Fancy a free iPad? Pick the Right College…

Damon Young
August 02, 2010
Photo of a lecture hall completely filled with students using Macbooks.

Is this an image of the classroom of the future, or of a lecturer's worst nightmare? Anyone who has had the experience of sitting in the back of a lecture hall knows that students using electronic devices are not necessarily using them to diligently take notes… For this reason, many professors choose to ban electronics completely from their classrooms, knowing that the lure of the world wide web can sometimes outweigh the interest of their lectures.

But other campuses are taking an “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach, and exploring ways to actively integrate electronic devices into class curricula. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month claimed that an increasing number of US colleges have started distributing free iPads to incoming undergraduate students, and encouraging faculty to find creative ways to integrate the devices into their teaching. Seton Hill University, Northwest Kansas Technical College, and George Fox University are named as schools which provide students with iPads, and Reed College is also following suit, “testing” the devices by giving them to students pre-loaded with course readings so they can assess the utility of the device as a learning tool. (A previous “test” by Reed using the Amazon Kindle resulted in largely negative reports by students.) Ohio State University is also providing students in some communications and business courses with free iPads, along with faculty.

“We’re going to be evaluating what we need to do to fully integrate the tool into the classroom,” said Bill Handy, a visiting associate professor in OSU’s School of Media and Strategic Communications, who has pioneered this new policy.

Since it lacks a physical keyboard, it is not entirely clear how the iPad offers classroom advantages over a laptop – it would seem to impede rather than facilitate digital note-taking, since typing using the iPad’s onscreen keypad can be slow and awkward. What also remains to be seen is how professors will ensure that the temptation to IM friends or surf Facebook instead of paying attention to the lecture can be successfully kept at bay. Nevertheless, the policy of handing out free iPads to incoming students is sure to be an aid to the schools' recruiting efforts.

Let us know what you think -- are iPads and other e-devices useful in the classroom, or are good old-fashioned pen and paper still the best medium between hand and brain, the most useful classroom technology that exists?