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Apple's iPad: The Future of Mobile Computing in Education?

Two university mobile program managers speculate on the impact the iPad might have on higher education

Educators managing mobile programs expressed excitement for the prospects offered by the iPad, Apple's much anticipated hybrid device. (Read "Apple Launches iPad Mobile Tablet.") At the University of Richmond in Virginia, Fredrick Hagemeister, coordinator for Academic Technology Services in the Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology, predicted that the new device will prove attractive as an e-reader, where students can have their textbooks delivered directly to their iPad. Ball State University's Michael Hanley, a professor of journalism, predicted that the iPad will become a strong education device because of its interactivity and its ability to use converged media.

iPad Likes and Dislikes
For the announcement, U Richmond took over a classroom to hold an "AppleFest," complete with an apple bar, clicker polling, and multiple screens and smartboards displaying feeds during Apple CEO Steve Jobs' presentation.

The university currently has several mobile device programs running. About four years ago the campus introduced iPods in the classroom. Last fall, the institution added 50 iPod touches, which have found use in music, language, and biology classes, among others. U Richmond also has tablet, netbook, and Amazon Kindle programs, managed by the campus library.

According to Hagemeister, today's event participants appeared to be most excited by the iPad's pricing scheme and its form factor. The iPad will weigh a pound and a half and have a thickness of about half an inch, Jobs said during the announcement. Pricing will start at $499 for a 16 GB WiFi model.

"I think the iPad is hitting that groove. The interest in netbooks hasn't just been a cost thing with a lot of people. For some, it's portability," Hagemeister said. "There's a threshold where that laptop is too big, too cumbersome.

"Our surveys show that far above 90 percent of students have a laptop--if not two or three--but very few carry them around campus," he added. "Having a device like the iPad, you have that opportunity for sharing a rich, dynamic computing environment in a mobile impromptu method. So we're pretty excited."

People at the university event applauded when Jobs announced pricing. "Seeing that initial price point of $499 was pretty amazing," Hagemeister said.

But it wasn't a total love fest. People also expressed concern about the iPad's announced use of Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) with Bluetooth and how that might affect peripheral operations for devices being used nearby by other users.

Likewise, Hagemeister said, participants were disappointed by how Apple is addressing an external keyboard option. (The device includes a touchscreen QWERTY keyboard.) "It'd be great to have better interoperability with Bluetooth keyboards or even have a 30-pin connector to a USB keyboard," he observed. As it is, he pointed out, "You have a nice portable iPad, but then you have this keyboard that you're not going to take with you. It doesn't connect to the iPad in a way that's going to be portable."

But the biggest groan was reserved, he said, because the iPad won't be out for 60 days. "People would have loved to go straight to the store and see it right there. That's definitely saying something for the excitement. They don't want to wait 60 days."

A New Future for (Textbook) Publishing
At Ball State in Muncie, IN so many people were watching live streams of the Apple announcement, said Hanley, "It slowed down our system a little bit. It was phenomenal."

Besides teaching, Hanley directs the Institute for Mobile Media Research at Ball State, which is focused on the creation, testing, and practical application of mobile media for academia, consumers, business, and community. "The university is really focused on digital media and how to use that for research," he said. "We can't wait to get our hands on some of these iPads to start using them for research purposes, in education, as well as in commerce and mobile marketing."

What Hanley found most compelling in Apple's announcement, he said, was the focus on publishing, for which, he said, this device could herald a new future. "We're doing a lot looking at the future of journalism, of newspapers and magazines," he explained. "It's pretty dismal in the print version. Publishers have had a little bit of success on the Internet and a little bit of success with the iPhone and some other touchscreens. But all of a sudden, we see a big opportunity to use this device."

He also said he believes the iPad heralds changes for textbook publishers. "If I'm in the educational book business, I'm going to look to this device for my future," he said. "Imagine a history book on this device with all the video, and photos and audio available to really bring to life some of these topics that oftentimes aren't really taught as well as they should be. Students can get engaged with those things."

For the last three years, Hanley has taught a course on iPhone app development. Now, he said, he expects to integrate the iPad into that course. "Apple is so brilliant. They already have the development kit out. If you've already developed an app for the iPhone, there are very few changes you have to make to be able to scale that up to this device. The 140,000 apps they have, they think half of those will be available within three months to be used on this new device. So we'll use it for that."

He predicted that excitement about the device will spread quickly among faculty members and students. "What the iPad brings to the table is this issue of convergence. We've talked about it in our university for several years, but what does it mean? Now you see what it means. This is a device that you can do literally anything you want--except make a call. If I can get all of my curriculum materials and instant access to the Internet on a high-definition screen, where I can use my materials in my classroom seamlessly, I think it'll be a great tool for educators to use."

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