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Some Initial Thoughts on the iPad

CpL iPad Home Screen

Originally uploaded by Christopher Long

I have been living with the iPad for only a few days, but I am beginning to feel the power and limitations of the device. My comments here are impressionistic and rooted in my own peculiar use case as an Associate Dean and a faculty member who teaches philosophy with technology at Penn State.

It is already clear to me that the iPad does not replicate the experience of the iPhone even though many of the apps serve the same functionality.

The iPad is much less intrusive in collaborative contexts than either a laptop, which tends to come between members of the group, or an iPhone, which isolates individuals, severing each from the dynamics of the whole.

Because the iPad is more like a notepad, it feels more natural and legitimate to use it in the context of a meeting or as a device on which to take notes during a lecture.

Originally uploaded by buckaroobay

Impact on Pedagogy
These factors suggest already how the iPad should find a comfortable home in the classroom.

The number one reason my students tell me they don’t bring a laptop to class, despite my encouraging them to do so, is that it is too heavy and they don’t want to carry it around with them throughout the day. 

It will be easier for students to carry an iPad in their bag all day.  Further, because it does not intrude on face to face conversation, it will allow us to blur the boundary between the online and in-class dimensions of a course, opening a more porous and dynamic relationship between digital and embodied communication in the classroom learning community.  Information from the internet will be more easily integrated into the in-class discussion without disrupting the dynamics of the discussion itself. That discussion too will find its way into the various modes of digital expression online. 

I can imagine students easily referring to online information, participating in the back channel discussion via twitter, posting comments on a blog even as they remain engaged in and indeed add to the classroom discussion itself. The fact that the iPad can only do one thing at a time might actually be a benefit in a classroom context with regard to keeping students focused on the material at hand.

Increasing Productivity Across Platforms
In my educational role as an administrator, there are a number of very positive advantages of the iPad.  I use Evernote to keep all my notes in sync across various platforms – a PC, an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPhone and now an iPad. This gives me easy access to all sorts of information that is easily searched on the fly. 

Further, having all my email accessible on the device is excellent. I use Penn State’s IMAP email service, so all my mail remains on the server no matter which device I use to access it. I am very much looking forward to the evolution of Dropbox so that I might be able to use it to sync files on which I work in Pages for the iPad.  (See the short conversation about this Cole Camplese and I had on his blog.) 

You will also see a copy of Things on my screen capture.  I am a big fan of this program as it allows me to keep track of multiple aspects of a wide diversity of projects.  I am decidedly not a fan of paying $20 for the iPad version after paying $49 for the desktop version and $4.99 for the iPhone version.  Added to this is the fact that they are still working on implementing cloud sync and I would have given up on Things if it did not allow me to implement my email strategy which involves keeping my inbox clear by doing triage on incoming email by either responding, deleting, filing or adding it to a project or new To Do in Things.

For those at Penn State with an iPhone or iPod touch, integrating the iPad into the WiFi network is fairly straightforward, although I am always surprised to see how many people just turn off the WiFi service on campus with the iPhone because they don’t follow these instructions: that describe how to install the wireless 2.0 certificate on their iPhone.  The iPad is easy to set up for the Cisco VPN on the pennstate wireless network too: just follow these instructions for the iPhone on the iPad.

In the end, I am happy with the iPad despite some limitations that always come with the early adoption of a new device.  I think the iPad will open up a compelling set of new possibilities for educating with technology in the months and years to come.


  • i appreciate your initial thoughts, Chris! it’ll be interesting to see how you and your students grow with the device. what’s interesting to me is how, as a teacher, you feel about the focus of a student’s attention while in class. is the student really focused on you and the discussion or enraptured by his or her machine (be it a laptop, iPad, iPhone, etc.). (it’s probably a little of both.) but i think there’s a large amount of trust that needs to be involved from all sides–especially now when something like the iPad can really woo the affections of the students away from whatever’s going on in class.

  • DAVID R STONG says:

    “The iPad is much less intrusive in collaborative contexts than either a laptop, which tends to come between members of the group, or an iPhone, which isolates individuals, severing each from the dynamics of the whole. “

    What a brilliant observation.

  • Christopher P. Long says:

    Thanks, David, this is an example of how using the technology opens us to unanticipated dimensions of the technology. I am always struck by how much knowledge is won through practice.

  • Christopher P. Long says:

    Peter, I have been working a lot on how to use technology to empower student engagement. Your are right that there is a lot of trust involved, but I have also done significant work to ensure that content related to my course is accessible online and sought there too.
    The best way to accomplish that is to have the students generating online content related to my course themselves. The hope is that they will be using the iPad to engage one another and the course content in the online environment, which in turn will reinforce and be reinforced by the in-class discussion.
    I see it as a failure on my part if I can’t hold their attention.

  • Ralph Tyksinski says:

    As a new user of an iPad I’m still discovering the many ways that I, as older adult learner, will be able to enhance and broaden the learning experience, be it in a classroom setting or along the journey of self-guided inquiry. Would you have any suggestions on how I may become more enlightened about the many riches that the iPad has to offer one of my ilk?
    With deep and warmest affection,
    Uncle, Ralph

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