My friend and colleague, Luke Cable, posted about a year ago, "Thoughts on the iPad in Higher Education." And his post still rings true to me. The iPad and other tablet devices are great canvases for putting one's own thoughts into a particular application. Sketch, draw, brainstorm, create mind maps, videos (now on those tablets with cameras), and so on and so forth.
Recently, I decided to take the plunge and buy an iPad 2. For those of you not in-the-know, it is very similar to the original iPad except for having a faster processor and added video capabilities. Oh, and it comes in white as well as black. That's important.
In all seriousness, it's been a great tool. But I'm not (yet) convinced that it is the greatest tool for fully online education.
Now, full disclosure here: I am an Apple fanatic. I owned one of the first Macintosh computers and have been a Mac user ever since. In my small family of four, we have three Mac laptops as well as Apple TV, iPhones, iPod Touches, and so on, ad nauseum.
But as an online educator, I'm still not convinced of the iPad's usefulness in my work. I'm not talking about issues such as its lack of flash support, which by the way are being solved day-by-day by Web publishers either creating flash-free apps, switching to HTML 5 in Web site creation, or even using the newly announced Adobe Flash Media Server applications, which can deliver flash media across multiple platforms, including iOS.
What I have found are two areas where the iPad fails me in interacting with my students. First, support for locally stored files: I need to be able to download, for example, student papers directly to my tablet, edit them, and then upload them back to the learning management system I use for my teaching. The iPad's cloud-based solutions for document management include the MobileMe iDisk (soon to be replaced by iCloud) and WebDAV access to remote servers, a protocol that not all universities and colleges support.
Second on my wish list: full integration with Microsoft Office. Yes, as an Apple fan, I said the "M" word. But let's look at reality: Microsoft Office has become the de facto solution for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Maybe that will change someday; but until it does, I need more than just a conversion to Apple's Pages app to read my students' papers, track changes, add comments, and so on. (I have some attorney friends who have said the same thing. They find it impossible to adequately mark up drafts of contracts and briefs on any current tablet device.)
Why, you may ask, don't I just switch my loyalty from the iPad to an Android tablet or wait for a Windows 7 (or 8?) enabled tablet? My logic is simple, and similar to that in the above paragraph: the iPad has become the de facto solution for tablet devices. With thousands of quality-controlled apps in their app store, Apple has done what no other tablet maker has been able to accomplish: deliver quality experiences on superior hardware that people are willing to spend several hundred dollars to acquire. Even more so than the iPhone among smart phones, I contend that the iPad is the ubiquitous tablet of choice. No other tablet comes close to bringing so much to such a large market.
That said, for my online teaching, it still falls short. I'll stick with my trusty MacBook, thanks. At least for now, until the next iteration of tablet operating systems and apps can address my needs. Of course, at the rate that Apple releases these things, that might be next month!
Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Academic Training & Consulting