3 Reasons Schools Don't Need iPads

Slate's The Big Money suggests that schools should be psyched about Apple's do-everything iPad device. Apple has traditionally done pretty well in the education market. TBM suggests the company's latest innovation could add an new dimension to learning. I'm less convinced.

Here's what TBM says:

Academic life is really one of media production. Professors create lectures in presentation format, they assemble syllabi from mixed-media sources, and they generate a slew of exams and research projects that all bear the fundamental kinship of being media.

Really? Maybe I studied the wrong subjects or went to the wrong schools, but my professors rarely utilized media or assembled syllabi from mixed-media sources. I just don't see the value added to education by the iPad.

Won't Enrich Learning

First, I'd argue that for most subjects, media isn't very important to learning. Take math, for example. What can multimedia really do that a chalk and blackboard can't? I guess equations may be prettier on an iPad's screen, but that's about it. How about for English/literature? Now you can read a book on the iPad, but you don't learn more by doing so. And even then, any old e-reader will do. With history, I guess you can view video clips or pictures on an iPad. But you could do the same with a film projector and an e-mail from the professor with the slides/clips attached for studying. Science may sort of blend all of the other three: there may be visuals and equations. But the iPad won't help you execute the scientific method in the lab.

Makes Education More Expensive

But let's say I'm missing something, and the iPad's capabilities can be very useful for the learning experience. Is it worth paying for? I doubt it: school is already expensive enough. And I'm not asserting this based on the iPad's current high price tag. Even if the price comes down substantially, I don't understand the need for a device that has fewer capabilities than a laptop with slightly better portability. And an iPad won't eliminate the need for a computer.

Professors Won't Bother

Finally, even if iPads were practically free and enhanced the educational experience, I don't see many professors taking the time to create presentations specifically geared towards the iPad's capabilities. It's actually really difficult to create multimedia presentations. Think about the time professors (or more likely unlucky graduate students) would have to take each week creating these snazzy new presentations for three to five lectures. Maybe I just had the wrong professors, but most of them liked to put as little effort as possible into their lectures. While, in time, canned multimedia presentations could be created, subject matter changes and so do the courses professors are responsible for. I just can't see them embracing the back-end time commitment necessary to utilize the iPad's innovative capabilities.

The truth is that most learning doesn't need multimedia. Students also generally don't have extra money to spend on another new technology. Finally, professors' time would be better spent doing research or working one-on-one with students than developing pretty multimedia-driven lectures. While the iPad might be a fun toy for its owners to play with, I just can't see it having a major role in education.