The iPad: Enhancing Learning and Teaching in the Digital Age

from Jorge Reyna

Jorge Reyna follows up on his previous post, Ubiquitous Devices, Ubiquitous Learning and Ubiquitous Education, by assessing the impact that the new iPad, and similar devices, will have on future ways we learn, teach, and organise and engage with our learning.


An iPad is a tablet computer designed and developed by Apple and launched in April 2010. It is particularly marketed as a platform for audio and visual media such as e-books, e-newspapers, movies, music, games, and a wide range of applications. The main features include mail, web browser, photos, videos, YouTube, iPod, maps, contacts, calendar, notes and application store. Current limitations of this first device include the lack of a camera, USB port, Adobe Flash support, multi-tasking capabilities, SD memory slot, only 64GB internal storage (tiny for “terabyte days”), and the fact that it is not a stand alone device, depending on a PC/Mac to install updates via the iTunes interface.

Productivity applications like DocToGo, Keynote, Papers, iAnnotate, Good Reader, and upcoming applications available through the iTunes store will have a positive impact in teaching and learning scenarios. For educators it may transform their practices allowing them ubiquitous work, paperless offices, new teaching tools in the classroom, the promotion of discipline innovation, motivating students in the use of technology, improving research collaboration and productivity, and enhancing networking. From the student’s side, key features to be considered include: e-books, note taking, impact on studying and reviewing, increasing student interest level (motivation), and individualisation of curriculum.

E-books may reduce the cost of education but the most important feature is that it integrates book content (book + audio + video + animation). Before the iPad, a book was a concept that has not changed in 500 years, but now an evolution has taken place. The advantage of this evolution is obvious: books will be downloaded straight into the device and frequently updated content can be expected. This will reduce costs, it will save trees and ink. Ultimately, there is a potential that tool such as the iPad may render printed textbooks obsolete. An interesting impact will be observed in note taking. Students will not lose their notes. There will be no handwritten notes and so they will be legible, making possible the sharing of notes with other students via email or Bluetooth file transfer.

Paperless classrooms are possible now. There is no need for a recycling paper program and the teacher can e-mail worksheets such as practice sheets, laboratory directions, quizzes and tests directly to students. Students can digitally submit their assignments and academics will not carry several kilos of papers between home and schools. Additionally, the iPad, in conjunction with polling software, has the potential to assess a student’s understanding of a topic and provide feedback within minutes (e.g through the eClicker application). This system will make classrooms more interactive and engaging and may have a positive effect on drop-out rates.

The iPad will make the task of searching, studying and reviewing easy, as all information in notes, articles, and books will be organised on the device. This will make studying to be more ubiquitous than ever. The iPad could provide students with the chance to take better care of their educational resources. It may also promote individualised curriculum, and applications could be developed to customise the learning experience of individual students. Courses could become more independent of a teacher. Students could begin working more or less at their own pace as educators help each student to progress individually.

In an inclusive educational era, this has an interesting potential. Some Catholic schools are implementing iPads for their classrooms (e.g. St Aidan’s Primary School in Rooty Hill). New policies at Schools need to be developed to avoid distractions for students with the iPad and its ability to play games.

The Australian Taxation Office has said that the iPad, and equivalent e-readers or tablets, are deemed to be equivalent to a laptop and it will attract a 50 per cent education rebate. This will make iPads popular with schools. Competitors are trying to integrate the entertainment features of the iPad with the utility of a laptop, all in a lightweight package device. The tendency for the new tablets is to run Android, a mobile operating system developed by Google. A few examples can be mentioned like Samsung Galaxy Tablet, Google Tablet, Dell Streak, Asus Eee Tablet, Notion Ink Adam, ICD Vega, and many generic tablets coming from China. In conclusion, taking into account its current features and limitations, the iPad may not be a ‘killer’ device that will displace laptops, but a significant impact in teaching and learning scenarios can be predicted in the following years. Research needs to be conducted to study the iPad’s impact on educational settings in order to develop innovative approaches that will benefit students.

Jorge Reyna works as E-learning Technical Officer for the School of Education, University of Western Sydney, and has a passion for technology and its application in educational settings.

3 thoughts on “The iPad: Enhancing Learning and Teaching in the Digital Age”

  1. I was skeptical as I already have a Mac book pro but got one anyway. I’m a PhD candidate and I’m finding it incredibly handy for annotating papers, keeping my library of papers on me all the time via Mendeley. The intuitive mind mapping software is brilliant and I have had no trouble sticking to my timeline due to blood-pressure-raising push notices from ‘things’. I am also a music teacher and use it every lesson as a metronome, recording device, note taker, harmony tutor…. The list goes on. Glad to see that schools are jumping on board the iPad. It makes more sense than a lap top when students are still required to write by hand in the HSC.

  2. I must admit that I’m not entirely impressed with the iPad. These functions mentioned in this article are great on paper, and probably entertaining in the classroom, but they aren’t foolproof. Research shows that the brain processes whats on a computer screen differently to words on a physical sheet of paper. And what do you have to say for those with learning difficulties? Surely such a method of teaching has a whole range of new problems that come with it for those who have trouble applying themselves to the real world, let alone a virtual classroom.

  3. @ Tim, it would entirely depend on what it is that you are teaching. I predominantly teach ‘classical’ music to kids who have no experience of it, never listened to what they were trying to play and had no idea of what they should sound like. Since I got my iPad I can easily play recordings and backing tracks for students, metronome, youtube videos, use garageband and notation software and record students and myself so that they can objectively listen to their, and my, playing. Of course all this was achievable before but now it is much easier. I can hear a demonstrable improvement in my students’ playing because of continuous aural feedback that didn’t occur with the same frequency before. So if the learning that you are trying to facilitate is aural, the iPad is gold.

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