Saturday, May 1, 2010

iPad and education

It was time for a new laptop, but with the iPad coming out, I thought I might see if I could manage with using it as a main, or mostly main computer. And since Apple has pushed the iPod as an education tool, I was also curious how it might work in the classroom.

First observations:

The hardware and apps are there to make it a very slick classroom tool. Usable for doing any of the basic Office-type applications, especially with the extra iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote), and especially usable with the external keyboard (which is what I am using right now). While the iPad can run iPhone apps, unless they are modified to take advantage of the iPad's expanded screen size, you have a little iPhone app running inside a big black screen. I expect as the iPad market grows, more developers will modify their apps to support the platform, so the education app universe will continue to grow. You still have the old possibilities of podcast and iTunes U. But now the video experience is tremendously enhanced. Video can come from iTunes, YouTube (as long as the school doesn't block it), and Netflix has a viewer too. BrainPOP has an iPad app as welll, although right now it only plays a free "movie of the week".

Apple also provides an iBook reader for the iPad, as do other developers. The iPad plus these apps opens the door for much richer support for e-textbooks, or web-supported curricula in general.

Drawbacks: The mobile Safari browser is sufficient for many web-based activities, but it still does not support Flash, which is used in many educational web apps (see Steve Jobs final word on Flash on the iPhone/Pod/Pad). I have learned to more or less live with this on the iPhone, but the bigger irritation -- no, failure -- is the mobile browser's inability to support EDITING GOOGLE DOCS. I put that final phrase in caps for emphasis. First, because Google Docs has, in practice (for my teachers at least), proven to be the simplest and cheapest way to manage student work done on computers. Apple provides online storage space via, but it is tightly integrated with their iWork apps, while Google Docs is wonderfully ecumenical when it comes to computing platforms. [Note: the lack of support for editing text Google docs could possibly be solved on either the Google side or the Apple side, but what from I've been able to find, the culprit is Safari's lack of support for the contentEditable tag, which Google Docs relies on for formatting. For typing this, I had to switch from "Compose" mode to "Edit HTML", which provides a plain text editing area.]

There are other iPad apps which support working on Google docs, and saving them in the Google cloud space, but they are not free, and so that's an added expense for schools.

Related to this is the issue of file management, which is a problem for any school. The iWork apps can be transferred to a Mac, and worked on them there (also using iWork, or saving as another file format I suppose, and working on them like that. But that gets away from the point of an iPad in the classroom -- a relatively inexpensive standalone multimedia tool. If a school committed to the iWork tools, perhaps there is some way to use as a central file management space, but students would still be locked into local apps for working on documents away from an iPad. Tim O'Reilly commented recently that Apple was missing the boat on the cloud computing thing, and this Google Docs thing reinforces that for me. Figuring out a good app / file management strategy (what apps do students use that support flexibly saving their work, where the teacher can see it, that is accessible from a non-Apple device, and can be accessed from home -- this is the biggest challenge I see to committing to the iPad in the classroom.

I assume someone will come out with iPad charging / sync stations, which will make managing a classroom set of iPads much easier than laptops.

The iPad I think supersedes the now-brief possibility of net books supplanting laptops as the one-to-one computing platform of choice. Although still twice the cost of the cheapest net books, it offers a far richer user experience I think (the screen, really, is very nice) and is half the cost of Apple's laptops.


Composed on a iPad, using the iPad Keyboard Dock, which makes typing Really Easy.


Todd Alan Price said...

JD, are you free this Saturday morning? We will be at Dumas to talk Technology for Democracy, why don't you show up, thanks!!

Steve said...

Interesting read! In regard to your comment on iPad charging / sync stations- It has already happened. A company called Datamation Systems has developed a robust line of charge and sync products specifically for the classroom environment. See