I have seen from up close the introduction of computing into the classroom, for most schools this means handing out laptops to the students. And while i lectured on the usage of technology, i found that the problems with having laptops in the classrooms far outweighed the advantages. The end result was that the laptops really didn't add any value to the classroom. I must point out that i am talking from an Indian context and the classrooms of higher education institutions.
I honestly feel the iPad will change how the classroom computing game is played world over. And Apple who used to call themselves the largest education company, are going to position this product so. This is also evident from the education targeted multiple iPad packs which have also been announced.
Many of the students who enter higher education institutions are handed a laptop as part of their educational material, most have never owned a laptop before and many are not properly IT literate. As a result a large part of their productive day is spent in 'managing' this new tool. I used to see frustrated students trying to cope with malware, software updates, connectivity issues,configuration problems and general usage issues. The seemingly simple task of connecting to the campus wireless network could be considered herculean when one doesn't understand all the different options and settings. The IT support staff were doing more re-installs of operating systems than anything else during their work days. This issue was also the same for the faculty and non teaching staff, all dealing with usage issues and not really spending all their time on the work they were supposed to do.
I have been using an iPhone for a few months now and i see what that platform brings. Following with the keeping it simple and stupid philosophy, the high technology is hidden behind a clever and very intuitive interface. This interface magnified becomes the iPad. The touchscreen interface makes the performing of various computing tasks very simple. The lack of too many configuration options don't confuse the user who can concentrate on doing the job at hand and not worry about the settings. Something that remains to be seen is how effective the new touch version of the iWork suite will be for the various tasks a student needs to perform. I am certainly sounding like an Apple fanboy here but as a user, i find that things just work. Small apps are basically widgets that don't have the complexity of standard software and are focused on performing various tasks. Keeping the single tasking approach, Apple has also reduced the instability of an operating system. This however is a much debated topic and it is rumored that they will finally start some sort of multitasking ability in their OS this summer.
Usually the people in the know would say that one should stay away from first generation Apple products as they have kinks that need to be worked out, i kind of agree with that. The iPad however is not first generation. Yes the processor is new but the general hardware is from the hugely successful iPod/iPhone products as is the operating system.
The iPad will most certainly benefit from the success of the app store as well and while iPad specific apps will start appearing, most present apps should also work, giving the iPad a HUGE advantage through available application right out of the door. Not only do the existing apps make life simpler but the framework allows developers to create apps much more easily than regular applications. I wont be surprised to see schools coming out with their own specific apps that combine various school specific information into a easy to use app, not to mention the communication capabilities and syncing of school calendars. This would be a major factor working on the side of the iPad when competing with other tablets.
The pricing of the iPad also, i feel, may be right for mass adoption in the classroom with the lowest end model selling for $499 in USA and i am sure there will be education discounts. The Indian pricing has yet to be announced but with the duties and various resellers involved it will be much higher. The iPad will be certainly easier for schools to manage and support and the need for support personnel will be much lower providing a lower total cost of ownership than laptops.
Books can be finally made in electronic form and should be cheaper than the printed books, the environmental impact of not using paper is an added bonus. Converged books seem to be more possible with images or videos embedded into the text. Book updates can finally be handed down to the students. Books could also be combined with activities and exercises at the end of any topic to reinforce the learning. Virtual labs could be made as apps and allow students to perform experiments either on their own or collectively by connecting multiple iPads together.Tests could be taken right on the iPad and the results available in minutes. With the ability to receive background updates the students can be kept informed of various information the school wants to disseminate. The ebook reader is limited in its scope while the iPad brings ebooks along with all the other functionality, making it a much better equipped computing product. The younger generation is more in tune with using electronics and i think they will be far more open to reading on a screen as opposed to picking up a book, this hopefully will get the youngsters to read more, which is becoming somewhat of a lost activity.
I can see iPad docks built into table in classrooms and libraries where students can simply place their iPads and work. Combine the iPad with a nano projector and you have a portable teaching tool that can be used either in a classroom or out of it. In India it can serve as an inexpensive community teaching tool.
I would also combine the classroom iPad with bump technologies solutions. Think about it, students can simply bump their iPads with the teachers iPad and their homework or reports gets downloaded into the teachers iPad. Students could also bump their iPads with a central computer (which also supports the bum technology ofcourse) and get all their schedules and any updates.
The iPad is certainly more mobile than a notebook or laptop computer and offers much the same usage while bettering the phone in size and battery. As the Apple has positioned it, right in between the phone and the laptop.The form factor is also great, the screen is decent enough to be able to read out of and the on screen keyboard will be easier to type on as compared to the tiny one on the iphone. It can slip into any bag without trouble, ofcourse in a protective casing. If Apple could create a control panel for administrators to manage multiple devices like the Blackberry Enterprise Server it will allow schools to control the content on the apps, which can be set free once the students leaves the school.
The problems i foresee are to do with the pricing and issues of theft and breakage.
So is the iPad the gun in a knife fight ? Are the days of physical books in the classroom numbered ? That remains to be seen but i am betting on a huge presence of iPads in classrooms.