Why the iPad Will Not Reform Higher Education Anytime Soon

on April 5, 2012

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.