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Higher Ed choosing sides on iPad use

David Winograd

Timothy M. Chester, the CIO of Pepperdine University, discussed the ongoing controversy of how higher education has and should deal with the encroachment of the iPad on campuses throughout the country. Using information gleaned from the Educause CIO listserv, he found two camps being formed, and a bit of misinformation.

The first camp's motto seems to take the position that if there is a new, potentially useful technology, it should be welcomed immediately. Seton Hill University announced that it will give an iPad to every full-time student in this fall, while George Fox University, a school that has been giving out computers to all incoming students for twenty years, is giving students a choice of either being handed an iPad or a Macbook.

Their position is that they aren't willing to say which is the better choice, and many students already come to school with a laptop. To a large extent this is a marketing gimmick. When was the last time you heard of Seton Hill or George Fox University? But on the other hand, I know from experience that IT departments function more cheaply, and most often more effectively if their mission is to not support every digital device in the known universe. Tech support staff that only need to support a small number of platforms need less training, and parts inventories can be drastically reduced. However, Chester writes that putting an iPad into every student's hands would cost Pepperdine around US$800,000 which he posited would be much better spent on hiring new faculty.

The second camp of schools want nothing to do with iPads and are banning their use since they cannot be handled on many existing systems without costly upgrades. This is not entirely true, at least not for the schools that got a lot of press over potential bans. Last month we wrote about Princeton and George Washington Universitity's iPad bans, that weren't bans at all. At Princeton, the system couldn't handle the way that iPads allow DHCP leases to expire and then go on using the same IP address. Students were told to keep iPads off the system, at least until April 19th when they posted a workaround to buy them some time.

George Washington University seemed more like a ban, since no iPads would work on their system due to failure to pass the GW security standards. Sounds like a ban to me, but they are quick to point out that they are working with Apple and expect to have iPads functional, to some extent, this summer with full functionality expected by Spring 2011. To me, it seems that as long as the problem is being worked on and expected completion schedules are announced, it's more of a great inconvenience than a total ban.

However, Chester writes about lines being drawn with some schools wanting nothing to do with the iPad since accepting them would bring "...unwelcome disruption introducing new operational and security risks." Along with the cost of upgrading or revision their networks, supporting the new platform requires training and personnel, putting cash strapped schools under even more financial pressure. On the other hand (and I think we're up to our third or fourth hand), it makes little sense to just categorically ignore a new technology. Although doing so will make it easier for the IT department, it just doesn't make sense to the average student that their school can't give them what they can already get a McDonalds or Starbucks. The point is made that not implementing causes a rift between students and IT, and students will always find some workaround, usually to the detriment of the IT department's capability and planning models. This causes frustration on both sides of the fence and everyone loses.

Chester proposes doing what they are doing at Pepperdine which is to use an adopt, adapt and experiment model, manually registering iPads when needed and having each department test out the new technology and report back with their findings. In one case, two sections of the same class will be run with one using iPads and one using the usual variety of computers, to discover which class meets the course objectives better. I consider this a red-herring since there have been published studies done since 1928 showing that there is no significant difference in student outcome between differing modes of education delivery. If students are motivated to learn, they will learn. Although most of these studies are concerned with comparing modes of course delivery (correspondence courses vs. classroom, vs. online), I think there is a strong overlap and I feel that the research, which will be published in the near future, will find that it really makes no difference whether you are using a computer or an iPad with the exception of writing papers, where computers will win hands down. I know that it's still early, but I can't imagine writing my dissertation on an iPad, even with a bluetooth keyboard. However having all your textbooks in iBooks, which I found to have very good mark-up tools, is going to be a major draw.

Where do you fall on this issue? Remember that any position you take has huge financial implications.

[via Campus Technology]

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