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abilene-christian Wired’s “Gadget Lab” blog has a report on colleges planning to hand out iPads to their student bodies. I’ve mentioned Seton Hill before, but this article also mentions George Fox University and Abilene Christian University.

Abilene Christian has already had some success with a pilot program of issuing iPhones to all its students. George Fox was less successful with an iPod Touch program because students didn’t bring them to the classrooms, but the iPad is expected to change that.

Bill Rankin, a professor of medieval studies at Abilene Christian, called the iPhone program the “TiVoing of education,” because the iPhone was giving students the information they need, when they want it and wherever they want it. After the success of the pilot program, the iPhone has now become a regular part of Abilene Christian’s course structure.

The article also mentions the less successful trials of the Kindle DX to replace textbooks in other schools, and explains that the more sophisticated iPad is expected to have the note-taking and other capabilities that the Kindle lacked.

So far, Apple is not known to have entered into agreements with any textbook publishers (the claims of the McGraw-Hill CEO who was allegedly subsequently dropped from the iPad launch event notwithstanding). But the universities are using a third-party company called CourseSmart, which offers 10,000 e-textbooks and has announced an iPad app of its own.

The schools are already making plans for how the iPad can redefine the nature of the book and publishing as they know it. Abilene Christian’s campus newspaper, The Optimist, is creating an iPad app out of its website as a journalism teaching tool.

“We want the students to start thinking about, what’s the best way to present information on the iPad?” said Kenneth Pybus, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, who serves as adviser for The Optimist. “We’re challenging them to design features that would take full advantage of photos and texts and HTML5. There’s an academic component to that — forcing students to think differently about how information is distributed and presented to readers.”

I suspect a lot of other universities are going to be watching the way the programs at these ones go. Heavy textbooks are a universal annoyance, and finding a way to lighten the load while at the same time improving learning retention would be a very valuable innovation.

 
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