Apple's new iPad is out, and the big question for us is how it might help teaching and learning in school. So to test it's metal, I'm writing this article on an iPad. Writing is first in line of the things students do most with their computers in school, so this should be a good test. But how about the other things at students need to do in a typical day? That's the real test. So we'll go back a few weeks to an article called A Day in the Life, and see how many of the things that Sally needed her computer for could be done with the iPad.
(I am quickly getting used to the keyboard. Which is right on the screen. I can use all my fingers. And the correction assistance is superb -- if I spell a word wrong, it fixes it as I go along. And capitalizes automatically the first word in each new sentence.)
A Day in the Life Revisited
• Sally Student wakes to the ping of an instant message arriving on her laptop. It’s from another student who is working with her on an environmental chemistry project.
The iPad includes a built-in calendar with an alarm function, as well as an application for instant messaging. So the machine or your correspondent can wake you in time for school.
• She researches, from her laptop, the various laws and guidelines on allowable concentrations of PCBs in drinking water. She finds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the Maximum Contaminant Level at 0.5 parts per billion.
The iPad includes a standard browser that works the same as it does on a normal computer. Searching, finding, scrolling, copying, pasting, and saving of pictures and text and data all work the same way. So does bookmarking.
• Sally checks the readings from the probe at the city drinking water monitoring station, which has recently been connected to a web server, so that she can see the readings in real time. She sends an instant message to the members of her project group, explaining that she saw concentrations of PCBs of 0.7 and 0.8 ppb at times over the last 24 hours. She attaches a graph of the ups and downs that she constructed with the spreadsheet program on her laptop.
Data gathered from online sources can be copied and pasted into the iPad's spreadsheet, whence is can be totaled, averaged, sorted and graphed. And the graphical results can be included in documents, just as I am including this graph:
• She sends a short report of her findings, with attached data, sources, and graph, to her personal online academic portfolio on the school’s web server.
Authoring multimedia reports is easy on the iPad with the Keynote application that works very much like PowerPoint. Text, images, tables, charts and graphs can be combined very much as they are on a normal computer.
• On the subway on the way to school she listens to a podcast of last week’s debate in the state senate on the Clean Water Bill, that she downloaded from the school server.
These work just as they do on an iPod, but with a bigger screen. You can listen directly from the speakers, or use headphones for privacy. Video, audio, and enhanced podcasts all work.
• The subway is delayed, so she has time to read, from the same iPod, the next chapter of Thoreau’s Walden for English class. She downloaded this and many other readings from the school server.
You have never seen anything like books on an iPad. Crisp text, full-color illustrations on full-size pages, natural page-turning. Don't know a word? Click it for a definition, or to get cross-references online. So far, I have found 27,000 free books, including many read in school.
• At the school library, she meets with two other members of her project group to discuss what they’ve found over the last two days, and what they need to do next. She learns that the PCB limit in the Senate bill is set at 0.7 ppb.
Want to show your graph or your pictures or your text to a small group? Just turn the iPad toward them. Or pass it around. It's small, about the size of a bluebook (you remember those from college don’t you?). Weighs about the same as an orange, even though it's from Apple. No need to plug in to power -- it looks like it will last all day. (I have been writing for an hour and a half, and my iPad still has 85% of its battery life left.)
Reviewing the entire Day in the Life, we find little or nothing that Sally could not accomplish with the iPad. For the teaching and learning activities we commonly carry out in school and college, the iPad seems at least sufficient and in a few cases superior to the normal computer.
In a few advanced functions, the iPad cannot compete, at least not in it's current version: video editing, musical composition, and authoring animation. But these were not part of our typical student's day.
Using the iPad for a day in my life, I noticed some interesting differences that will be very relevant top its use in school:
All in all, a students’ day of learning would be enhanced by an iPad. And schools considering the transformation to Education 3.0 should consider these as the standard information and communication device for teaching and learning.