Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Confused about iPads in Education

It's been nearly two years since I got my first Asus convertible tablet/netbook, loaded it up with Linux and started kicking it around with my every day to classes. In general I have found it to be an extremely useful tool.

I need to type notes or prepare a presentation? Not a problem - it is a netbook after all and can perform all the same functions as a laptop. I need to take hand written notes? I don't have to keep track of notebook paper that I always inevitably lose. I simply fire up Xournal and can use any stylus (or even a pen with a cap over the tip) to take notes on the computer just as if I was writing on a notebook. 

My netbook convertible does what any good piece of technology should - it makes my life easier.

You want to know what doesn't seem to make anyone's life easier during class? Those iPad's I've seen piles of people caring around campus with them this last year. In fact, I've never once seen an iPad used productively to take notes in a classroom. You can't type notes effectively on the dang thing - at least I've yet to find anyone that can match my 90+ WPM using a touch screen keyboard. You also can't take hand written notes effectively due to the poor quality of basically every capacitive stylus in existence.

One useful thing the iPad can do is function as a calculator. Another thing I've heard proposed is replacing text books with ebooks on the iPad. You know what else has all the functions of a calculator and can read ebooks and pdfs? You guessed it - my netbook.

The biggest joke at the end of all of it? Even the "16GB" version of the iPad costs more than the highest end Asus T101MT.

Maybe I'm just not "hip" enough to see the need for them, but it seems to me if we want to revolutionize how our students learn using technology they would be better served if that technology came in the form of something other than an "iPad" or capacitive tablet of any sort. Whats your take on it?

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Just to add to what you say. iPad plays games (keep you busy during class) oh wait so does your Netbook.

  2. The biggest thing I could see an ipad used for is just a replacement for textbooks. It's junk at taking serious notes, but as an ebook reader, it is ok (not a super long battery life like kindle, but ok, and might be able to add more interactive features such as multiple choice quizes and things).

    But with the eBooks weighing in around 1.5 GB each, you will have to get the 32GB version to even do anything useful. It seems like trying to use technology for the sake of using technology rather than because it is actually useful.

    Also, with most public schools in financial trouble, I really hope they don't buy into iPads for every student. Just buy old textbooks off amazon (basic calc, physics and chemistry haven't exactly changed that much over the years) and use the savings to actually benefit students.

  3. I'm going to play the devil's advocate a bit here and argue the contrary:
    I have seen some people in my college successfully handwrite notes on an iPad, and they look beautiful. (However, that was only after a lot of practice, and most people can't do it.)
    I think the reason why people would prefer tablet computers rather than netbooks is because in general tablets are optimized for near-instant use, whereas if a netbook falls asleep, it has the same (OS-agnostic) issues of taking time to wake up again. (On the other hand, in class I think it is more beneficial to look forwards at a netbook screen and have a chance to see the lecturer/chalkboard than always looking down at the tablet computer and never seeing what is really going on in class.)

    But in general, I too feel like this overhype about tablets in education is just...hype. I hope it isn't school districts going gaga over Apple products like individual consumers are known to do.
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  4. Carefull, your pocket protector and geek glasses are showing. haha

  5. You're completely ignoring the iPad's overwheling advantages in minimizing distraction. Apple has thoughtfully removed choice and versatility to make the iPad yet another walled and guarded garden. It will only do what Apple wants to allow the 'owner' to do, so your options for doing new things with it are sorely limited. From the company that brought us the Macintoy... yes, another toy.

  6. Just like Twitter, Facebook etc. I don't know what is the fun of a tablet.
    Yes, it is very transportable.
    But for the rest for me it is 'less' than a PC or laptop.

  7. Is there a specific OS that you run on your 1st Gen Transformer? Also if it's not Android, would you do an article on how you installed an alternative OS?

    1. The T101MT comes with Windows 7 by default, I swapped it out for Bodhi Linux. But most any modern Linux distro should work just fine on it by default.

  8. I read your articles all the time, your bias against Apple shows up a lot. Why can't you just accept that not everyone views technology the same way you do? Why can't you give Apple any credibility in the regards that they build products that their customers prefer? I don't see the purpose of making an argument that Netbooks are better than tablets (specifically iPads) you have to bash it so hard. Its like modern day politics where we determine the winner by picking an option of which we hate the least instead of the option we want the most. IMO, you shouldn't attack iPad and iPad users for their choice, but merely show them why Linux is a viable option. You had some good points, but damn, maybe I'm not "hip" enough to comprehend the rest.

    1. If I am simply biased against Apple products - please explain to me why I am wrong.

      Please tell me how iPads make more sense in the classroom than a netbook hybrid.

