Playing with Technology

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ~Arthur C. Clarke

iPad! What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing. OK, maybe that is not true. I did find it is very good for watching videos streamed from Netflix. I also enjoyed surfing the Web on it. Using it as an e-reader was a little awkward for me. In all the situations though it was hard to get comfortable. The iPad could be the first new technology that I just don’t get but that students might.

I also struggled with just how one would produce content on the iPad. There are a few apps, such as Brushes, that seem to make great use of the multi-touch, but that list is pretty short when you focus on apps that could be used for education. Katie Stansberry gives a list of a few that she considers to have educational potential. Most of them seem to be geared toward K-12 and not undergrad. Maybe the best way for colleges and universities to use the iPad in their curriculums is to have faculty and students develop apps for the iPad. I think it would be of even greater benefit if the apps they develop were geared toward K-12.

I know Apple is selling them like mad, but I just have to shake my head at institutions giving them to all the incoming first-years. Stanford Medical School is on that list so maybe my former colleague, Joe Benfield, can shed a little light on how Stanford Medical School is using them in the curriculum. I guess for the moment I’d just like to try an understand why these schools think the iPad is important to their curricula. Am I completely off-base?







3 responses to “iPad! What is it good for?”

  1. Joe Benfield Avatar
    Joe Benfield

    Hey Jon! I can shed a little light on this. As you know, my initial reaction to the iPad was much the same – consumption device, not great for much else. I can still pretty much say that’s true, but consumption is a big part of education and that’s what we’ve focused on for the most part. We see it (for the time being) as being a device for downloading reading and study materials, annotating them, accessing the course management system and watching lecture capture media.

    The app we’re using most is called iAnnotate PDF. I’m sure you can guess what it does, given that clever title. For Anatomy students in particular, this has been a great approach. Rather than printing and annotating a (1600+?) page paper syllabus in addition to daily lecture materials, students now download these before class as a pdf from the course management system. They annotate along with their instructors (on a sympodium) during class and can then save those files to their computer if they wish or review them on the iPad. The feature set is great and the developers have been very responsive to student feedback. We encourage the students to use a stylus – something that Apple thought was unnecessary for the iPad – because we found your fingers get a little raw after an hour long annotating session.

    Something Apple seemed to put very little thought into originally (but seems to be more willing to address now) is file organization. In short, it stinks. Using DropBox in conjunction with iAnnotate and other apps is a nice workaround right now, but you only get 2GB free.

    Typing on the iPad seems to be hit or miss, with some people getting the hang of it quickly and others giving up at a certain point and using a keyboard. Using the iPad in landscape mode seems to help with typing, but then you cut your screen into a wide, narrow strip which makes it a little difficult to work with. All of this means that many students still like to have a laptop or paper and pencil handy for actual note taking.

    We’re only a few weeks into the initiative so I don’t want to say much more since things may change. I’m sure a number of our staff will be talking about this in publications and conferences as the year goes on, and right now we’re just trying to be responsive to student feedback and make things work well for them. We’re just now really starting to get a sense of what these devices can do for students. So far though, I think the idea is that this device could:

    a) save paper
    b) allow for better access to resources students need to consume
    c) give them the ability to annotate more freely than on paper and less expensively than with a tablet pc

    I’ll keep you posted.

  2. Jon Avatar


    That is interesting. I admit it is a great device for consuming video. I am not so sure about print. After looking at a Nook I think the screens on the Nook and Kindle are better for print. I think the advantage for the iPad is that it does more that just function as an e-reader.

    What are you using for a stylus? Are students going the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse route?

  3. Joe Benfield Avatar
    Joe Benfield

    They are using a pogo stylus – although we’ve heard a few complaints about them falling apart at the tip. Some students have gone with the bluetooth keyboard. I definitely agree that there are better e-readers. iPad is also pretty pricey if that’s all someone wants. I’ll be interested to get a look at some of the Chrome/Windows/etc.. tablets as more come out. I think those will be more comparable all-around.