In a word, yes.
Or perhaps more accurately, the facilities embodied presently in the iPad will fundamentally alter the way students engage with learning, their educators and their peers.
First, though, it is necessary to deal with the problems. The iPad is expensive, and therefore available only as a consumer item to the better-off students. It doesn’t multi-task (although I think this issue is over-emphasised), and it doesn’t have a webcam for Skype, etc. And, of course, the available software is highly proprietary.
But perhaps it’s better to concentrate on what this first-generation muncher of digital media does do, bearing in mind that comparisons with current technology such as the netbook really don’t work.
I’ve been getting to grips with my iPad for several days now. The most important thing for me has not been getting used to the hardware and software; it has been changing my mindset. David’s post highlights nicely some advantages and drawbacks, the latter including a lack of a CD/DVD drive. Colleagues here have also pointed out the lack of a USB port.
I don’t believe these factors are important. The iPad is an Internet device. If you can’t connect to the Internet either wirelessly or via 3G, then this device isn’t appropriate. Also, it’s not designed to replace my home PC beast, which I would use for resource-intensive graphics or video-editing work. The iPad is complementary to my other tech. Once I had that clearly in focus, it’s been possible to accomplish everything I wanted.
I set up my own iPad email account on Gmail. I use this to move files on and off the iPad. Videos are brought in via iTunes or YouTube.
I bought the iWorks apps and have been very happily – and comfortably – working on large word-processed documents in Pages. (The iPad screen keyboard is excellent.) For me, this is actually a better experience than using a traditional PC or laptop.
Using my s-video iPhone cable, I’m able to project video or a Keynote presentation – with sound – onto a screen. (The latter does not need access to the Internet to work; hence should be very useful at conferences.) As a consumer, I can use the same cable to attach the iPad to my TV, giving me a perfect BBC iPlayer device.
The screen quality on the iPad is superb, and the size more than large enough to watch comfortably for hours. The ebooks mentioned by David are very well displayed in protrait mode (although I can’t say how long I could read from the screen).
The demo of the Financial Times works really well, and I can definitely see the time when my favourite newspaper is available, at which point I will cancel my ‘paper’ subscription.
But I’m a geek, so it’s no surprise that I like my shiny, new iPad. So why believe it will be a game-changer? Simply put, it’s the usability of the device: the tactile way you engage with the tech is radically different from anything we’ve seen before, including the iPhone. This is something Sandra touched upon in a previous post.
Spend a few days with the iPad, and you really do start to think of mice and keyboards as – well – antiquated.
More apps will come, the hardware will change, and not everyone will be convinced. But I do think Apple have changed the rules of the game again. Just as black and white televisions were relegated to the bedroom once colour screens came in, competitors will need to rethink their products in the light of the iPad.
I don’t think students will be any less affected by this development than other consumers. But it remains for research units such as ours to provide the evidence for this educational game-changer.
Keeper of the Media Zoo
2 June 2010