How does the iPad help students?

You may have seen already that extraordinary piece of Chinese conjuring about an iPad.

I still don’t have an iPad, but I’m interested in what the iPad can do, without conjuring, to help students. It’s an expensive item at present, but the price may come down soon and of course cheaper clones will probably appear.

I’ve just read Rob Abel’s article, entitled ‘The iPad changes the landscape of educational portable computing’, summarising a discussion of iPads during the recent huge EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim, California on digital learning resources.

Out of Abel’s group of over 100 people, most had an iPad: they were enthusiastic about it, but comments were fairly balanced on its potential and barriers to it fulfilling that potential.

The iPad is appearing on campus, but it’s too early to say whether the apps (applications) for it will bring great advantages to education. It’s more than just an e-book reader: it’s ‘multimedia friendly’ and it connects to the Internet. It’s mobile and compatible with existing IT. Students can easily collaborate using iPads. Staff get interested in trying the iPad.

Abel’s group noted that among barriers to its adoption in education, the iPad is different from others that content providers may want to endorse. If there’s an over-supply of computing and communication gadgets like the iPad, educational institutions probably won’t want to support them all but may not choose the iPad. Abel says the session didn’t discuss much using the iPad for instruction. Teachers want text and document processing. The iPad might render e-books more attractive than books, but it’s too early to say.

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance hasn’t yet set up a project to explore the educational benefits of the iPad, nor have I seen a call for proposals for such a project. Is that a good thing? Shouldn’t we be trying to exploit, for the benefit of learners, every new technology that comes along?

David Hawkridge

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