It is almost impossible not to be aware of the recent arrival of the iPad2. Here in Honolulu the store closed its doors for a few hours in the afternoon last Friday to get ready for the big event. When they opened at 5 pm, I went over to have a look. I thought I get one and give it another try. What a dreamer!
I knew I’d have to wait in line for a while, but when I arrived, the number of people waiting must have numbered close to a thousand. I laughed and forgot about it. The store sold out its initial inventory within moments and they continue to sell every one soon after a new shipment arrives.
To be sure the thing is dazzling and some of the apps are, yes, gorgeous, but I ask myself: What would I ever do with it? What would it do for me? I prefer to read printed books, as I am addicted to marking them up. I like watching videos on my Macbook Pro. I can receive and respond to e-mails with it too. And typing on its keyboard is ever so much easier than on the iPad2’s approximation.
In a review of the iPad2 David Pogue opens his report with the following citations. “An utter disappointment and abysmal failure” (Orange County Web Design Blog). “Consumers seem genuinely baffled by why they might need it” (Businessweek). “Insanely great it is not” (MarketWatch). “My god, am I underwhelmed” (Gizmodo).
Here I am concerned with its application in academic settings. Would it help students to master course materials more effectively? Yes, they are craving for the device, but would it improve their learning? I know it is being adopted in some academic settings, but those who have tried it are not uniformly thrilled.
Earlier this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ben Wieder, published a review of what is being reported by academics about using iPads in the classroom. One university executive reported the slow typing on the iPad2’s small keyboard makes writing course work more difficult. In addition, the devices don’t run all the currently available educational applications that the university uses.
Professors complain that they can’t mark up the notes and lectures they transmit to the students now or suggest changes and make comments on student reports or more lengthy papers. Students chime in with the difficulties they have in taking lecture notes or marking up their reading assignments. In a word, the iPad clearly limits the degree of interactivity that is possible with old-fashioned books and computers.
And at one university 39 out of 40 students set their iPad aside and used their laptop in writing their final exam because they were worried that the gadget might not save their answers.
A professor of management who was testing using tablets in his class said, “When they’re working on something important, it kind of freaks them out.”
We heard similar expressions of dismay from others who have tried to do their reading on electronic devices, especially those who are in the habit of marking up and annotating the books they read. Meanwhile everyone is waiting for the next generation of tablets designed to make writing as easy as it is with books and computers.
I am especially concerned about what tablets are doing and will continue to do to the commonplace book tradition. If you can’t make notes, annotate and easily save memorable passages from your reading, how are you ever going to add them to your commonplace book?
Will notebooks or electronic collections of this material vanish? The end of marginalia will surely signal the end of the long and worthy commonplace book tradition. This is not a prospect that I and other readers find exactly pleasing.