Apple’s iPad has captivated the attention of educators since its inception with the attractive possibility of ever-expanding learning applications and highly portable hardware. This focused attention generated a lot of feedback from educators, which Apple seems to have taken to heart in designing the second generation of the popular tablet. As educator use of the iPad 2 increases, so do the reviews vaunting its usefulness in revolutionizing today’s educational media approaches.
The most well known upgrades to the iPad tablet are its slimmer dimensions (it’s now thinner and 100 grams lighter), increased RAM capacity (doubled from 256 MB to 512 MB), an upgraded cellular antenna, and front and rear facing cameras, something the education community deemed vital to getting the most from the device in an online school or traditional classroom.
Apple has made its intentions of servicing the educational consumer base clear on its dedicated website, where it highlights the specific applications and possible educational uses of the tablet in and out of the classroom. Apps for language, geography, math, and biology are already available as well as software for note-taking, music, and movie production. In Apple’s App Store, there are a host of educational programs geared toward any age group or learning environment, from Montessori language study to interactive exploration of the stars.
Teachers using the iPad have been especially appreciative of the new front and rear cameras that finally allow for remote classes and conferences in real time. They also highlight the need for more robust syncing capacity within large classes and for an extension of the bulk discount rates available in the United States to overseas markets.
The possibilities opened by the addition of the front-facing camera are especially attractive to schools interested in integrating synchronous distance learning in their curricula. Students with special needs who cannot attend classes regularly would benefit from a system that not only allows access to remote classrooms, but also boasts a touch screen system with flexible accessibility settings. Moreover, some public schools systems have expressed interest in such a technological solution to classroom overcrowding issues, which are taking a toll on education quality. Many studies have highlighted the benefits of web-based learning in conjunction with traditional classes. One barrier to the implementation of this approach is the difficulty in providing reliable computer access to all students for an adequate period of time, something computer labs aren’t always in a position to offer. With higher mobility and a competitively low price point, the iPad stands to compete well with laptops in sponsored 1:1 programs.
Besides enabling remote access, these cameras combined with video recording and editing software allow students and teachers to produce videos and present them with a simple connection to HD projection systems. Connecting the iPad to a projector also allows the projection of a duplicate image of the tablet’s own display, with which presenters can show a class exactly what they’re doing on their own screens. These cloned display projections have been widely used at all grade levels for some time to demonstrate how to use computer resources and tools, present information, etc. The iPad’s integrated systems streamline the process and provide a consistent hardware platform for all members of a class.
Outside of the classroom, these video connectivity options may very well prove to enhance communication between students themselves, a gap with which studies of distance learning have been concerned. Particularly on a K-12 level, the interaction between students and their ability to communicate with teachers outside class hours is vital for their social and professional development. With the ability to see and speak to each other, as well as ease of data sharing, students can engage in group work without the difficulties of arranging to physically meet.
Besides upgraded hardware, iPad software continues to prove immensely promising for education. Consider Inkling, a veritable textbook library students can take anywhere and access at any time. Beyond removing most barriers between pupils and their classroom material (and significantly lightening their backpacks), applications like Inkling aim to change the textbook format itself from a monolithic, rigid source of information to an interactive presentation allowing students to share via social networking tools, view 3D renderings of relevant objects, and add their own annotations.
Looking past the iPad itself, the app-based approach to education tools it embodies might also change the educational software market in a radical way if it becomes a classroom staple. As this business has stood, only a few software and publishing companies have provided tools and resources to mainstream education. However, now tools can be developed by the existing legions of programmers who can release them through the App Store to users worldwide. The obvious benefit to students is having at their disposal software representing diverse learning methods, tailored to their needs, and updated quickly to reflect developments in information and technology.
It is readily apparent that the iPad 2 has great promise and possibility in educational contexts, but is still very much a work in progress. On one hand, it seems that the device itself has advanced considerably toward including more features necessary for a rich and practical interactive learning experience. However, for students to benefit fully from it, educators will have to wait for a larger library of tablet-enhanced textbooks and other media, and develop a suite of applications carefully selected in harmony with their program’s objectives and teaching methods. In doing so, they should reflect that they’re working on nothing less than shaping the future of computer-enhanced learning.
About the author: Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.