On October 3, 2011, the iPad will be a whopping 18 months old. Hard to believe, since it seems like the cute little device has been around forever, mainly because it quickly wormed its way into our collective consciousness faster than the pet rock.

When it first came out Apple claimed that the iPad would revolutionize higher education in that students would be able to keep all their textbooks, notebooks, lecture notes, research, and just about anything they normally haul around in their backpacks all on one small electronic devie. Plus, instructors could easily distribute assignments, notes, syllabi, tests, videos, and e-books all via the iPad, making it nearly impossible for any student to say he or she didn’t get the required reading materials.

Eager to hop onboard the e-train many colleges and universities made iPads required technology. Some of these schools gave the iPads out for free (which you KNOW weren’t really free, the schools just raised tuition to cover the cost) or they required students to pay an additional “technology fee”. For example, Seton Hall, Long Island University, Stanford Medical School, Illinois Institute of Technology, George Fox University, Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma State University, Duke University, University of Maryland, Northwest Kansas Technical College, and Chicago State University all supplied their students with iPads, which had been deemed as part of the schools’ curriculum, registration, and grading processes. The cost increase to students ranged anywhere from $250 to $700.

So after one year can we tell if implementing iPads into higher education has been worth the expense? It depends on the rubric by which you’re grading. By the end of the 2010-2011 school year 90 percent of the college students surveyed said they preferred using the iPads (over not having them at all), however, average overall student grades stayed about the same. Regardless, having the iPads did cut down on the use of textbooks and paper, made scheduling for both students and teachers more straightforward, made it easier for students to get the classes they wanted (by streamlining the registration process), and encouraged students to work together in groups, thus cutting down on instructor and teacher assistant office hours.

But the positive feedback for the iPad as a college campus staple did not stop there.

Pros

As you can imagine, the physical aspects of the iPad were the biggest pros for students. Because iPads are smaller and have a longer battery life than laptops students could literally take them everywhere they went and didn’t have to look for power outlets. Some even boasted less back problems from not having to carry around heavy, book-laden backpacks.

From an academic standpoint professors liked the iPads because they could distribute articles to students before or during class without having to make copies or arrange for copies at the school library or bookstore. Plus, they could confirm if their student received the documents or not.

Cons

That’s not to say the year didn’t come without iPad problems. The first and foremost being the keyless keyboard made it hard for students to take notes in class. (Although, on the plus side, the iPad keyboard is quiet compared to the click, click, click of students typing on laptops during class.) The touch of the flat screen iPad keyboard was hard for many to get used to given there’s no point of reference on the keyboard for finger memory. Therefore, without looking it’s hard to tell what you’re actually typing.

And secondly, students initially complained that there is no easy way to highlight text or make notes in the margin of iPad documents. Many students ended up converting the documents to PDF files and then annotating them with iAnnotate, or simply printing the documents out on paper and using a good, old-fashioned yellow highlighter.

However, now with Amazon’s new e-book rental option for college textbooks (which just came out July 2011) users can highlight and annotate their e-textbooks using the Kindle (downloadable from Amazon for the iPad). Or if you download e-books that are readable by iBooks (a product which comes with the iPad), then you can use the iBooks text annotation functions (which are also easy to use) to mark-up text. Regardless, the iPad still has a ways to go to make document annotation as straightforward as marking up a book with a pen.

So even though student grades did not increase overall given the presence of the iPad on-campus, it did make college life easier. And apparently that IS worth the expense, because most students and faculty claim the iPad pros far outweighed the cons, making college-required iPads a trend that will probably increase in the coming years. (Now if Apple could just figure out a way to make the iPad do laundry and cook healthy meals then it truly would revolutionize a college student’s life!)

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