Views: To iPad or not to iPad, that is the question

April 8, 2012 | 11 a.m.

The use of iPads as educational tools has increased, but are they really necessary?

Views | Kirsten Stillman

To iPad or not to iPad, that is the question

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the iPad during a special event. This is Apple's third generation iPad, introduced only 25 months since the company initiated the tablet revolution with the first iPad. | Courtesy of MCT

This fall, I studied abroad in the United Kingdom through the English department’s England Term program. Traveling through England and Europe with a group of 22 students, an English professor and his family was an experience well worth the cost of the program. But what really surprised and thrilled me was that part of the program package included the purchase of an iPad.

Since we would be using the iPads for our course books, word processing, Internet and everything in between, they ended up being cost-effective and convenient for the price we paid for them. But I’m surprised by how little I actually use the iPad now that I’m back stateside and have access to a real computer.

While abroad, the only way I could read, write or access the Internet was on my iPad. It actually worked out very well for me; I didn’t have to pack 20 pounds of books, notebooks, pens and a computer in my already heavy suitcase or try to stuff it all into my precariously full carry-on bag. Although I seriously over-packed, the iPad was just one simple thing to keep track of, rather than 30 things that could each be lost. Being able to put one small, lightweight item in an over-the-shoulder bag was perfect for roaming the city. Being able to end the morning at a coffee shop with friends and enjoy the local atmosphere and their best cappuccino made the iPad the perfect all-in-one item for any kind of wandering adventure.

The only downsides I encountered were costs and the risk of dropping it. For the program, it was cheaper for me to buy the iPad rather than buying all the hard copies of the books, the notebooks and all the stuff that you have to buy when taking classes. But for other programs or travelers, while it might be a handy and convenient option, it might not be as cost-effective.

As for dropping it, well, I’m completely guilty. I have a dent on one corner of my iPad from when I accidentally dropped it in Venice while it was out of its case. But thankfully, there are a lot of options and accessories to prevent that from becoming an issue. While most other iPad owners buy cases that slightly resemble a fluffy formal jacket for iPads, I bought an invisibleSHIELD for the front and back of my iPad, which prevents scratches even if someone had the gall to try to key my screen. As an added protection (okay, I’m a little bit clumsy sometimes, but at least I know it), I bought a keyboard case that would prevent dents to the edges (the only part my invisibleSHIELD didn’t cover) while my iPad was tucked away inside it.

But now that I’m back at Bethel and have to write papers at least once a week for my classes, I much prefer using my computer. For that matter, I would rather have hard-copy books as well; I’m a bit old-school that way. As a writer and editor, I know how much electronic publishing has been affecting the book and writing industry. 

To be honest, I just don’t feel the need to use my iPad as often anymore. The only reason I use it right now is that I paid a fortune for it, and it’s easier and lighter to carry around. That being said, I also know a lot of Bethel students who absolutely love iPads and never use computers anymore except for printing their papers in the library.

For educational purposes, I think that iPads can be the newest wave of learning tools professors will be utilizing, but a lot of professors may find iPads too new and/or too different to work with efficiently for the programs they use (it’s hard to grade using Moodle on the iPad, I’ve heard). But for study abroad programs that utilize course books, writing and Internet options, the iPad is a perfect fit, and it has the added bonus of being lightweight and compact.

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