iPad For Education Revisited

IMG_0070.jpgIt’s been four weeks and my iPad still has that new computer smell. Now that I’ve been using it in my workflow I wanted to post some additional comments on it’s utility in an educational setting.

In general I think my original take holds up well – this is fantastic tool for consuming content, is extremely useful as an outboard content manager, and passable in a pinch as a creation tool (this whole post was written on it).

On a meta level it is truly amazing how natural the “point and do” nature of the touch interface feels. Once you understand the grammar of the device it all just flows. A mouse now feels clunky for most operations other than image processing or massive spreadsheets.

I don’t think I will ever buy another laptop – although I will continue to need a desktop/office machine (for a while).

This post is organized in three sections:

  • Consuming Content
  • Managing Content
  • Creating Content

My experience so far has taught me that the pad has very different capabilities in each category and depending on your use your mileage will vary. While I do not have direct experience with an Android pad based on what I’ve seen of their phones I think my comments will generalize.

Consuming Content

I’ve been using computers daily since 1983 and the iPad is hands down the best user experience I’ve ever had when it comes to content consumption. It isn’t any one thing – screen size, portability, battery life, Wi-Fi + 3G always on access, multitouch, and a great line up of apps all contribute. New users will find that the temptation to over-consume content is a phase you need to pass through.

On-Line News (RSS)

My daily “newspaper” is now Early Edition – a nifty RSS reader that presents your feeds in newspaper like headlines for scanning. Tap on the heading and get the full article Best of all – just like a newspaper the feeds refresh every day and then disappear. No more opening up the reader after a week away and seeing 500 articles weighing down your conscience. I also scan the New York Times, BBC, NPR, and Newsy (video).


As a straight text reader it is no better or worse than most of the eReaders I’ve seen. It doesn’t work well in direct sunlight but is fine otherwise (I’m writing this on my shaded porch mid-morning with no problems).

I absolutely love the ability to tap on any word and pop the dictionary open, particularly for older books. I’m currently enjoying Grant’s memoirs, no small book.

Some people have complained about the weight, and when you are lying on your back in bed it can get a little wearisome. If you are comparing it to a novel it is heavier, but when you compare it to a textbook (or four) it is featherweight. I bought the Apple case and the ability to prop the device up three different ways makes a big difference.


165c8089f97b380e40416c5628b4b6fbGames are a hoot. Playing iBomber 2 using the accelerometer to angle your flight path just feels right. Fieldrunners is an addicting tower defense game that grew up on the iPhone but is much better in the larger format. Just about any game feels and plays better than on the phone (Mah Jong, Solitaire, Sudoku, etc).

For those of us who have been advocates for game based learning this device opens up a new avenue of exploration. Always on access and location awareness have some particularly interesting applications for augmented reality gaming within a community.


The video wars are real and annoying. As more video goes to HTML5 this is going to wane – but regularly there are blank spaces on my screen where Flash should be. I expect this will be the issue the first competitors latch onto.

But don’t be dismayed, there is plenty of video. I just fired up Netflix – being able to watch movies and TV on demand is going to be particularly nice. ABC has an app that streams their content over 3G. YouTube already worked just fine on the iPhone so no worries there.

And video is gorgeous. I’m actually looking forward to my next long flight!
Implications for Education:

Devices like the iPad will change how content is shaped and delivered. Portable true multimedia delivery with the power of databases on the backend is the leap we have been aiming towards for 30 years. That day has arrived.

As a replacement for textbooks this is a lightweight wonder. It should open up a wave of creative innovation for multimedia instructional content with real time formative assessment (via game-like experiences).

I know this sounds like hyperbole – but remember that as a tech veteran I was skeptical and planning on holding out for a generation or two – until I got my mitts on one for 24 hours. So many of the barriers to real multimedia in the classroom and beyond just melt away with devices like these.

Price is going to be the final frontier manufacturers will have to cross – then Katy bar the door. Your old publishing paradigm will not survive.

Managing Content

1037I’ve been using Things on my Mac to manage action items for myself and my team for a few months now. This friendly GTD manager has improved my effectiveness as a manager by an order of magnitude. The iPad and iPhone versions have allowed me to take it mobile and capture and assign action items on the fly (instead of transcribing them after a meeting).

I’m finding the triumvirate of devices isn’t redundant, and having them linked and synced is a huge boost. There are some places I only have my phone, the pad is my choice for meetings, and my Mac is best at my desk.

My only beef at this point is that as with any evolving tech not all features are on all devices. Most notably the ability to assign an item to someone only works on the Mac. It is still infinitely easier to just drag it over their name once I’ve synced than transcribing it, so it isn’t a show stopper. I’m assuming this will be resolved in an upcoming release.

