By Ermal Hajrizi
It’s a cloudless January day in San Francisco. Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple, makes last minute preparations prior to his announcement of a revolutionary device: a device that has entailed countless rumors around the technology blogosphere. The safe bet to go with is that the new product will be a tablet: a device not unlike the iPhone and other smartphones, just with a much larger screen.
However, questions loom regarding technical specifications. Will it run OS X, Apple’s full-blown desktop operating system, or will it feature a slightly altered version of the aptly-named iPhone OS? Will it have a capacitive touchscreen and multitouch support, like the one that drew critical acclaim on the iPhone, or will it feature a hampered screen with different technology? And what about the price? Financial analysts peg starting costs at approximately $1000 as the bare minimum. Will this, too, cost a fortune, like many other devices on Apple’s relatively slim product line? No one knows for sure, but everyone is about to find out.
Members of the media cram into an auditorium at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, eager to finally discover the truth behind the shroud of mystery that has veiled Apple’s new product for months. A very frail-looking, yet euphoric-as-ever, Steve Jobs steps onto the stage, greeted by raucous applause from an audience on the edge of their seats. After some brief hubbub regarding financial matters, Jobs announces that Apple intends to fill in a gaping hole in mobile electronics, right between the laptop and the smartphone, with (surprise!) a tablet: the iPad.
The crowd bursts into thunderous applause, successively growing louder with the announcement of each new revolutionary feature, from a large 9.7-inch multitouch display, to an upscaled version of iPhone OS, and finally, the announcement of the mind-blowing price of only $499, a full $501 less than what the “experts” predicted.
The reveal deals a shocking blow to the rest of the technology industry, but perhaps more importantly, sets the stage for a educational revolution, which has shown, and continues to show, evidence of enormous potential in the classroom setting. Sporting a sleek, durable, and portable enclosure, the iPad stores more information than thousands of books combined. The experience of interacting with the learning material far outweighs any benefits a traditional book may have. The iPad is the pinnacle of 21st engineering, while the book remains an ancient artifact from the Middle Ages. The time for change has arisen for school districts to replace the archaic textbook, a product that dons heaviness, clumsiness, and dullness as its top features. The time for the age-old textbook is coming to a close, and a new academic toolbox is ready to revolutionize the timeless experience of education.
The iPad is a multifunctional device that not only bests normal textbooks in traditional reading, but also excels in many other ventures, including watching videos, scrolling through pictures, and surfing the vast resources presented by the Internet, all of which the archaic textbook only dreams of doing. Right out of the box, comes pre-loaded with many basic pieces of software that remove the limits of possibility in regard to what the device can do.
The internet browser, Safari, provides a portal to a world stacked with information involving virtually every topic imaginable, all at the control of one’s fingertip. The built-in YouTube application allows students to pilfer through the countless educational materials available in video form, such as lectures from Salman Khan, the man behind khanacademy.org, an online classroom that has had profound impacts on education itself.
In addition, the App Store, a hub for third-party applications, allows users to download apps for all sorts of niches, such as “The Elements: A Visual Exploration”. This app delves into the details of the periodic table of the elements, but in a whole new interactive way, described as a medium in which “every element is shown with a smoothly rotating sample”. Users can manipulate previously obscure elements such as carbon, seeing for the first time what the properties of the element actually mean in the real-world. Clearly, the iPad is multitalented.
However, what some find even more useful is the fact that these applications, and more, can quickly be changed through a multitasking system. Simply double-tapping the home button on the iPad brings up an app switcher, allowing the user to switch back and forth between apps. This proves useful in a myriad of situations.
Take for instance a circumstance in which one desires to look up further information regarding mitosis, the biological process they just read about on an electronic book right on their tablet. On the iPad, requirements for this task are as follows: double-tap home button and click on Safari app and search away. Done. Contrarily, the same situation using a normal textbooks requires one to find a computer, turn it on, and finally open up the web browser. See the difference? Students at Reed College certainly did, noting that they were very pleased with the “single-function benefit of the iPad,” which offered a “variety of functions, including web browsing, email, and video playback”. Even at the college level, the arsenal of tools in the iPad’s chest proves more useful then the single-purpose book. In the classroom, the iPad essentially plays the role of a Swiss army knife: conglomerating a variety of functions into one compact device.
When one opens up a textbook, what does he or she find? At its core, the textbook provides a wealth of information, inked onto numerous pages bound together. However, the knowledge written in the textbook deems problematic for one reason: it becomes outdated the second it leaves the printing press. Like a new car rolling off the lot, a textbook’s information devalues over time, losing accuracy and reliability.
