Five reasons why the iPad won't change higher education

Textbooks are coming to the iPad, but it won't change education

ScrollMotion's Iceberg e-reader for the iPhone

ScrollMotion's Iceberg e-reader for the iPhone

Before the iPad, publishers hadn't much incentive to produce digital textbooks on portable devices. Think about scrolling through your chemistry tome on a Kindle, making clunky annotations on a bland black-and-white screen -- it just isn't as conducive to learning as four-color images and the ability to doodle in the margins. So when software developer ScrollMotion was tapped to create iPad-friendly versions of textbooks, surely students, educators and publishers uttered a collective cheer for the future of digital education. But is the iPad going to make a difference in the world of higher education? Here are five reasons why it won't.

Price

One of the biggest gripes among college students is the high price of textbooks. Paired with tuition increases, loan payments, the increasing difficulty of finding post-schooling employment -- and more -- dumping $200 on a book meant only for one semester doesn't sound appealing. So why would a strapped-for-cash student want to invest an additional $500-plus on a tablet PC just to read these books?

Granted, e-textbooks are cheaper than their print brethren, so in the long run, a student may scrimp a few pennies going digital. However, if that were the case, e-textbooks on laptops would be the loudest homerun of the century, and they're not.

Awkward!

Apple makes beautiful devices, and the iPad is no exception. But have you seen the video of Steve Jobs holding it? Looks a little awkward, doesn't it? Without the aid of a prop of sorts, the iPad may sit funny on a desk or table, and catch a lot of glare from overhead lights.

Dependability

It's one thing to leave your textbook in your dorm, or spill a case of Schlitz on it, but it's another matter entirely to watch your sleek, expensive Apple device slither down a storm drain, taking with it all of your data. Sure, the same fate could befall your beloved textbook, but I'm betting you didn't store 10GB of music and apps on it. Let's not forget the potential of innumerable hardware and software problems associated with electronics. I don't think "I got the spinning wheel of death" will make for a fail-safe excuse.

Accessibility

What happens if the iPad bombs? Publishers will have spent thousands of dollars developing e-textbooks for a device that quite simply did not lift off the ground. This will likely embitter companies to Apple and cease manufacture of new products, leaving early adopters holding a paperweight with a lot of potential. But even if the iPad does succeed and publishers have a field day creating innovative tech, that still doesn't make the tablet universal, or even grant it mass-appeal. That means some students will be able to experience Learning 2.0, whereas others will be stuck with 25 pounds of recycled paper and a highlighter.

Limitations

The iPad is missing a lot of key features, especially if it's meant to become an educational tool. Want to jot down notes in the margins? Sorry: no handwriting capabilities. Need to pull up a calculator and Web browser while reading? Whoops: no multitasking. Students have busy lives and warring priorities, and the iPad cannot give them the needed support. It is, as it stands, a glorified vanity item.

Perhaps by using the first-gen iPad as an inspiration for future devices, educational publishers and tech manufacturers can develop an appropriate, functioning portal for e-textbooks and truly bring higher education into the 21st century. But as it stands right now, Apple is not the one to deliver the goods.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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