Email works seamlessly – I connect to both IMAP and Exchange servers on my nine email accounts and everything is going smoothly. With the iWork suite installed ($30 for word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations) I have access to almost any attachment.

Integrated calendaring is wonderful – and having it synced with the desktop and phone is just as useful here as it is with my to do lists.

Both email and calendar are great examples of apps that have a high utility on my phone but which benefit from the larger screen of the pad. iPhoto also falls into this camp. As a general rule when you are managing stuff more screen improves usability.

Implications for education

Students have always been challenged to manage information – schedules and homework assignments in particular. Teachers face an even more daunting info management task as they juggle assignments, rosters of students (and their families), state and district standards, and instructional materials.

The iPad will be a real boost for both groups. At a basic level it will make automating and interacting with complex data much easier. Blackboard’s demo of their iPad app shows how this can work.

But most importantly I believe it will make it easier to make connections and use information in on-line databases at the teachable moment. With 3G you can dig into your stuff anywhere at the moment of need.

1105829_phone-graphingSure you can do most of this on your phone today – but after three years the scrunched over squinty stare at my phone is wearing thin. The iPad provides much more natural and human scale interaction.

Creating Content

16918_1231173022_mediumThe iPad is an imperfect content creation device, at least without a couple of additional tools. For short bursts of writing, photo editing, and simple drawing is performs admirably. More complex tasks can become a chore.

Admittedly my facility with the interface is still evolving and I’ve been so bowled over by the consumption and management tools that I have not done a ton of creation yet. My take on this could be quite different in six months.

Don’t believe the hype about touch typing on this device – you might be able to make it work but I’ve reverted to a two finger hunt and peck style. The speed I get with this approach is similar to thumb typing on a Blackberry and is quite acceptable, but it is about half of what I can do with a keyboard.

I have found when taking detailed notes in meetings that an external Bluetooth keyboard is essential. I think this will also make it possible for me to travel without my laptop. For walking around a show floor I’ll just need the pad – if I’m back in my room writing a blog post I’ll be on the keyboard. (For the record this whole post was written without the keyboard.) No more paper notepad for me.

I think I will probably never buy another laptop. I’ll have a full blown system at my desk for big tasks and my mobile tasks will be shared between the iPad and iPhone.

Implications for Education

We will still need computers in schools for content creation. If kids are writing a couple of paragraphs or using a worksheet a pad will suffice. At the primary grades a pad may be all that is needed. As the assignments get more complex students will need access to a variety of devices including full blown computers.

Ironically it is quite possible that pad computing will bring back the computer lab. As kids dash between classes juggling assignments, doing just-in-time research, and taking notes the highly mobile pad will rule. When it comes time to write a 5 page paper, delve into a complex set of scientific data, or draw an image existing platforms will have a role.

Over time this may change. The fate of scientific workstations may hold a cautionary tale for PCs (all flavors). Initially the workstations held their own and even flourished as low cost PCs flooded the market. The specialized hardware, large monitors, and data crunching capabilities had a place and earned a huge premium. But eventually Moore’s Law caught up with them as PCs rivaled their specs. Poof they went to a niche of a niche.

In Summary

After a few weeks of steady use I’m convinced that pad computing will change the face of educational publishing.

The most immediate impact will be in instructional materials as publishers scramble to take advantage of the new interface. As a buyer I would move carefully in this environment – there are likely to be a few dead ends as we collectively discover the best uses of the new tech. Find those places where the impact will be the greatest and start there.

A second wave of benefits will come when the SIS and Data Warehouse folks design easy to use interfaces for their systems. Since most of these are web based already this isn’t that big a technical leap – but it is a huge user interface challenge.

But the huge payoff will come when students can create and manage their content on these devices. Interactive wiki like textbooks, vast video libraries, and student portfolios should have a new and more usable place in teaching and learning.

That is – when the price comes down. Which it will.

Get ready.


3 responses to “iPad For Education Revisited”

  1. Chuck says:

    While the iPad may be good for some things in education, as long as Apple will not allow Flash content to be used, the pad will never be as good as it could be. All of the K – 12 publishers have material in flash. To try and convert to another media form will cost billions. No one is willing to take that step. Apple marches to it own drum and while there is a lot of enthusiasm in this post…I do not believe the iPad will take a place in the revolutionary realm of educational tools.

  2. Matthew says:

    Thanks Lee. This post has really got me thinking about how new hardware like the iPad is going to impact the education industry. It’s pretty clear that the end is near for traditional textbook publishing. Hopefully it will be some time yet before devices like this have a real impact on software publishing.

    These certainly are exciting times.

  3. Hephail says:

    In summary, the iPad is great for content consumption and dissemination.

    That for me, is the main reason why people should keep a normal notebook, alongside their iPad.