Dieter Bohn of The Verge lists durability of “anywhere from five to five thousand years or more” as a key specification of the traditional book. However, this information will likely be five to five thousand years old, too. The iPad clears this hurdle through the power of the Internet combined with authoring tools Apple provides to publishers.
The recently announced iBooks 2 platform allows publishers to not only develop immersive and interactive ebooks, but it also allows publishers to push updates whenever they feel necessary to keep their content current. The possibility of remote and over-the-air updates to content assures that students are learning the newest and most accurate information. Dominic Rushe and Jeevan Vasagar of The Guardian agree that, with iBooks 2, “Apple has unveiled a glimpse of the classroom of the future that will allow publishers to create interactive textbooks for iPad-owning students”. These two factors – the interactivity and currentness – remain as things that traditional textbooks simply can not do, as pointed out by Phil Schiller during the iBooks 2 introduction.
The easy updatability of ebooks deems critical in all areas of education, but most importantly in classes such as history and science. History, as defined by dictionary.com, is “the branch of knowledge dealing with past events”. This means that the minute a history book finishes being printed, the material can already be considered old.
For instance, U.S. History classes that The Charter School of Wilmington received brand-new textbooks at the beginning of the year, but to the dismay of many, they miss many crucial world events, from the uprisings in the Middle East, to the presidential candidate nominations. The same applies to science. The fields of science are unique as they are ever-changing and designed for renewal.
Unfortunately, the ink on a textbook is there to stay, so any new information deems useless, with the old, and potentially inaccurate, knowledge infiltrating the minds of students. The iPad, however, passes through this previously unsurpassable obstacle, by allowing the ease of on demand updates to content, assuring top notch quality and accuracy.
Much has been made about the supposed high-cost of tablets in education, but in reality, the overall cost of ownership over time remains lower then that of multiple textbooks.
First, the price of an iPad: $499 for the most basic edition, which satisfies the needs of most students. According to a report from the California Student Public Interest Research Group, students in California “were spending an average of $898 on books this school year”. In other words, nearly twice as much as the cost of a textbook. A common rebuttal to this stunning fact is that one still needs to purchase ebooks, in addition to the iPad. True, but the disparity between ebook prices and normal textbook prices finds itself even more ridiculous. The previously mentioned report found that the “the average cost of a new textbook is $102.44”. A similar ebook? $14.99. The difference is over $85 per book.
While potentially a more extreme case, Grossmont College verifies the general notion by showing that buying a ebook over a textbook measures out to roughly 50-60% in savings. The lower price point also affects high schools, and possible middle schools, in addition to college level institutions, except not on an individual basis. Instead, school districts that purchase mass quantities of textbooks at ridiculously expensive prices can simply purchase iPad’s for their students, which will last longer while staying relevant. Overall, the cost of hundreds of textbooks surpasses, by a considerable amount, that of an iPad and related software.
While the academic benefits of the iPad are plentiful enough, the tablet has another trick up its sleeve: light weight. The iPad weighs just under a pound and a half, compared to the average backpack of a graduate student which weighs about 12 pounds.
According to a study performed by various back experts and provided by Dr. Thomas Fleetwood, “of 1122 backpack users, 74.4% were classified as having back pain, validated by significantly poorer general health, more limited physical functioning, and more bodily pain”. With over three quarters of students reporting back pain, the validity of this argument is clear: textbooks cause excessive weight to be placed onto the backs of todays students, potentially causing serious medical problems. In fact, the Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that 4,928 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags and back carriers.
The iPad, at a weight less than even a mid-sized textbook, solves this problem, too. The portable device can store thousands upon thousands of bytes, or pieces of data, all in a form-factor that one can wield with just one arm. While the academic benefits of the iPad alone provide significant advantages, the health value pushes the argument over the edge.
The time for replacement has finally come for the textbook, an ancient form of communicating ideas and knowledge. As a multipurpose, up-to-date, low cost, and lightweight device, the iPad and its plethora of applications and software are the ideal tools for the modern-day student. As a constantly evolving society, it can not be expected that the gadgets of yesterday fulfill the needs of tomorrow. The iPad, a revolutionary device that promises to uproot old educational systems, is the way of the future. Technology has revolutionized nearly every facet of our lives, with the exception of education. Education is, in essence, the last frontier.