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The iPad Enters The Academic Arena

by Sean P. Aune | March 31, 2010March 31, 2010 8:25 am PDT

Well, that took no time at all.  The iPad isn’t even officially released yet, and a university has already announced that it will be issuing one to every full-time student beginning this fall.  While most people predicted this would happen at some point, has it even be field tested yet in an academic setting?

One of the key markets people have discussed being a prime location for the iPad is in education.  Where the Kindle has been tested, and found to be wanting due to it only having 16 shades of gray, many pundits have said that the iPad may be the solution that schools have been looking for due to its color screen.  And while everyone was fairly sure we would hear of a school adopting the tablet as at least an option for its students fairly soon, I’m not sure anyone really predicted a school just handing them out like party favors sight unseen.

seton hill ipadSeton Hill University in Pennsylvania has a new program launching this fall called the Griffin Technology Advantage Program (The mythical creature the Griffin is the school mascot).  Under this program all full-time students will receive an iPad, and all first year undergrad students will receive a 13-inch MacBook laptop in addition to the tablet.  The school has an enrollment of 2,100, so it isn’t exactly a huge school, but that is still a whole lot of Apple products being given out  come the fall 2010 semester.

Apple has still not officially said anything about textbooks coming to its new iBook application, but numerous textbook publishers have already announced that they will be releasing applications that will show their books, allow for updating, highlighting, making notations and more.  What sort of pricing these will have is not known as of yet, but unlike print magazines that are coming to the iPad, hopefully they will be at least somewhat cheaper than their print counterparts.

The big question here is if this is just some sort of promotional gimmick by the school, or is this a serious tool they are planning?  The reason I even question the motivations is you have to wonder if the school has done any sort of real world testing of the device yet.  The iPad isn’t officially released yet, and seeing as developers are required to keep the device in rooms with blacked out windows and chained to a stationary object for the time being, it seems unlikely that Seton Hill has actually gotten to test the device in a classroom environment.  Here are some of my concerns:

  • The school mentions note taking, but are they going to be providing keyboard docks, or are they going to be using some sort of writing on the screen app?  writing a lectures worth of notes with your fingertip does not sound appealing in the least.
  • While Apple is known for fairly sturdy devices, there is a world of difference between an average user and someone toting it around every day between classes.  Are they sure the iPad will stand up to the rigors of school life?
  • Will there be any sort of power and charging cables provided for charging in classrooms?  You know that within the first week of classes someone will say, “Oh, I forgot to charge my iPad!”
  • A lot of people have worried about the screen causing eye strain after prolonged reading, will this really work out for reading long text books?

My gut tells me that we will hear several more of these stories before the fall semester kicks off, and Seton Hill merely got their announcement out first.  If it actually succeeds in the classroom, I think it will be a great thing, there is no bigger scam in college than text books,and the idea of going digital with them just make a lot more sense.

What say you?  Are iPads in a college setting a good idea?  Would/are you excited about the idea of using an iPad or some other form of tablet in the classroom?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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