The iPad 2 for Learning: First Impressions

I have received an iPad 2 prior to a pilot program that my Digital Journalism class will be a part of this year and after a few days of playing, I see possibilities, but wonder if the iPad 2 can rise above its functional design concept.

In short, the iPad is clearly a window for consumption, consumption of media, consumption of goods, and primarily for consumption of iTunes downloads. Compared to my Android phone, the iPad suffers from a dearth of high-quality free apps. Some exist, clearly, but the initial flow of all information is via iTunes and the structure of the iPad’s OS relies heavily on their proprietary software. That’s kind of a drag after experiencing Android for the past six months. I may find killer free, open source apps for the iPad yet; it’s still new to me. However, that’s not the design concept.

Additionally, the iPad is tough to be beautifully creative with. It’s possible, but it’s not as easy as a comparable laptop computer . Free online resources like Aviary become a number of costly proprietary programs like iMovie and Garage Band. My biggest shock so far (I obviously am not a golfer) is that the iPad doesn’t run Flash on Safari. Wow. Again, the design concept won’t allow it, or savvy people would never buy Garage Band. Apple’s desire to control the usage of it’s products has led me away from iPods and all things iTunes, but now it’s all back like Ferris Bueller’s sunglasses and fedoras thanks to the iPad. The iPad interface is locked down and all conduits to information are via Apple. It’s worth considering the medium and the message when we give these fun toys to kids.

On the plus side, the iPad takes good snapshots and video. It’s no Leica, but the possibilities exist, especially for crowdsourced content for student online journalism. My initial impression is that the iPad should be wed, like all media machines, to media literacy with an emphasis on media creation. This will require an upfront  capital outlay on Apple software that will allow for such creation or as a viewpoint of the iPad as a capture device first, with student laptops as the media studio, which is what I am leaning toward. Additionally, the iPad seems fairly well equipped to become a nice journalism tracking device for informed media consumption. Student journalists should be able to follow a wide variety of journalism in print, podcasts, and video form through RSS feeds, but I haven’t found a really great free, ad-free reader. With ads, plenty of options exist and work fairly well, although I haven’t seen one with folder capability yet. The design says consume, and so they shall.

All of this notwithstanding, the iPad is going to get student attention. And then immediately demand more of it. That’s a joke, for the most part. First impressions: minor frustration, resigned acceptance to the Apple business model, and tenacious curiosity.

Edit: Feeddler RSS is a perfect Googler Reader style app for free and without ads so far. Google docs is another story…

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