A few select schools across the country have embraced the iPad, and it's easy to see why. The smart-looking tablet computer can do everything a laptop can do -- even more -- with thousands of available apps. Plus it's compact, connected, fast, user-friendly and just plain cool.
Shortly after the iPad was launched in April, Illinois Institute of Technology decided to co-opt it for learning and student life. Its freshman class of 400 got free iPads this August, and immediately got hooked.
Freshman Christen Deanes says he became attached to his iPad while standing in line right after receiving it. "The line was really long and I started playing with it right away," he says. "It's very easy to use, and very intuitive. It's light, and I can carry it in my backpack or in my hand.
"My first instinct was that it wouldn't be something I would use in school, but I have," he says. Deanes relies on Blackboard, the online hub where teachers and students communicate about coursework and share documents and resources. "I find myself using that every day," he says. He also appreciates having all the IIT information within a few finger taps at all times.
Mike Gosz, vice provost for undergraduate affairs, says IIT faculty and staff are techie by nature, and knew a good thing when they saw it. They spent the summer training on the iPad, upgrading the campus Wi-Fi network, and developing apps customized for IIT.
Like the iPhone, there are thousands of apps out there for the iPad, which students can get on iTunes. In addition, they can use Apple's two popular educational portals, iTunes U and iBooks. This is where educational content like e-textbooks, class notes, video, course catalogs, etc., is available. "It is a much better experience reading these things on the iPad than on a website," Gosz says. "These are the things students expect nowadays."
Some apps IIT created and pre-loaded onto the student's iPads include an emergency response system, shuttle bus tracking, and interactive event information. There is even a tool that helps students navigate the campus via GPS.
Deanes says he has used his iPad more than once to find his way around campus. He also likes the pre-loaded Wolfram Alpha app. It's a super-smart "computational knowledge engine" that calculates all kinds of problems. "I use it in math," he says.
"It helps you see the process in solving a math problem. I also found out that there is an app that allows you to connect to your home computer from your iPad. Someone in one of my classes was doing that."
For fun, Deanes likes the air hockey game where two people connect their iPads via Bluetooth and play against each other.
Gosz says IIT's iPad program helps level the playing field for incoming freshman.
"While most do have laptops, 15-20 percent don't," he says. "Not having one in class can be a disadvantage." The free iPads also saved the students from buying the $150 calculator previously required.
Jillian Hamada, a freshman from Eden Prairie, Minn., likes the paper-saving aspects of the iPad. "I have only received one paper syllabus out of five classes," she says. Hamada primarily uses her iPad as a study tool. "I downloaded a recording app to help me record my lectures. I also downloaded a document viewer. You can view Microsoft documents on it. It makes it more compatible with my PC."
Professors can do more in the classroom with iPads too.
"For example, there is a Web-based program that allows more interaction in class. While the lecture is going on, a student can type in a question that will show up on a sidebar that the professor is looking at on his or her monitor. If they have a teaching assistant there, they can answer the question and not interrupt the professor," Gosz says.
The tablets also make it easy to share information with others live. "You can plug it in and show your presentation, and write on it with your finger, and go to the Web. It's very versatile and fast," Gosz says. "For example, our architecture students will be able to show virtual reality concepts on their iPad. It will be good for collaboration and idea generation among students and faculty."
One thing school officials might not have anticipated is the iPad's social cachet. Hamada says it is helping freshmen, herself included, connect.
"Having iPads helps me spot other freshman, so I know who to approach to sit with to eat," she says. "When you're talking to another freshman, you can instantly add them on Facebook while you're talking. Now you're Facebook friends and it's quick."
What about iPad security? (They're worth $499 apiece.) IIT just happens to have a high-tech CO2 laser engraving machine, which students used to personalize their iPad's outer case the first day. "I put my name and family crest on mine," Hamada says. "No one is going to take my iPad."
IIT hopes to take things further with its iPad program, and expand it to more students.
It's good to stay up with the technology," Deanes says. "I think that would be great to have everyone connected."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun