Why the iPad Will Not Reform Higher Education Anytime Soon

Lindsay Pund is a junior studying English and Business at Whitworth University. She is completing several writing assignments for a class and was given the topic by the Tech.pinions columnists of forming an opinion on iPad and higher education from a college students perspective.

Although Apple is clearly making adjustments and trying to modify the iPad so that it is more compatible and practical for higher education, a shift towards solo iPad learning is not likely.

Since 2010, a few universities have been experimenting with the iPad for more efficient classroom learning. Among these universities, some of the notable programs are at George Fox, where they give incoming freshman the choice between a MacBook or iPad, and Abilene Christian University, where they have implemented the mobile-learning initiative. This program, for the iPad specifically, is the inclusion of two classes on campus where each student is issued an iPad for the course. One of these classes is Economics, a required course for all undergrad students at ACU. While the professor of this course praises the iPad for assisting in increased classroom participation, it would be rare for an entire classroom of students to all own iPads and moreover, this poll-induced classroom participation is not only accessible through the iPad, but can be brought about by laptops as well.

While there are campuses that are attempting to implement the iPad into classroom learning, the majority of universities are not. And it is students on those campuses who are struggling the most to integrate the iPad into their learning experience. Although the iPad is touted for its ease of portability and compactness, for many college students, the praises end there when it comes to educational use.

In theory, the iPad would be the perfect tool for a college student. But as for now, the majority just aren’t buying it. This is not due to a lack of belief in Apple products. Looking around most college campuses today, there are MacBooks, iTouches, and iPhones everywhere. (This can be mainly attributed to the Apple back-to-school promotional) The current generation of college students believes in Apple products and are Apple consumers at large. However, when it comes to the iPad, hesitations arise.

After surveying a few college students who are iPad owners, I was able to better pinpoint my theory. While the iPad has its strong areas, there were many places where it falls short of college student’s needs and convenience. For most college students who own iPads, the device was purchased in attempt to replace their computer. However, Whitworth University Sophomore International Business major, Alexa Williams said, “The keyboard is electronic so it is not at all sufficient for typing papers.” This statement is testament to one of the key components keeping the iPad out of the hands of college students. When the primary role of a student is to type papers, having a main device without a keyboard is simply not practical.

Whitworth University sophomore Marketing major, Seth Owens encountered a similar problem when replacing his old laptop with an iPad. He said, “I had to buy the external keyboard so I could type my papers, but it is still a bit inconvenient because then I have two things to carry around instead of just one.” In carrying around two products, the plus side of iPads being compact deteriorates.
One possible solution to this predicament would be the ZAGG folio, an iPad case with a keyboard that essentially turns the iPad into the MacBook Air (size included). With this separately purchased ad-on, it is difficult to pinpoint what it is that sets the iPad above the Air, if anything.

Another aspect of iPads that has been assumed to make life easier is the ease it provides for note taking. However, when asked whether or not students found the iPad helpful for taking notes in class, all of them responded that it proves to be more distracting than anything, and even with the iPad they prefer to take their notes by hand or by typing.

Recently, with Apple’s announcement to partner with publishing companies and make digital textbooks more accessible, hopes for greater interest in iPads have risen again. However, when surveyed, studies show that 75% of students still prefer paper textbooks. In theory, having compact and lightweight textbooks is an improvement. However, in practice, this results in students trying to use the device for referencing material while simultaneously trying to type papers on that same device. I can see the benefits of interactive and compact textbooks, but there is still something to be said for having a textbook open while working on a paper without have to switch from one screen to another. Also, for many college students, studying is done in their dorm room or in the library, requiring a small amount of transportation of their textbooks anyway. And finally, many digital textbooks are nontransferable. This means that students will not be able to sell their books to other students when the course is over, thus overriding any money that might be saved through purchasing digitally. It is for these reasons that I find it hard to see digital textbooks becoming the new norm.

As for increased technology use in the classrooms, many students are wary. As it is, fiddling with overhead projectors and sound systems have the tendency to consume large portions of class time. While technology no doubt has its place in the education sphere, and as it has helped to add to its efficiency and thoroughness, as seen through PowerPoint and more effect communication via through email between professors and students, as with everything, there is a balance. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee English professor, Jeremiah Webster (and iPad fanatic) views the use of the iPad for education as being doubled sided. On one hand, Webster said, “It has fundamentally altered how I teach, lesson plan, and introduce materials (texts, video, articles, presentations) in the classroom.” However, at the same time, the iPad is technology, and on the flip side Webster said, “All technology is a “Faustian Bargain.” It takes away as much as it provides…Sure, we could all have iPads, but what is it being used for? Does it assist thinking? Reflection? Or is it merely another diversion? I use the iPad, but am vey much a disciple of Neil Postman. While Webster, as a professor with an iPad, is currently a minority, the concern of the iPad being more distracting than it is helpful is a sentiment among professors and students alike.

As a college student and MacBook and iPad user myself, I see the two products as somewhat redundant. For the average college student, money is tight and having both of these devices is a luxury that cannot be afforded. When it comes to having to choose either a laptop or an iPad due to budget constraints, the majority of students will purchase a laptop. Apple has created a product (MacBook) that is lightweight, user friendly, and dependable that they have marketed well to college-aged students. As it stands now, it is hard to imagine students who are loyal to the technology of laptops or of MacBooks specifically, making the drastic change to an iPad. I think Apple is going to have to do a lot of convincing (beyond their current two platforms) before students will readily, if ever, make the change entirely. Granted, I know this currently isn’t a popular stance to take — especially with the relatively recent announcement coupled with Jobs’ vision for textbooks. And for change makers, this might seem like regressive thinking. But as a student in the classroom, this is what I am witnessing and experiencing.

I definitely think the iPad is a neat tool with promise for higher education, and from my perspective, other college students think likewise. But as far as being the most practical and necessary device, I think it will be beat out by textbooks and laptops in higher education in the near future.

Published by

Lindsay Pund

Lindsay Pund is a junior studying English and Business at Whitworth University and will be graduating December 2012. Aside from studying, her time is filled with the duties of being a Resident Assistant in her dorm. After college, Lindsay hopes to continue utilizing her writing skills in some venue as well as tend to the current #1 on her bucket list: ride in a hot air balloon.

16 thoughts on “Why the iPad Will Not Reform Higher Education Anytime Soon”

  1. In today’s polarized atmosphere, it is often difficult to intelligently discuss the differences between the notebook and the tablet. During the anti-slavery movement and when women were fighting for the vote, activists, both pro and con, made the most outrageous and emotion-laden assertions imaginable. Although many of those assertions seem laughable today, they were met with deadly earnestness in their times. The same holds true for today’s debate over tablets. For purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that the debate is over – that tablets are recognized as a legitimate third category of personal computing and the question is not whether tablets are viable but simply when their use is most appropriate.

    I have long believed that the keyboard on a tablet is antithetical to its very being. The notebook requires a pixel-specific, mouse-driven input interface. The tablet is touch based. While I recognized that there were a certain one-percent of users who would benefit greatly from attaching a keyboard to a tablet, they were the exception to the rule, not the rule. Touch was the key to making the tablets a success and touch was inherently incompatible with keyboards, styluses and mice.

    Now I’m beginning to change my mind. I’ve been amazed at the number of journalists who have talked about how they use their iPads on a regular basis. If there was any profession that was keyboard driven, it would be journalism. If they feel that a tablet with an attached keyboard is useful, then perhaps there are many others who would as well.

    I can envisage 5 reasons why an iPad with an attached keyboard may be superior to a notebook computer:

    1) The iPad has a much simpler user interface.

    2) While an iPad with an attached keyboard may be more expensive than a Windows notebook, it is still much less expensive than a Mac notebook. If you’re on a budget but you want to go Apple, an iPad may be your best bet.

    3) 585,000 Apps. ‘Nuff said.

    4) An interface (and apps) that are identical to the iPhone.

    5) The flexibility of being able to use the device with an attachable keyboard or as a stand alone tablet.

    Let me conclude with a personal observation. I am a touch typist and I do pretty much nothing but type on my computer. While I admired the iPad and purchased one for my mother (who loves it), the idea of getting one for myself seemed nonsensical. But after reading the reviews for the iPad case-and-keyboard-all-in-ones like the Zaggfolio, Kensington and Clamcase…

    …I’m beginning to waver. And if I’m wavering, I suspect a lot of others potential notebook buyers are too.

    1. Great comment.

      “For purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that the debate is over – that tablets are recognized as a legitimate third category of personal computing and the question is not whether tablets are viable but simply when their use is most appropriate.”

