The reaction to the introduction of the Apple iPad has been mixed across the board. Many are upset simply with the product’s name; we have all heard the jokes. I myself thought iSlate would have been a far better name, bringing to mind a tabular rasa on human device interaction. Some thought it not feature rich enough, though no one denies the design and usability of it, as Apple excels in these areas. There are still others who want to wager its success on corporate adoption. To which I ask why does commercial success have to be tied to enterprise utilization or even basic consumer buy in? I believe that the unseen greatest potential for the iPad lies in how it can be used in the educational space.
I have cousins in middle school and high school that I assist with their homework regularly. I also have many friends who are teachers. I have come to see that technology has been making its way into the classroom but with limited efficiency and not tackling the areas that sap time while rarely utilizing the full feature set of any device to deliver the richest learning experience. The current laptop distribution models have some distinct limitations; from their cumbersome form factor, to OS licensing, maintenance, and ultimately their practical application. Schools burn time and resources going from one laptop program to the next, pulling from programs all together, or half-hearted deployments of Windows mobile or iPod Touch devices. I think the iPad has an opportunity to fill these gaps.
After initially watching the presentation I tried to find application for the iPad in our own lives and did not see anything that breakthrough from what we already have available to us between our iPhones, MacBook Pros, and Apple TV. It is when I thought back to when I was helping Tyler with his science class PowerPoint presentation this week that the educational benefits started to make themselves evident. Working with the school age cousins I have noticed some areas of weakness in their school practices. Some of these gaps include the homework distribution method, grading, and school communications. The schools are constantly short on textbooks and resort to paper copy handouts or sharing worn and tattered reading material. The grading is often late and time consuming for the instructors. Additionally, the school wastes paper, time, and resources trying to get out notifications to parents and students that can often just get crammed down at the bottom of a book bag and forgotten.
The iPad can help in a lot of these areas by introducing an age of school digitization that is not a bank breaker while the form factor fits nicely in back packs and teacher messenger bags. Imagine the use of iBooks to distribute reading material en masse that never gets damaged and through volume licensing ensures everyone gets a copy. Imagine the use of iWork and cloud resources to upload and distribute homework assignments along with light coding to process answers and generate grades for multiple choice and non-essay answers. Grading could be enhanced with quick graphs and statistical models that allow schools to move swiftly to help problem students, classes, etc, thanks to faster reporting. Picture students at desks getting audio lessons directly from iTunes U while taking notes in the Notes application or working on group KeyNote presentations. School administrators could mass email important school notifications, templates, or spot polling of students and teachers on key subjects and issues. We could introduce rich and literally hands on, learning tools such as spotlight searching school of resources, custom education applications, calendaring, and MatLab or Brushes App technologies being incorporated into classroom lessons and assignments.
This device is not a cure all for all school issues and dilemmas. Many factors such as costs, security, and maintenance have to be weighed into any analysis. I am willing to bet, however, that an educational pricing model and small proof of concept experiments in small and stable schools could prove me right. The basic $499 WiFi only model would be great for schools and if the Apple educational discount holds true the cost could be reduced and manageable. As I am not the only one who is considering the iPad’s potential educational uses, here are some links to other points of view on the iPad in schools (ZDNet, Herald Sun, The Education Journal). Anyway, that’s my two cents. At the end of the day, a lot of the complaints remind of what I heard when the first iPod was introduced. Seriously, if you can do better, make your own tablet device; otherwise, wait till it is in stores, play with it for 30 minutes, then reassess your opinion.