Pros and Cons of the iPad in Education

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While Liam opined about the challenges an iPad can face in education here, I thought I’d tackle some potential real-world pluses and minuses from the viewpoint of a college student — I’m not going down the road of high school students; I’m so far removed from that environment, I remember learning Fortran in my school. I think the iPad is going to succeed in education marvelously for students and teachers.’

I’m not a full-time college student, but I’ve been pursing a degree at night for the last four years (Technical Communications, so my focus on educational tools tends to revolve around writing). I’ve used Macs and iPhones as tools for the entirety of my collegiate career. When I started thinking of the possibility of using my iPad as a single-source solution — mostly to reduce weight by leaving my MacBook at home — I came up with a series of pluses and minuses I’ll personally face with the iPad. My focus here is taking notes in class first, and doing coursework second.

Although, I’m a night student, I don’t think how I use technology is different from a full-time student. I use my laptop to take notes in class, research and study in the library, and work on my homework at home. I am hoping the iPad will let me start leaving my MacBook at home for everything but the most-intensive tasks. I’m going to take a look at how I think the iPad could help me in school, or be problematic.

Pros

Better battery life/Light weight: OK, so the “10 hours of battery life” is likely wishful thinking. But so is the “up to 7 hours” on my MacBook Pro. My best time with the MBP is about four hours, so, it’s not unreasonable to think I’ll get about six to seven hours on the iPad.

My biology book was over five pounds. My MacBook is four. The iPad is 1.5. When you’re carrying a ton of books around, weight starts to matter. The iPad can shave nearly three pounds off a college student’s shoulders compared to using a MacBook, not to mention the weight savings if you were able to replace most or all of your books with the iPad. Also, its size and function make it very easy to quickly throw into your bag and go — just hit the home button and toss it in your bag. The instant on is nice as well — no more waiting for your MacBook to power up to make a quick note or look something up.

“Bag of Holding” for class materials: In D&D, a bag of holding was how we got around the game’s encumbrance rules. At least one party member would have one, and it became the gigantic suitcase we’d have to sit on to close, but it fit in our pockets. Printing out an entire course-load of lecture materials, lecture supplements, lab reports, sports scores, fantasy draft rules, team standings, notes, research materials and cited sources will quickly bulge a notebook to bursting, requiring industrial-strength banding to keep closed. With an iPad, I can keep all that on a device slightly larger than a composition notebook. Plus, I can quickly adjust my fantasy roster when my starting pitcher ends up needing Tommy John surgery.

Easier to do work in the library: My college has a large, four-story spacious library, yet it seems space and power is always at a premium — no doubt due to one person taking up a large, four-person table. When I’m doing research in the stacks, being able to use the iPad in tight quarters will be a boon. Also, I won’t need to worry as much about finding a comfortable table near a power outlet. I’m never comfortable in a chair with my laptop, but I’m hoping the iPad will be a little more comfortable for use sitting down. It will also be great for reviewing class material in the hall before an exam.

No laptop stigmata: Whenever I use a laptop in class, I’m always leery of what the teacher thinks of it. While none have had a problem with it, I’ve never liked having the laptop screen be a wall between the teacher and I. The iPad will sit on the table and act much more like a traditional notebook.

Single-tasking may let me focus better: In the “I’m a bad student” category, when I’m taking notes, I’m also checking my e-mail, IMing, and following the Red Sox game during periods when the lecture fails to hold my attention. I’m hoping the iPad not being capable of multitasking might help me focus a little better. Say, anyone know how many innings Wakefield went today?

Seriously, though, one of the reasons I don’t take notes by hand is my handwriting is illegible. If I can take notes distraction-free on the iPad, I’ll be thrilled. Yeah, I know I can turn off Wi-Fi and go into full screen mode, but I don’t.

Cons

Lack of e-textbooks: Hopefully this will change, but the Kindle DX was marketed as a potential e-textbook reader, and a quick scan of the textbooks section of the Kindle store yielded slim results. I was able to find my Biology book on CourseSmart, who is claiming to be releasing an iPad version of their reader, but other than that, I came up empty. After lugging around a five-pound biology book last semester, I’d have been thrilled to have a e-textbook. Hopefully, Apple will partner with textbook publishers as part of iBooks, but if Amazon and Barnes & Noble haven’t had much traction here, I’m not betting heavily this will change soon.

No camera: While some people have bemoaned the missing camera for its video chat purposes, in the previously mentioned biology class, I found it a lot easier to take an iPhone pic of a diagram the teacher drew on the board than attempt to recreate it in my notebook. The ability to take a photo on my iPad and quickly integrate it into my notes would be fantastic.

No citation/equation support: OS X Pages does a decent job at handling citations, albeit via third-party tools. Almost all of my papers require some sort of APA citations. While I expect I can get the bulk of a paper written on the iPad, handling citations looks like it could be problematic. Granted, this isn’t a deal-breaker, it’d be easy to simply put the proper citation reference in-place — (Crump 440) — and then insert the proper citation with the source on my MacBook. However, I can see not being able to complete and submit a paper solely on the iPad. I am also admittedly spoiled by technology; I couldn’t build a bibliography by hand now if my grade depended on it. Also, I’m lucky I’m a communications major, but, if you’re in a major requiring equations during note taking, this could be a problem — hopefully, there will soon be an app for that.

Locked-down/Walled Garden: For the most part, Apple controlling the gates of the App Store hasn’t caused me much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sure, I’d have loved a native Google Voice app, but since I need an Internet connection to use it, I’m OK with a web app. However, if there’s a specific application you need for a class, if there isn’t a similar app already in the App Store, you’re out of luck.

No full-size keyboard (speculation): One of the big unknowns for me is how the keyboard will fare in real-life usage — it might not be that bad, or doing any sort of long-form writing could be unbearable. I’m OK with using the small Apple keyboard (it’ll likely be a permanent resident in my carry bag, but I’d love to just use the iPad. Also, the lack of travel is something that bugs me about the Apple keyboard, so the iPad keyboard could be hard for me to get used to. I’m ok with the iPhone keyboard, but that’s for light typing and I’m usually using just my thumbs. I’m also leery of touch typing on it.

I’ll be getting my iPad on April 3 and my next class starts April 12. I’m looking forward to seeing how this new gadget works in school.

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