      We are doing what we can with our industry analysis to make this point. Since you are newer to our site you may or may not have seen how I articulated your quote above. Here is my column on the subject.


      1. Thank you for your kind words.

        I read the linked article with interest. As others have said before me, the debate on any new trend seems to go in three stages 1) this will never work; 2) this will work, for only for the few; 3) Of course this will work, how could you ever think otherwise?

        Articles like yours and Lindsay’s lead me to believe that we’re entering or close to entering stage three. We can stop talking about WHETHER it is appropriate to use a tablet and start focusing on WHEN AND WHERE it is appropriate to use a tablet.

    2. A sixth benefit which is often overlooked with using a tablet with an external hardware keyboard is the unique ability to use the tablet as a portarit display and thereby see much more of the entire page than has been the case since CRT page-white portrait displays were discontinued on the desktop. Though such a configuration is not perfect due to the iOS deprecation of the mouse as a pointing and text selection device (something the specialized keys on the keyboard is better suited to anyway).

      The primary problem with the iPad as a text entry device is that the vastly different secondary keymaps (numbers, symbols, and punctuation) make transferring touch-typing skills from full-sized hardware keyboards problematic. Going back and forth between the maps can be frustrating.

      This is why those who type on them for extended periods often forgo the hardware keyboard entirely and just adapt to the new keymaps as designed into iOS. Apps like TextKraft I believe have greatly eased this process by addressing the shortcomings of the stock onscreen keyboard with third row of frequent punctuation symbols cursor and selection arrows.

      Take the iPad for what it is and the process is much easier. Trying to force it into a notebook is crazy. Just use a notebook like the lightweight MacBook Air if you don’t want to learn the new style of text entry (which as TexKraft demonstrates, Apple has needlessly compromised to fit a keyboard onscreen).

  2. I think it is pretty clear that people trying to use iPads to replace Notebooks in an environment where text entry is a frequent long-form activity are barking up the wrong tree. Consulting either a paper book or an e-book on the iPad while simultaneously typing text into a MacBook Air should be the more ergonomic choice assuming a desk or table is available.

    iPhones and iPads are better suited for gathering information in situations like field work where form completion, identification, and image capture are more likely. It’s horse for courses. If I was a student today I would carry both in my bag.

    1. As I write this, I am sitting at a desk in a borrowed office with my 13″ MacBook Air and an iPad. The combination helps make up for missing the 27″ display I usually work from. Now if there were just some way to cut and paste between the iPad and the MBA, this would be close to perfect.

      1. You could use AirDisplay to extend your MacBook Air’s desktop and not have to worry about cut and paste. But yeah that would be cool.

      2. Wow! That would be a killer feature. I agree with you that the two together make a great combination for researching and writing.

  3. For anyone looking for an educational use of the iPad that can’t easily be replicated on a laptop, I recommend a little app called The Fourth Dimension. At $2.99, the price is a bit steep for what is basically a one-shot tutorial, but the app makes excellent use of the ability to manipulate iPad screen objects directly to create by far the best visualization of four-dimensional geometry that I have ever seen.

    I think college students will be using both iPads (and maybe other tablets if they ever become any good) and laptop or desktop PCs for a long time to come, the same way I use both. I use the iPad whenever I can and almost always have it with me, but the thought of trying to put a research paper together on one is horrifying. Cutting and pasting between documents, something I do all the time in writing, is possible but painful on an iPad and that alone will keep the computer (and big displays) alive.

  4. Can someone explain to me why typing on an iPad is more distracting than typing on a notebook? After all, the one app dominates the iPad’s screen, while multiple and thus more distracting apps can be opened on the notebook PC.

    The story contains so many undocumented assertions or assertions based on n=1 anecdotes I suggest the writer include a science minor in her degree.

    1. I think they use distraction because they don’t have a better word. They feel distracted because they are looking down to make sure they are pressing the correct key because other than sound the only feedback they will get is the letter appearing on screen or the click as their fingers cover the letter they thought they selected. This isn’t an iPad-only problem though. Everyone who never learned to touch type has the same issue.

      Once you look down to deal with a keyboard or iPad, you become distracted from the lecture or event you are trying to take notes on. At least on a notebook they know whether a button has been pressed without looking because of the feel of the keyswitch.

      Composing text on the iPad with a proper keymap is actually far less distracting. You can get the same effect by turning off WiFi on your notebook and closing all other programs.

