Apple seeks to continue classroom success with iPad

A look around any university classroom shows blinking lights, the glow of screens and power cords running from desk to wall. Technology experts say tablet computing devices such as the iPad and tablet PCs could join this scene in the future.

“More and more people are using technology in the classrooms,” said Jamie Nelson, coordinator of classroom support and training for Campus Information Technology and Educational Services.

Nelson estimated there are about 150 “smart classrooms” – rooms outfitted with computer technology – on campus. He added that those rooms can be outfitted with a variety of technologies from projectors, computers, cameras and microphones in a large lecture hall to laptop stations in smaller rooms.

“We’re looking to do more innovation,” Nelson said. “If we have maybe one professor who has a smallish class, maybe we have the funds to purchase an iPad and let them try to use it in the classroom.”

Nelson said the iPad may have uses for individual students as well.

“Maybe the iPad is more a device that people can use as an eBook reader,” Nelson said. “People get their textbooks on the iPad. That probably will be the next thing.”

Samuel Kamin is an associate professor in computer science whose work has included studying tablet PC devices such as the iPad and their usage in the classroom. Kamin said his research has shown that tablet devices can be useful learning tools.

“It’s a big issue for a lot of professors that when they’re lecturing, it’s difficult to know what the students are getting out of the lecture,” Kamin said. “We’ve used them to allow the professor to see the students’ work,”

Kamin said the technical limitations of the iPad could lead to the tablet taking its place in the classroom.

“The potential for devices like the iPad and the tablet (PC) … is the fact that you can draw on it. A lot of stuff in at lot of classes is not easily typed. It has to be drawn,” Kamin said, adding that tablet PCs work well with drawing, while the iPad does not.

Allen Dick, store manager of the Illini Apple Center, also said the iPad’s utility is limited.

“It’s very similar to a large iPod, so it’s hard to say it does things that a different device Apple’s made doesn’t do,” Dick said. “It does present it at a price point that has not yet been available.”

At a starting price of $499, the iPad is cheaper than most laptops and substantially less than the kind of tablet PC Kamin said he favors, which costs at least $2,000.

“The problem is the tablets are expensive, and it’s difficult to equip a classroom with 20 or 30 tablets,” Kamin said.

He added that in the future, an iPad-sized tablet PC could become the standard.

“There’s absolutely no reason why there couldn’t be an iPad type tablet PC with the tablet screen and software,” Kamin said. “You’re going to want something that’s powerful enough to be your PC. At this point we’re just experimenting at both ends [PC and iPad]. Eventually we’ll see what works.”