Friday, December 21, 2012

Free iPads for Australian University Staff and Students

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) has announced it will provide a free Apple 16GB iPad to all new domestic undergraduate students and academic staff in 2013. This is intended to allow the students to access recorded lectures, live web streaming, library services and "apps". The university is not scrapping face to face classes, but instead implementing blended learning (a combination of online and face to face) for all degrees. There is a UWS Strategic Plan for Learning and Teaching 2012-2014 with details.

Universities need to be carefull in locking themselves and their students into a proprietary operative system and hardware platform.  Studentship’s enthusiast for "apps" will quickly disappear when they discover that they can only access their cruse materials from one brand of computer running one operating system. They will not be able to access the iPad cruse apps from a laptop computer, not even an Apple Mac. Students will get annoyed if they have to downland the gigabytes of course material each time the lecturer makes any tiny change. In my view universalities should look first at web based materials, which can be designed to look app-like, but can still be sued on desktop and laptop computers and also can be developed, modifier and delivered in small modules.

In my view an iPad is not sufficient for a university course. You would be hard pressed to conduct literature searchers and prepare large papers on it for example. The student will need an additional computer, or extra hardware to turn the iPad into a desktop computer. A sub-notebook computer, with a screen of about 12 inches is a better all-round device. These are about the size of an A4 pad of paper, but have a keyboard big enough to type comfortably on. These start at around $400.

An attractive low cost alternative to tablets and notebooks are low cost Chromebooks. These are essentially a hybrid of the tablet computer and the netbook. The device looks like a very thin notebook with a screen around 12 inches, but had a low power processor and a small amount solid state similar to a tablet computer. They cost about $250 retail. The Chromebooks run Google's version of the Linux operating system and lock the user into Google's on-line services. But a university could use similar hardware, Linux and other open source software for an open education platform.

ps: It is curious Google have not yet scrapped the not very successful Chrome operating system and instead adopted the popular Android for the notepads.

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