  5. Ms Pund, what you have discovered made sense to me, at first. Now I have completely rewritten what I first attempted to write. But is has been a good exercise. I like challenging and being challenged on any topic worthy study. I do think you have it right for the reason that most students believe they can multitask, efficiently.

    Were I going to University today I would not be a mad note taker but record the lectures to replay and make my notes from, later. I would still have a scratch pad at hand for quick notes to connect some ideas or prepare a question I might want to ask in class or to-dos or thoughts for later, or used my iPad for the same; but for the most part, I would let my ears and eyes support my brain by doing the jobs they do best.* Therefore, typing in lecture wouldn’t be a problem so iPad and MBA come out even with possibly a partial point for the ease-carry iPad. However, I suspect most students choose to do what can’t be efficiently done and multitask by taking notes and saving the bother to revisit the lecture when their feet left the grounds to the worthy institute. As a teacher I see examples of this all the time.

    Regarding textbooks, at first I thought I would prefer traditional texts, especially for study and to follow in lectures as you suggested. Then I thought having both would be the best scenario; then I figured the iPad textbook would be especially useful for copying text, then abbreviating the text and adding notes to text. I actually came to prefer my digital literature and poetry very quickly, so the same might happen with many text books. I think I would and could successfully make the plunge. Score one for the iPad.

    The value of personally owned digital textbooks to traditional resale textbooks will depend upon their end cost. There are many textbooks I would never want to keep in any form once a course is over, but there are others I could see being referenced over the years. If digital drastically cuts the costs of textbooks, it seems a no brainer. Score one for the iPad, contingent upon previous point of cost.

    I have one question regarding your research. Was there any difference between students who preferred using the iPad to laptops with regards to age consideration?

    Five or so years from now, I suspect the iPad will be a central part of most student life in and out of the classroom and the laptop will either rest back at the dorm or gathering dust in a closet at home.

    *The brain cannot truly multitask. It is usually very inefficient to learning when listen to a professor say one thing while typing or writing what was previously said. Then there is the problem of squeezing in rumination and reflection. — Strangely, I experienced this very problem while listening to a tape on this very topic while travelling on a busy mountainous road with some straight aways, passing and being passed by other cars. I had to keep rewinding missed parts of the tape until I finally gave up and did the most important job at hand in the safest way possible. I found stretches of road I could concentrate on the tape and I got home safely, to boot. It sure drove the question of multitasking home, too.

  6. I find it strikingly odd that those commenting above seem to think they have the answers. Ms. Pund does a nice job of explaining real-world drawbacks to using an iPad in a college class/environment. Then, the comments come in saying she’s inaccurate or doesn’t know what she’s talking about or iPads are better than laptops or MacBooks are better than … Does it really matter? Really? Some of the schools that have gone all iPad or give them out to all incoming students haven’t themselves figured out how best to integrate the devices into a 5-courses-a-semester load for students. It’s a gimmick and a PR push to get students to the school. I attended a conference session a year ago where Seton Hill Univ reps (they claim to be the first to go all iPad) admitted that only 30% of the textbooks students use on campus can be accessed on the iPad and that students reported back to them that they only occasionally use the iPads in class. Digital reading and annotating for college work is not there yet on tablet devices and the device should not be forced onto students.

    In the long run not only does it not matter what device the students use, it should not matter. These students should not be device dependent. They have tasks to accomplish and they need to get those completed using whatever tools suit them best. Maybe it’s a LiveScribe pens for not taking, Maybe a Win7 netbook, maybe it is just the $400 smart phone they already have in their pockets. Why does it matter? Problem is, this discussion and the development in this area will be led by college textbook publishers. That is the crux of many, if not most, courses and if the books remain only in printed format (Apple’s recent announcement of eTextbooks included only 8 high schools books by the way) it won’t matter what device they use. If the textbooks all decided to go Apple iOS, student will be forced to get those devices. If they choose to go to a more open format, students will have flexibility and can be device independent.

    Ms. Pund’s assertions are accurate. So much of what the iPad does can simply be accomplished with a netbook, a MacBook, or even on a smart phone. Access to 400k apps … big deal. Students will use maybe 5-10 during the course of a semester and much of the content bundled in these apps can already be found online. If their instructors took the time to really develop a course, they could point students to these online resources instead of relying on their expensive texts. I love tablets (and I use 3 different ones) for certain things, but it is not “the device” for a college student … yet.

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