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The iPad as a Library
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 05/09/11

Can students and their teachers learn with a mobile device like the iPad?

How does learning with an iPad compare with learning in the library? With learning on a computer?

Educators all over the country are just now scratching the surface of the possibilities of using an iPad for learning. As we watch schools and students take advantage of iPads (and their pocket-sized cousins, the iPod Touch) we see them acting as a library, a teacher, an organizer, and a communicator.

The iPad as a Library

It fits in your purse, but it has more books and other resources than your school library. Or the town library. But it's much easier to use, and is always with you. And the built-in Safari web browser connects you to the reference resources of the world-wide web, from pictures of animals in the zoo, to the latest political candidates (don't confuse those), to the latest news, to databases of historical information. Just type your search words into the Google box at the top right of the window. The built-in Maps application helps you find places, see what they look like politically or geographically, and learn how to get there. The iBooks app opens the window to more than 50,000 free books, including most of those included in the canon for K-12 literature. The largest selection of free books is in the Project Gutenberg collection. The free Dictionary.com app lets you look up words and find out what they mean. The free Wikipedia Mobile app is an excellent general reference work with more information than Britannica. And the free New York Times app puts the front page onto your iPad. Or if you prefer (see politicians, above) get the Wall Street Journal app.

The iPad as a Teacher

It can't evaluate your essays, but it can teach you some of the things you need to know, through educational podcasts on a variety of topics, and educational applications that target specific skills. Educational podcasts are created by teachers, publishers, professors, and even students. Most are available for free. You can find hundreds of them in iTunes U, following this path on your iPad: iTunes --> iTunes U. You will find at the App Store educational apps created by publishers and programmers to develop specific skills, from English grammar to fractions and decimals. Follow this path to see what's available: App Store --> Categories --> Education.

The iPad as an Organizer

Just as the grown-ups use their Blackberries and Palm Pilots to manage their schedules and contacts, their children can use the iPad to manage their academic work. The built-in iCal app can keep track of class meetings, assignments, events, and responsibilities. And notify you with an alarm just before they are due. The built-in Mail app lets them use email to communicate with teachers and colleagues. The built-in Notes app enables them to type their thoughts, or paste quotes from online sources. The built-in Contacts app keeps track of teachers and colleagues, their email, telephone, address and photo. And the Photos app keeps track of visuals that you download from your camera or copy from the web.

The iPad as a Communicator

The ideas you found in the iPad library, or learned from the podcasts, can be saved and presented with the same device. That's right: with the video adapter, you can make a slide show on your iPad, and present it with the projector in your classroom. The built-in Photos app can save images from Safari (with one click), and present them as a slide show. The built-in Voice Memos app can record oral history, research reflections, or oral communication practice. And play them back through the speakers. The built-in Notes app can organize text, and present it page-by-page on the screen. You can do a Webex meeting from the iPad, use instant messaging, and send a receive email. Even make a Skype call.

...and those are just the built-in and free tools. Thousands of two- and three-dollar apps can extend these four functions even further.

Your Assignments:

To help you think through how the iPad might serve as a platform for learning in your classroom, follow these steps:

1. Think about how the iPad can serve as a library and as a teacher for your students, as described above. Find in the App Store a set of free apps that you'd want to see on every one of your students' iPads, that would help them learn what you have to teach. Download these to your own iPad, and be prepared to show your choices to your colleagues.

2. Design an assignment for your students that can be completed on the iPad. Following the model of the sample iPod learning simulation, combine the library, teacher, and communicator functions of the iPad to put your students through a learning journey in your own subject area. Write the directions for the assignment. Practice it step by step to make sure it works. Then you'll give the directions to a colleague to try.

The iPad is just beginning to find its way into the academic lives of our students. Try one yourself to get a feel for its possibilities.

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