Why the iPad Can’t Get into College

On the surface, the iPad is the ideal device for dealing with campus life. It’s small and portable,  a tool you can easily tote around and use for taking notes, team working and more. So why don’t more universities agree?

There are some shining examples of innovative iPad use in Further and Higher Education. The University of East Anglia has released its current prospectus as an iPad publication, for example.  The University of Liverpool supports iPad using students with a list of recommended apps and network tools.

Still, it’s disconcertingly easy to find examples where Universities don’t understand the power of tablet computing.

A trio of major US universities – George Washington, Cornell and Princeton – banned iPads from their networks. The explanation? That multimedia consumption would suck up all their bandwidth, making it difficult for others to access facilities. All three institutions have since reneged on those policies – but this incident highlights a misunderstanding that many have had about tablet PCs in general and the iPad in particular.

It is not just a games device. It’s not just a screen for watching video. In college and university contexts, the iPad’s potential is incredible. It replaces many traditional tools, enhances tutorial activities and introduces entirely new ways of interacting with educational content.

It’s a curious thing, then, that schools are much further ahead in the game when it comes to the adoption of tablet PCs. There are kids using iPad art packages in Scottish primary schools, science lessons in Essex where pupils learn chemistry with virtual molecules, spinning on their tablet PCs. Why might that be?

I have a theory – based on observation, a little bit of anecdotal evidence and from working in education myself…

I have students who will happily update their status on Facebook with one dextrous thumb, while holding a conversation with the person next to them. Give ’em a group presentation and they’ll gravitate towards Powerpoint.  Ask them to do anything new on a computer though – and they’ll swear to you that they’re technologically illiterate.

We think of these kids, these teenagers and early twenty-somethings, as digital natives. And that’s what they are.

But their mentors aren’t.

Their parents are thirty and forty something folks – the last generation to grow up without desktop computers in schools or the tether of a mobile phone in their pocket.

So, when their kids ask them questions, they tell them to read the encyclopedia – not Google it.  Ask them to keep a diary and they’ll open a jotter rather than create a blog.

And that’s how a technology takes hold. Not through the first generation to use it, to adopt and grow with it. It becomes natural when your Dad is using it. When your grade-school teachers are using it. When the authority figure in your formative life is texting or tweeting or downloading apps, right in front of you.

We’re at the right point for children to adopt tablet technology in pedagogic environments – following the lead of funky young teachers. But those teens and twenty-somethings, with the judgemental voices of their technologically challenged parents still ringing in their ears, they will resist and they will fight and they’ll swear blind they can’t blog. For a little while at least.

Until then, it’s up to early adopters in education, students and lecturers, to take charge of their own learning experience, using their own iPads, tablet PCs and mobile devices. Eventually, the rest of the world will catch up with us.

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