As you’re all well aware, obscene amounts of ink has been spilled liquid crystal has been moved around with regard to this gleaming piece of obsidian recently erupted from the depths of Mt. Cupertino. In fact, this isn’t the first time the iPad has graced the pages of Ideaplay, and I wonder if Kristen still feels the same way now that the device is out in the wild. Not being able to leave well enough alone, I’ll add my thoughts to the fray.

My boss gave me an iPad for two days with the proviso that I came back loaded with ideas of how this device can promote learning in higher education. Ever being the dedicated employee, I promptly snapped open the ABC TV Player app and watched part of the latest episode of Lost. It was awesome. The screen is beautiful and the video was crisp (albeit in old school 4:3). The sound coming from it’s diminutive speakers was surprisingly stout and clear. The Apple designed A4 processor and graphics chip briskly loaded the app and started the video before I could say Newton or GRiDPAD. It really is crazy fast and responsive for those of us raised on iPhones, iPod touches, and all other smart phones with pretentious one-word names. The take away here is that the iPad provides the most efficient means for completely screwing with your students’ minds via nonsensical storytelling (in case you missed it, that’s a lame, tired joke in reference to Lost). In all seriousness, the iPad is a marvel of engineering and design. It is immediately impressive in your hand and performs in a way that almost makes the “reality distortion field” seem not so distorted — at least not this time around. Call me a fanboy, I can take it. Perhaps the most surprising thing was when my technology-loathing wife got her hands on it and said, “I want one”. I almost fell over. At the very least, one must recognize that it’s the best attempt yet to land in this Bermuda triangle of personal gadgets. Others have tried and failed miserably. I love the title of Wired’s review of one company that tried to create an iPad clone: “JooJoo is a Real Piece of DooDoo” (I’m a sucker for potty humor).

Anyway, I think it is apparent that I’m just stalling. I’m stalling because I don’t quite know what to think of the educational affordances of this supersized iPod. With that said, here are a couple things I think I think:

  • It’s arguably the best e-reader out there (even without the eye-pleasing e-ink) and it’s sex appeal might actually thrust this genre of device into the consciousness of the under 25 crowd. iBooks is an excellent application. The Kindle app for the iPad is equally as good. I read Winnie the Pooh and quite enjoyed myself. Whether a college freshman would read all of Plato’s “The Republic” or an organic chemistry textbook on it is quite another matter. My guess is that the iPad will become an efficient way to provide e-texts to students. You might even be able to recoup the price of an iPad over a four year degree if you only rented e-texts for all your classes (or just used free web resources instead of books).
    • But why hasn’t the Kindle delivered in this area yet, you ask? Answer: the Kindle is mostly for people who start their day before dawn with a bran muffin (or Metamucil), weak black coffee, and the NY Times. A highly successful lot, but not your average college student.

Annnnd that concludes “deep iPad thoughts with Andy”. I desperately want to say something more profound, but living with this device for 2 days hasn’t generated a great number of pedagogically relevant ideas with regard to iPad uses. Students can and will use it as an e-reader. This can, in theory, make their studying more efficient as they collect texts in a central, searchable place. Everything else from using the Wolfram Alpha App (which is awesome by the way) to iStudiez to ____ CMS Portal App will be learning tools that can basically be used in similar forms on the web via myriad hardware configurations and price points.

Thus, I believe that educational institutions considering mass implementation of this highly specialized and closed piece of hardware/software are walking into a minefield. This is America and choice is paramount to today’s learners. I think choice is also an important part of the learning process. I sit in classes where there are all forms of computer hardware being used in slightly different ways by different learners. I believe that being able to find and tinker with the technology that works for you is a highly important process, one that allows learners to customize the way they ingest and process information — a highly metacognitive task.

What’s more, I can’t support something that needlessly increases the cost of education at a time such as this. I can’t support putting up one more barrier to students and their families. One of the greatest things about the Internet is that for the cost of a chemistry textbook, you can buy a netbook that then gives you personal access to the world’s information. Make no mistake about it, the iPad will increase the cost of education if it is adopted by institutions. I was aware of a similar project with 600 iPod Touches going to students in an undergraduate course. Apart from the hardware cost, it sequestered half of a staff member’s time over a year to support the product with very little measureable kick-back in return. This is essentially $50,000 in staff expenditures that could have been used to help faculty develop web presences to connect them better with the academy or to teach faculty and students how to utilize Web 2.0 resources for learning or to teach faculty how to better utilize the CMS de jour for more efficient learning and discourse in their classes.

Ultimately, the iPad locks learners into Steve Jobs’ growing media monopoly. The device exists under the assumption that this platform is the only REAL way to find and ingest information. The truth of the matter is that there is no foundational, pedagogically sound reason for learners to have an iPad. You can access and use all of the information in the world without this device. Learning to do this without Apple’s training wheels attached is, in my opinion, important.

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Cross-posted with the author’s blog.

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