“A magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs, of his company’s newest product, the iPad. Even though it isn’t the first device of its class, it’s expected to set a new and popular paradigm for tablets, just as Apple’s iPod and iPhone revolutionized the ideas of digital audio players (DAPs) and smartphones, respectively. Other companies will likely release their own tablets in a few months, and the intense competition will drive innovation. With a slate-like form, a large multi-touch display and a potentially unlimited variety of applications, these tablets set the stage for a world of futuristic, portable touchscreens. Education alone could benefit tremendously from tablets like the iPad—as long as we’re allowed to use them.
Before the iPad was announced, I anxiously hoped that with just a stylus and an accurate handwriting-recognition program that only Apple could develop, I’d soon be able to ditch my entire binder and several books for this thin and light device. And although Apple didn’t deliver, real and virtual keyboards, as well as third-party handwriting software and styluses, can give the iPad and other tablets the flexibility of a word-processor, making them ideal to take notes on. Furthermore, given the zeal of app-developers, effortlessly mind-mapping your notes is not so far out of reach.
Applications can also make tablets the ideal tool for computations, planning and in-class research. But perhaps their greatest feature is the ability to store many books—from textbooks to literature—at no additional weight. Gone would be the days of freshmen backpacks, and soon we would have quality information at our fingertips.
But in the eyes of the Department of Education (DOE), tablets can provide just as many distractions. Tablets with Wi-Fi connectivity allow students to browse the Web from many locations around the school, while those with 3G-enabled tablets can connect to the internet from anywhere, bypassing any restriction on Web sites.
Another potentially disrupting feature is its ability to double as a cell phone with just a voice over Internet Protocol application such as Skype. Students can further communicate through instant-messaging and e-mail applications, effectively breaking any attempts by the DOE to prevent such distractive communication during class. Tablets can even play music and video like any iPod or DAP. Yet these devices—specifically, “Cell phones, ipods [sic], beepers and other communication devices”—are banned by the DOE Chancellor Regulation A-412.
The only thing stopping the iPad from being added to this blacklist is its current unpopularity. But since the iPad was just recently released, it might not be long before it becomes a common sight in classrooms. And just as the ban on the iPod grew into a ban on all DAPs, a ban on the iPad could soon cover all tablets, robbing us of the revolution in note-taking and books that tablets could bring. In this critical time when tablets are still young, we as students need to show that we can handle the potential freedom and benefits of this new device.