    2. You missed my point - probably because you weren't really reading what I said. I was saying : Linux can stand on its own merits, so can netbooks. You don't have to bash Apple to support this. In fact, by doing so, you no longer sound to me like an open-source advocate, just a pissed off child. I know this is a personal blog, but I thought some how you represented the community as well; sorry for the confusion.

      iPads make more sense in the classroom because many people find them easier to use. Keep in mind a majority of computer users still struggle with organizing files/filesystems. They struggle when finding help for common errors. A large majority of them never customize or use anything but the defaults for the applications they need. (All of these aren't opinions, but supported by many surveys and research papers I've read while pursuing a degree in a related field)

      Apple's iPad is straightforward, and provides a great deal of functionality. The iPad is designed for consumption of content and multimedia which is perfect in an academic environment. Its highly visual interfaces show users what is happening when they interact with apps which builds confidence.

      I don't need to prove that an iPad is "better" than a netbook hybrid, because that was exactly the point I wanted to avoid. There are a lot of great things about both devices. But in terms of large scale academic environments where you have a diverse set of students (most of which may not be computer literate) I think the iPad has an edge.

      Now as for your bias against Apple products; why do you get so worked up over it? Who cares what Apple does? The open source community makes good software that solves problems in mixed environments. Many developers in the open source community are inspired by the efforts made by Apple as well: look at Gnome 3, Unity, Wayland, and other new UI models coming out. Apple itself has supported many very important open-source projects (

      The truth is: different methods of user-interaction provide different workflows and levels of productivity. Touch gestures (as first seen on the iDevices) have really shown how much more efficient we can be when navigating information on such devices. In fact the W3C is trying to make this a standard because of how amazing that idea is.

      I don't know if you will actually read anything I said with an open mind, but I hope you do. I typically avoid this conversations because people become set in their ways, and close their minds.

      In my opinion, if you want to be a real open source advocate; don't go out of your way to blindly attack Apple's products. I don't think it helps our community.

      Also 90+WPM doesn't translate into learning... And if all you think learning in a class is based on how fast you can copy whats on the board, then I would disagree with that argument completely.

      Sorry for the long rant; I hate being in this position.


    3. How exactly did I "bash" Apple in this post?...

      Some of your other points are OK - but tablets in general don't make sense for doing efficient work - including taking class notes. Yes, they have their uses for multi-media consumption and certain task specific applications, but these do not include typing!

    4. Well basically I should have said; that you weren't specifically bashing Apple but Apple Users - people who choose things like iPad over the competition:

      -Useful functionality : Calculator & eBook reader - Try looking at many of the interactive applications that really take advantage of the components unique to iPad. Try StarWalk. Granted - most apps don't take full advantage of all the capabilities, but this one is amazing. Also the new eBooks and tools for making eBooks highly interactive (CSS3) is really cool and is nothing more than taking an open standard and adding CSS3 support.

      -"Biggest joke of it all..." - Come on... We live in an era where the specifications of the computer/device is no longer as relevant as it used to be. You also forgot to mention that every iPad comes with iCloud/photo stream. Which really makes it easy for the average user to "sync" all their data without having to understand how it works. These are important features that address many of the complications based on research I've read on file system/organization type confusions. What you don't get in terms of specifications you make up for with user friendly features.

      -I'm not "hip" enough - Ok this little bit probably was what made me want to speak up. I'm really tired of hearing the argument that people like me make decisions because "i want to follow a crowd." Although I don't actually own an iPad, I did buy a Nook & HP TouchPad. I don't think the iPad is what I needed.

      I understand that many in the open source community don't see the value in UX/UCD but I assure you; its there. For example, many people switched to Google over other search engines because of how fast they could search; the idea of speed/accuracy is predominant in the world of UX/UCD and can attract many new users. IMO Google succeeded because of its User Experience.

      I bought an iMac for my mother who was getting into photography. Since she has switched to Apples platforms, she has become much more confident and capable with the computer. Tasks that you probably thought were trivial - browsing the web, sending emails, working with photos, video chatting - are all things that she can do on her _own_ since she's switched.

      We recently bought her an iPad because of how well it will complement her photography passion. She can upload photos right to the device (or her computer) and not have to worry about all the complications of "sync'ing" and organizing thousands of photos between multiple devices. Although she is not a student, she has used it as an aid when learning her photography because she can focus on her pictures.. Not the computer...

      Unfortunately, the most challenging thing about iPads is the cost. It _is_ expensive. But I am glad that I spent the extra money on my mother because now she has computers that she can actually use instead of boxes that she struggles with. The expense would be hard to justify for users like you, who know a great deal about operating systems and software and can come up with creative solutions for what they need.

      Studies have also shown that currently the academic environment traditional windows laptops/desktops aren't that effective. I think many schools are ready to try a different approach (iPad) because they want to bring technology into the classroom to reach the highest proportion of students.

