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Pros and Cons of the iPad in Education

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While Liam opined about the challenges an iPad (s aapl) 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.


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.

[pullquote]The iPad can shave three pounds off a college student’s shoulders.[/pullquote]

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.


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 (s amzn) and Barnes & Noble (s bn) 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.

[related-posts align=”right” tag=”ipad”]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.

42 Responses to “Pros and Cons of the iPad in Education”

  1. willis

    It’s cool. But the simple fact they didn’t include Function keys has eliminated any possibility in my environment. 2 of my most crucial apps depend on function keys.

  2. This is exactly what i bought One for recently and has been awesome. The keypad is huge and I think I can probably type quicker on the iPad than an actual keyboard somehow. I also have downloaded a notebook app so i can handwrite although am waiting for my ordered stylus which would be necessary Putting textbooks on it that are 2000 pages is a life saver although I find that the main downfall for me is no flash. Other textbooks that I do not have in PDF format are available online although require flash to view. This is even more annoying because apple could resolve this is one minute

  3. Leroy

    I find it ridiculous for anyone to suggest the iPad will help students’ learn better or faster. As of now, the iPad gives no advantages over books and will be used for games when teachers aren’t looking.

    • Hamish

      The same was probably said about the pen. How will that let us learn faster compared to the chalk and board?
      -Enthusiasm and motivation of students leads them to complete tasks leading to improved student learning.
      -The use of Web Apps to deliver personalize learning has potential for further changes to teaching strategies.
      -The speed and convenience of data collection is immediate and enable its use as an efficient learning tool.

    • Hamish

      Oh… no i don’t work for apple. I use 31 iPod touches in my class and my results have been so dramatic that the school has decided to implement my project school wide. Using an ipad would be even better!

  4. Good post, however you forgot to add a very important con to the iPad. The iPad at this point and time does not support any kind of “markings” in the books. Such as you cannot highlight text, or write notes on the side. This is a real problem for college kids that go ape shit on their text books like me.

  5. lotsajargon

    I have been looking forward to the iPad as a solution for carrying around books and PDF articles. I just read, however, that there is no way to write notes in the books! Whaat!? How could Apple do this to a product with so much potential in the educational market.

    I’d like to see a way to highlight sections of books, write margin notes and then export them as PDFs or to print. Until there is a way to take notes the iPad won’t be a serious contender for taking over the educational market.


  6. I’m a student and I appreciate your article. As a theology student though, I want to point out that you are probably confusing the words “stigmata” and “stigma”. Laptop stigmata would be some kind of visible mark associated with the disgrace of using a laptop, or possibly your laptop suddenly bleeding from it’s hands and feet.

  7. As a producer of textbooks and online e-learning, I can tell you why Amazon hasn’t got too many textbooks in yet. Textbooks are not going to likely be just reformatting in InDesign or (groan) Quark, but they’re adding multimedia and much richer information. And they’re probalby vetting all that information. Textbooks aren’t like novels. They MUST be accurate and complete and up-to-date. There’s a reason they cost so much, and it’s not greed at the bookstore, or at the publishers. They really are way more expensive to produce than other kinds of books.

    So you can bet textbooks are going to be arriving more and more, now espeically since there’s actually color! Can you imagine an art text, or an anatomy book in black and white? The Kindle’s weaknessses are more likely the fault for not having more to download so far. The iPad addresses that major flaw.

    (Not to mention a lot of people’s reliance on Flash to do multimedia is a major roadblock to getting it done on the iPad.)

  8. I agree with some of your points. For college, it will be a good tool.

    The problem I see for education is the fact that it doesn’t support Flash and tens of thousands of educational web sites use Flash. They won’t be able to quickly change to HTML5 like some media sites have. That is a big deal breaker for me.

    I carry all of my notes, information, presentations, documents, and the like around in my pocket now in my smartphone (Palm Pre+) and can access more through Sugarsync and Zumodrive. I wish I had a smartphone back in college myself.

