With popularity rising for iPads and other tablets, it isn't surprising that the devices are already making their way into education, both in organized implementations such as a new iPad study at the University of Notre Dame and more casual explorations by individual teachers and students.
As borne out by the Notre Dame study and numerous articles in teachers' journals, educators are particularly curious right now about what they are their students might be able to do with Apple's industry-leading iPad.
"One unique thing we are doing is conducting research [about] the iPad," according to Corey Angst, assistant professor of management at Notre Dame.
"We want to know whether students feel the iPads are useful and how they plan to use them. I want them to tell me, 'I found this great app that does such and such.' I want this to be organic," Angst wrote on Notre Dame's Web site.
The assistant professor is carrying out the first phase in Notre Dame's planned study by deploying iPads among the 40 students in a project management class for a totally paperless educational experience.
Angst has been collecting the students' initial impressions through surveys and an online Wiki discussion group where students can share their ideas.
Elsewhere, a teacher runs Kindle app, Evernote, and iTunes on iPad
One theme that tends to show up consistently among researchers from various institutions is the versatility of the iPad for educational – and sometimes non-educational -- purposes.
In examining his own iPad utilization during an airplane flight, one teacher found that he utsed the device for the following activities: taking notes with the Evernote app; annotating a scholarly article with iAnnotate PDF; reading a research handbook with the Kindle app, listening to music with iTunes; and playing a video game called Need For Speed: Shift.
Yet the author, Patrick Ledesma, also admitted in his article in Teacher Magazine that while the iPad turned out to be very useful for "light work," it wasn't as conducive to "heavy work" as traditional paper-based methods.
Duke: Students 'collect, consume, create and collaborate'
In another article, entitled "iPad for Education: Early Impressions," Shawn Miller considered a similar question, but across higher education as a whole.
"Thinking about higher education specifically – what can we expect students and faculty [to] actually do with the iPad? As users of iPhones or iPod Touches already know, the answer to this question depends almost more on the applications (or 'apps') that one decides to put on the device, than the capabilities of the device on its own," Miller wrote on Duke University's Web site.
Teachers and students at colleges and universities are using the iPad to "collect, consume, write and create, and communicate/collaborate," Miller concluded. They are consuming content that includes text, images, video, and Web pages.
Other tablets also see multiple uses
Users of other tablets aside from the iPad also seem to take advantage of the gadgets' flexibility. For example, in a tablet and eBook reader survey conducted for TabletPCReview's Back to School coverage, we found that 87.5% of users who purchased a tablet or eReader for school, did so to use the device as a study aid, and 43.8% purchased it for entertainment, with multiple responses allowed.
Other responses in our survey included "for note taking during class" (81.3%), "for useful education apps" (12%), "as a device to read school books" (50%), "for educational videos" (25%).
Of those who had bought a table over the past 12 months, planned to do so over the next 12 months, or both, however, only 18% of our respondents cited an iPad purchase, as opposed to 48% for a "traditional tablet," 40% an Android tablet, 23% an e-book reader, and 16% "another touchscreen device.
Early reactions to iPad at Notre Dame
Notre Dame launched its iPad study in late August of this year. Angst said he expects students in the project management class will use it to write and share documents, take notes, and show plans to their project "clients."
In an initial survey of the Notre Dame students, more than half said they were using it to do all of their reading for the project management in addition to some reading for other classes and some non-academic reading. Students also said they were reading the articles assigned for the class directly on the iPad, as opposed to printing out the articles from the iPad.
Most agreed that the iPad "encouraged exploration of additional topics," "provided functions/tools that are not possible with a traditional textbook, and "made the coursework more interesting."
Not all of the students were completely satisfied, though. Some acknowledged that the iPad could be "distracting" because of its Web browser and many available software apps.
One Notre Dame student pointed out that it's more difficult to highlight text on an iPad than on a traditional book. Some fretted about the possible effects of spending so much time gazing at a computer screen.
Later this year, Notre Dame plans to rotate the iPads among different groups, including freshmen and law school students.
Colleges and universities do seem to be the biggest sweet spot for iPads and other tablets at the moment, by the way. In TPCR own survey, 25% replied "high school," 25% responded "undergraduate," and 50% said "graduate" when asked, "What level of student will/be/is using the e-reader or tablet?"
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