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Apple iPad – Is this the computer that education has been waiting for?

Is this the computer that education has been waiting for?

On 28 January David Kinane was running a call back day but with one eye on his RSS feeds. He was waiting for the announcement of the Apple iPad. It was not just the product that he was eagerly awaiting but its potential, as he explains.

Why do we want a super-sized smart phone or a small computer like Apple’s iPad when many of us already have a smart phone and a computer that more than meets our needs? Well, for me this is exactly the niche that education has been waiting for. Since the advent of computers in classes, education has had to wrestle with tools that have been designed for a corporate or consumer market and bend them to meet the needs of the education environment. The launch of the iPad and the plethora of other large, but not too large, touchscreen devices that will follow, are filling a gap that corporates seem not to want and consumers have yet to prove they will use.

Threat or opportunity?

Schools are already experimenting with the iPhone and iPod Touch, but I think that they’re too small and fiddly to really be anything other than a gimmick. Their bigger cousin, however, is a different animal altogether. I have already been discussing with secondary schools how they’re going to manage students walking into school with their own personal computing devices and the potential security risks that they might pose. I see that this threat could be an opportunity.

Imagine a world where the student provides their own computing power in the form of a touchscreen tablet, the price point of these units would indicate that this is a viable reality. The students would connect to the school’s Wi-Fi network and access the information, resources and courses stored on the its LMS, via the school’s Web facing portal.

List of positives keeps growing

The students would not have to log on to school computers, for the school this would minimise the risk of importing the students own brand of nasties. The students would also be responsible for managing their own device. The list of positives keeps growing. Schools would start to be removed from the tyranny of the financial burden that currently sees them struggling to continually supply an ever-increasing number of computers. With cloud computing, they may even see the size of their server farms reduced. It would be the ultimate distributed network. With the ability to piggy back to the Internet off a school’s Wi-Fi network, the students would not simply be using their devices as content viewers but would also be content creators, rapidly posting work to the various tools available to them via their tablet.

A perfect storm of educational technology

I see this sort of tablet being used in similar ways in Primary schools, too. The very usability, the touch element of the screen, would make it an ideal tool in the primary classroom. But in this scenario, students are not likely to walk in with them in their school bag! I can see that schools might make them the sole element in their stationary pack, paid for over several years. It’s not hard to envisage that the AppStore and others like it will start to produce education specific applications. All those voting and tablet accessories that Promethean and Smart Board make could be rendered into Apps that could be downloaded to student tablets.

For me a touchscreen tablet like the iPad represents a perfect storm of educational technology. The potential for this one tool to truly revolutionise education is huge. I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands one.

DAVID KINANE IS A SPECIALIST SCHOOL ICT CONSULTANT AND WRITES FOR INTERFACE MAGAZINE.

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Categories: Article, Issue 22

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