    For creation of materials I like a real keyboard. I do agree that with the iPad there won’t be that screen between you and the professor.

  9. clf28264

    I am a graduate student in mathematics and research design and while I love apple technology, the iPad has little place as a text book replacement. Many textbooks that are purchased in undergraduate as heavy, bulky, and a waste. The consensus between my advisors and from my own teaching experience is that pen, paper, and books are the most effective not matter the course material. I am guilty of multitasking previously and attempting to use a laptop to review research papers. The eye strain of reading on a screen for hours on end is terrible and I cannot imagine reading the bulk of my texts on an iPad. Additionally attempting to write undergraduate papers while using only a single screen and not having the flexibility to reference multiple texts seems terrible. These are some of my reasons for skepticism about using the iPad as a book replacement. I am excited for the possibility of utilizing the iPad.

  10. Sadly we seam to be missing the biggest Con (pun?) of all with the iPad:

    Education arround the world has $billions and $$billions invested in online digital content much of it based on flash. This will all be redundant in they eyes of the iPad. Promoting it to an educational device will cost Education $billions & $$billions all as so Apple can profit.

    If Apple wants this to be a educational device (their marketing department certainly sees $$$) then they need to be prepared to acknowledge the realities of the education market.

    Ben :-)

  11. Fourteen years ago when I started Uni, I was the only student doing a tech course who had a laptop.

    If you think 4 hours of battery live is bad, I was lucky if I could get 1.

    I have to admit though, having all my course work (the lecture slides were provided as power point presentations that the students could download and print out themselves) was awesome! Having all my assessment work on hand so I could do work on them any where I could get power was great (if sometimes a little annoying) and the fact that the tech support group were really open to the idea and actually provided me with a static IP address so I can access the network was outstanding!

    The only thing missing was the digital text books.

    I think as a reader, the ipad is going to be great, but the single tasking is a hindrance if you are trying to reference the text book (or other resources), while you are taking notes.

    I can see it becoming a platform for text books, not replacing something like a notebook/laptop for taking notes in the long term (I could be happily wrong though).

    As for the cost of text books. IF the two major pricing issues with text books is the production and limit distribution (ie into schools as apposed to the wider public), then honestly, we should be able to see a reduction in the price. This does not mean they’ll suddenly become $10 (from $100’s), but I think we will see at least some reduction. It’s in their best interests, it will only take 1 person to break the DRM (and jail break the ipad) for them to suddenly lose that entire battle. Better to get in quick and reduce the effect now then wait till it’s to late.

    The cost of producing and distribution a digital copy is significantly less then a paper one and as education institutions get onto the digital bandwagon, I think we’ll see some significant changes in this direction.

  12. FatJeff

    Sure, a publisher would not want to pass on the $120 text book sale (and neither would the author who, hey lookie here the Professor for that class wrote the book!). But how about including a digital download of the book with the purchase of the printed text book? The marginal cost to the publisher is small, and let’s face it…e-text books ARE the future. Baby steps…

  13. The key word missing from all your cons is “yet”. As the various uses of the iPad evolve, I’m certain Apple and app developers will watch, listen and build the capabilites we need. The educational market is potentially massive for Apple. They’re not going to miss out on such a big opportunity.

    • Mark Crump

      Because in four years of studentry, I’ve needed Flash exactly zero. An educator friend of mine claims it’s used more in k-12, but from my experience in College, I’ve never needed it.

      As usual, YMMV.

      • Tom Hafemann

        “Need” and “want” I get it! If you don’t have it you don’t really need it. But what if you have it, use it, have or make a ‘need” for it, and then get it taken away.

        For us PC users who do have flash stuff, along with lots of Java, while we can certainly move away from it, it can be like taking a steak from a lion. “This is the way I do it…this is what works…if you take it you don’t care about the education of children…..”

        I am curious on why there wasn’t a comment at all, Pro or Con.