    5. There's a difference between having "bias against" something, and having reached a conclusion against something. If the author makes clear points and provides reasons and evidence, then they aren't biased. Political pundits have redefined the word "bias" to mean "someone who isn't agreeing with me". It's actually the height of hubris: it suggests there's two kinds of people: those who agree with you and those who are too blinded by emotions or ideological beliefs to agree with you.

  9. Ipads and other tablets are toys that are only good for entertainment uses. Ipads are the most highly overpriced and least useful of these type of toys. I have yet to see a tablet that comes close to my 5+ years old IBM Thinkpad. Touch screens of any type are only good for a very limited set of tasks, and typIng.content creation/data entry is definitley NOT one of them1

  10. All tablets seem to have the same limitations in usefulness and overpriced for what you get. Although iPads seems to be the worst because it is higher priced compared to other tablets. I used a Kindle Fire the other day, and was unimpressed.

  11. Not just in education, Jeff, but Linux based tablets make so much more sense elsewhere as well. I still don't understand fascination by some schools and business executives with iPads. You'd think they'd realize that Linux tablets are so much cost effective and let you do so much more than iPads or even Android based tablets.

  12. By they way, if I ever break down and absolutely want a tablet, Asus T101MT or newer will be my first consideration.

  13. Apple products work without any learning. We gave my octogenarian--nearly nonegenarian-- grandparents an iPad and it has almost completely replaced their (Windows) computer. It took a total of 20 minutes teaching them how to use it. They've been using Windows computers for 20 years and still are unsure of how to do anything other than email on it.

    While students are better with technology than my grandparents, they don't want to think about this stuff either. They just want it to work, and Apple products do exactly what they want them to do (be an ebook, mostly) while also being one of the best devices for cruising the internet while sitting on the couch.

    The other, most important thing that you are missing is Marketing. I've seen 2 Ipad commercials today. I've seen 0 windows commercials this week, and I have never seen any kind of Linux commercial. I'd bet that 90% of people don't know what Linux is, much less Bhondi.

    Please note that I have used a lot of mac products from ipods to macbook pros, as well as Linux Ubuntu, Red Hat, and almost every Windows since 3.0.

    1. Clearly the Apple product is better - there is more advertising for it.

    2. "Apple products work without any learning.... While students are better with technology than my grandparents, they don't want to think about this stuff either. "

      Did this frighten you as you typed it the way it frightened me to read it? You're saying Apple products are for people who don't want to learn or think. If I was an Apple user, I'd be rather insulted.

      If people don't want to learn, shouldn't the goal be to make them want to learn, rather than catering to their sloth? Eric S. Raymond once wrote about Microsoft designing its products with its' least capable users in mind, while Linux tends to design with its most capable users in mind. As Linus Torvalds pointed out, newbies eventually want to learn to do more, and a device/program that's only centered on simplicity will not be able to serve them when they do. It's like the arrow of time: users can stay the same or go from beginners to power users, but never the reverse. Stripping features out to make things "simpler" doesn't serve the user in the long run,
      Remember when the EU forced Microsoft to ask users which browser they wanted to use on first install and the user share of other browsers went up as a result? Many people didn't know there were other options, and investigated them once they learned there were and many found browsers that better suited them.

      An OS should be the same.. letting users know about other options so that they don't remain newbies forever. Hiding everything away, much less locking everything down, hinders their ability to learn and discovering that there are other things to learn in the first place.

  14. It's interesting how all these Apple FanBoys say specs don't matter. When some of the most important business people--car makers disagree. How do I know they think specs are important? If they didn't we would not be bombarded with car specs in every commercial. MPG, #cylinders, seating capacity, "0-60 in six seconds", antilock brakes...

    As for capacitive styli-- I agree and disagree . There will probably never be a good quality capacitive stylus, but a resistive screen is not so hot either resistive screens are prone to warping and will tend to break down faster. For capacitive screens there is another solution--digitizers ( to be fair they are were not that well known when you wrote the column ).

    With digitzers, not only do you get a decent stylus but also pressure sensitivity as well.
    At this point, aside from $1500 Windows "Slates" there are only 2-1/2 tablets with digitizers. The HTC Flyer, the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet, and the soon to be released Galaxy Note 10.1 ( RSN I hear ).

    I don't know much about the HTC Flyer. Except that it is locked down tighter then "the Church Lady". ( OK anyone can do a better euphemism go to it! )

    I do however really like the Thinkpad tablet. Not only does it come with a pen, but you can buy a folio/keyboard which seems better then the Transformer Prime. The only reason I haven't gotten one yet is the advice that in the fall we will see a Tegra 3 version.

    But I think you will see more soon, Android is getting digitizer support in ICS.