who own the technology to bring it to school and use it (writing papers and research) [We have that open policy, by the way]. And most importantly, it is technology to embrace, not to fear–because the iPad will help education advance (in all subjects) to the next level.