      • Mark Crump

        Well, my viewpoint on this article was to keep in mind what I’ve run into. I try and focus pieces like this on my own experiences, and Flash for education hasn’t been one I’ve run into.

        I’m not saying it’s not used at all, but that there were other pros and cons more important to me.

        That said, I did consider it but opted not to, mostly due to personal experiences.

  14. As an instructor I am looking forward to how both my students and myself will be able to incorporate this new tool. I should be able to keep all my lesson plans, handouts, and presentations on the iPad.

  15. Well put. This is the interesting point: “Lack of e-textbooks” – it is not just a case of a lack, but also the providers need to think more about the way they produce the books. They should try to take advantage of the iPad features. It shouldn’t be ‘just a text book’ it should be interactive with quizzes with personal feedback, and ‘auto-updating’ as new ideas and views become available. Imagine a biology text book that links straight in to the latest research….

  16. Great article. I’d add these suggestions:

    1. Apple needs to create or encourage someone else to create an iPhone-sized Bluetooth thumb-typing keyboard for the iPad. Carrying even Apple’s small but full-sized keyboard around adds about 1/3 to the weight and bulk, negating much of the iPad’s advantage. This’d be small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.

    Quite a few students are fast at thumb-typing and the two would make a near-perfect note taking combo. Place the iPad on the desk in front of you and type on the keypad held comfortably in your lap while following what the professor is writing on the board. For that it’d help in the keypad had some clever new UI features. Pressing against the left side with your left palm, for instance, could shift into uppercase.

    Otherwise, I fear, the iPad may be a bust for classroom use. Note taking in many classes requires more speed, I fear, than the touch-typing screen of the iPad can handle.

    1. Persuade Microsoft to port OneNote to the iPad. It’s designed for lecture/meeting note taking and document drafts, precisely what people (and not just students) will be doing with an iPad. Microsoft should hire some of the sharpest developers around to create the best possible UI for it.

    2. We also need a more robust ePub standard, one that can handle graphics and tables better. In every field but literature, textbooks tend to be loaded with graphics and illustrations.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

  17. As a graduate student I have thought about what effect the ipad would have on my studies. At first I was extremely disappointed by the lack of handwriting support, but after forcing myself to use my tablet in pen mode for a week I realized how fail it is when it comes to taking fast notes in class compared to a keyboard. So, I finally realized that the ipad for a college student is really more of a companion device.

    Many times I am frustrated by the fact that when writing a paper i have to keep constantly minimizing and maximizing windows to review various journals while trying to write a paper. The ipad would function well as a viewing device for me. So I can type while viewing. Further, it is a great device to review notes on quickly.

    As for typing though I have a feeling that it will be frustrating to take effective notes on the ipad without a keyboard. However if you throw in a bt keyboard it should be manageable. I finally caved and ordered one the other day mainly because I am interested in how it will meet my document review needs.

  18. “No laptop stigmata: Whenever I use a laptop in class, I’m always leery of what the teacher thinks of it.”

    I wonder if they will view the iPad in the opposite way, that you are playing games rather than taking notes? I always feel that way when I am taking notes on my iPhone, the professor probably thinks I am txting.

  19. Barnes & Noble is one of the biggest college bookstores chains… Do you think they are going to trade $120 per biology ridiculous textbook for a $9.99 e-book version? Or would anybody pay $120 for an e-book version of it?

    Justified or not, college textbooks is a legalized racketeering of students (parents… :) ).

    • Mark Crump

      I don’t actually mind paying market value for a textbook (in my major, most aren’t resellable anyway). I never expected to pay $10 for a textbook. I just don’t want to carry the damn thing around :)

  20. As a training specialist, I need to have access to dozens of SOPs, and numerous training documents and presentations. As it is now, I have to carry around a large 3-ring binder, and update training records manually. It’s also 300 feet back to my computer. My employer would never let me use a personal iPad to access the network, and they would certainly never spend $500 to buy one. They’re strictly Windows.