Starting in the fall of 2010, Seton Hill University (not to be confused with Seton Hall University) is going to be equipping its students with iPads. It’s not clear from the description on the web site what the students are expected to do with these devices, or what educational advantage the iPads are likely to impart beyond the laptops the students will also receive.
But is the iPad the right tool?
“The right tool for what?” you ask rightly. Well, for the educational market, assuming that ‘rithmetic is taken care of with a Touchcalc-like app on steroids, that leaves reading and writing (and perhaps sharing). How good is the iPad for those tasks?
Walt Mossberg’s been playing around with an iPad for a while now, and liked it, overall. Here’s what he had to say about the relevant aspects:
Reading? The iPad OS lacks multitasking, which means that while you can read on the device, you cannot easily read and take notes at the same time, the way you can on a laptop or on a piece of paper. While this kind of reading is fine for novels (hence the Kindle app for iPad), it is severely limiting for active reading, the kind that students need to do when trying to learn material.
Writing? While Mossberg generally liked the soft keyboard, he obseved that
…only the word processor exports to Microsoft’s formats, and not always accurately. In one case, the exported Word file had misaligned text. When I then tried exporting the document as a PDF file, it was unreadable.
I can see the iPad becoming the proverbial dog of the (early) 21st Century: “I did the assignment, but the iPad ate my homework.”
Finally, sharing may be feasible through the network, but the lack of a USB port for swapping large files in a serious handicap.
I hope someone has some grant money to study the adoption, use, and impact of this technology on campus, because earlier similar exercises with the Kindle have had largely negative results. But at least Seton Hill is not dumping its library.