Making Sense Of The iPad For Online Learning
The noise about the release of Apple’s iPad has been a bit overwhelming. Were you too busy to read the reviews, analysis and opinions? No problem. I summarized the gist of it in a quick handy dandy rating system focusing on the iPad’s future for online learning.
As Apple says, the iPad is slightly smaller than a magazine. Its 9.7 inch diagonal screen bodes well for mobile learning. You’ll be able to display more content on the screen than on most other mobile devices. Detractors say that it’s too large to slip into a pocket, but why not slip it into your brief case or backpack? It’s only 0.5 inches thick.
Weighing in at 1.5 and 1.6 lbs (.68 kg and .73kg), it’s light enough to carry around, even for wimps. Lightweight technology makes learning. collaborating and communicating convenient.
The iPad uses the iPhone’s basic user interface with additional multi-touch capabilities. Some applications apparently work more like what you’d find on a Mac. This high-touch type of interface should enable lots of interactivity, games and simulations. This is a great way to foster engaging learning experiences.
In terms of input, the iPad has a virtual keyboard and Apple offers an auxiliary physical keyboard that connects to and charges the iPad.
For a variety of reasons that probably only insiders understand, both the iPad and the iPhone do not play Flash movies. Although there will be other types of content creation tools, I see the lack of Flash support as a huge limitation for course developers. [UPDATE: When Flash CS5 is released, developers will be able to package ActionScript 3.0 programs for the iPhone. See this article for more.]
The iPad is well-equipped for delivering movies (sans Flash), music, narration, graphics and text. For eBooks, it’s using the ePub format, which is an open source standard allowing digital publications to work on different devices. Unlike the Kindle (at the time of this writing), the iPad has color capabilities. The operating system is not capable of multi-tasking, however, which could present obstacles when using the iPad for learning. Don’t you like to move between different content windows?
You’ll be able to collaborate on the iPad, but not through video. The tablet does not come with a video camera. It does have a built-in microphone and stereo speakers so it is audio ready. Text chat is an obvious use and VoIP services should work. The iPad then, can be used for audio-based synchronous learning, collaboration, meetings and just-in-time support.
Because the iPad can connect through Wi-Fi and 3G (depending on the model) and has a screen size that makes text legible, it’s ideal for mobile social media activities. Users of social iPhone apps, like Facebook Mobile, LinkedIn, TweetDeck and Seesmic, will have an easy time integrating the iPad into their social media universe. On the other hand, you’re probably not likely to whip out the iPad to text someone like you would with a cell phone.
It looks as though users won’t be left behind on the iPad. According to Apple, 140,000 existing iPhone applications will run on their tablet. They have also redesigned iWork, the Mac productivity suite with Keynote (for presentations), Pages (for documents), and Numbers (for spreadsheets). Relevant to learning is the iBook app for downloading digital publications. I see hyperlinked and interactive textbooks in our future. In addition to specific iPad applications, users can access the Internet through the iPad’s web browser, Safari. As mentioned, the iPad is not multi-tasking and this can limit how one uses its applications for content creation and online learning.
Connecting To Other Devices
In my mind, connectivity is part of the informal learning paradigm. But the iPad doesn’t have a USB port. Instead, it has a 30-pin connector for docking and charging. The connector gives you access to iPad accessories like the Camera Connection Kit and the Keyboard Dock. To use your USB devices, you’ll need to buy a separate adapter that only works when the iPad is plugged into its proprietary dock connector.
For file management, you’ll need to sync the iPad with another computer in the same way that Apple’s iPod and iPhone work. The problem is that you can only associate your iPad with one other device. If you have multiple computers, just pick a favorite.
Open Development Standards
There are many objections to Apple’s closed development model used for both the iPad and the iPhone. Conventionally, creators of operating systems don’t control the software that users purchase or download. But Apple’s closed model means applications must be approved before they can be loaded onto the iPad, which can be an arbitrary process according to critics. The Free Software Foundation even staged a protest at the iPad’s launch event. In terms of online learning, this could potentially hamper innovation, though learning opportunities through iTunes seem to be plentiful. [UPDATE: Just to be clear, a content creator or developer can create a web application that could be accessed through the iPad's browser. Some current technologies, such as Flash, will be blocked, however. See the note about the coming change for CS5 in the Flash section above.]
Course developers will be able to use Apple’s new version of the iPhone’s Software Developers Kit (SDK) which now supports the iPad. This proprietary environment comes with coding resources, libraries, some training and an interface builder. This is a definite advantage for those who have built iPhone applications. I’m leaving this unrated as I have no experience with their SDK.
Even though the iPad doesn’t have a full 5-star rating, I sure would love to own and play around with one!
What’s your take on the potential of the iPad for formal and informal learning?
First iPad University Course