Educational Uses for the iPad? The Student Perspective.

iPads in class

Apple’s iPad, and now iPad 2, have been enormous commercial successes by all reports but can iPads be used effectively in education? While this is still an open question, some initial reports seem to suggest the answer is: Yes. This blog post will address mainly the students’ reactions to using iPads instead of textbooks. The next blog post will report on the professors’ reactions.

A number of colleges and universities are experimenting with using iPads to promote teaching and learning objectives. Seton Hall University, for example, gave iPads to all full-time students to see if the device could be used productively in a university environment. While they weren’t exactly sure how the iPads could be used best, “students and professors seem confident that the device has some future in academe” (Kaya, 2010). Other institutions such as Williston State College, a two-year college in North Dakota,  are buying iPads for their faculty (Li, 2010). Other examples: a Project Management class at Notre Dame University is being taught with iPads instead of textbooks; Standford University gave iPads to all its first year medical students last fall; Duke University and Northwest Kansas Technical College provide iPads to their students.

Few of the reports that mentioned distributing iPads to students or faculty, however, cited any systematic study results.  One exception is Reed College. In a study conducted at Reed College, students in an upper division Political Science class were provided iPads (first-generation) with the course readings loaded in PDF format. The authors of the study stated that the goal of the study was to assess the value of using tablet technology (i.e., iPads) in a university environment. More specifically, the study objectives were stated as follows: “Potential features of e-book technology we plan to explore include: (a) the ability for students to have immediate, searchable access to all their course materials in one, lightweight device; (b) a reduction in the total cost of course materials; (c) a reduction in the use of paper; (d) ability of students to navigate course materials quickly and easily; (e) ability of students to highlight and annotate texts; (f) impact of iPad-based course materials on comprehension and classroom discussion; and (g) integration of e-book technology with other curricular tools such as Moodle (Reed’s open source learning management system).” (Reed College Study)

The data collected from the Reed College study consisted, apparently, of self-reports from the students. The students were given iPads to use with the stipulation that (a) anyone could drop out of the study at any time and return the iPad (and receive the course materials in traditional textbook format instead), and (b) all who remained in the study could purchase the iPad at the conclusion of the study at a very reduced cost. Notably, only one student declined to participate and everyone in the study chose to purchase the iPad at the end of the semester.

What feedback did the Reed College students provide? Here I will highlight a few of the students’ comments and refer the reader to the Reed College Study report for the full explanation of outcomes.

  • Students liked the idea of having all their course reading materials, including electronic reserve articles, on one reading device and, surprising to me, they did not feel the need to print nearly as much as they did in other classes because they found the iPad’s annotation tools quite adequate.
  • Students appreciated the ability to switch among reading materials to focus on certain relevant passages during lectures and in-class discussions.
  • The iPad was praised for its legibility and accessibility features.
  • Most students seemed to believe that the iPad was a valuable tool and they would prefer it to textbooks, provided the reading materials were optimized for the iPad and the cost was reasonable.
  • While the student reviews were very favorable overall, there were a number of deficiencies noted such as the iPad’s lack of a centralized file system; the virtual keyboard was another shortcoming, as most people find it inadequate for anything more lengthy than a short note.

Some publishers are beginning to make textbooks available in an eBook format but it seems likely that these efforts won’t accelerate until eBooks generate a similar profit as traditional textbooks do now. There are unique possibilities available with e-content such as interactive activities, embedded video, expert commentary and so on. A hint of how these possibilities could be realized can be seen in the favorable reviews of two recently published apps: T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Kerouac’s On The Road.

Next Post – The iPad in education: The Professor’s Perspective


Kaya, Travis. (2010). Classroom iPad Programs Get a Mixed Response. Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 57 Issue 6, pp. 1-3.

Li, Sophia. (2010). Williston State College Gives iPads to Professors. Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 57 Issue 2, pp. 1-4.





2 thoughts on “Educational Uses for the iPad? The Student Perspective.

  1. Great post! I”ve been using an iPad for a few weeks now and I continue to find more and more uses for it. I”m looking forward to trying it out in the classroom this fall.

  2. I am a fan of the iPad and use mine several times every day for lots of purposes, but I have some minor reservations about its use in education. It works OK with Blackboard with a few exceptions that I have found. When you respond to a discussion posting, you need to turn off the Visual Editor in order to type and submit anything. Some parts of the email package in Blackboard don”t work right–e.g., I can”t get it to allow selection of a single recipient. Some of these problems may be due simply to the fact that the native browser in iPads is Safari. You have to be careful about the format of videos also. At present, the iPad can”t run Flash, Windows Media Player, or Silverlight films. This has turned out to be the biggest problem for me in using the iPad with my classes. Bringing up DOC and PDF files is no problem. It also handles HTML and JavaScript web pages OK but doesn”t know what to do with Java. If you work around these limitations, I think that the iPad can be a great tool for the face-to-face and online classes. A big thing going for iPads is that students love them, and they can be used to take lecture notes.

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