Apple iPad could be an A+ for schools


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We all know the image of students giving their teacher an apple (suck-ups). But how about the other way around?

With several school districts across the country providing students with free laptops during their tenure, a cheaper and perhaps more practical solution could be to supplant computers with iPads. Some schools are already planning to dole out Apple’s new tablet computer, as others debate doing the same.


Apple offers an iBookstore for download. Once textbook publishers catch onto the potential of the digital education market, the iPad may be all a student ever needs to carry with them. No more heavy backpacks straining children’s backs.

Marymount High School in Los Angeles, an all-girls Catholic school, gives every student a MacBook laptop. Patrick Lynch, the school’s director of technology, says he’s been talking with local and faraway school administrators about their plans for the iPad. For Marymount, the device seems promising, he said.

The lightweight gadget -- ‘1.5 pounds is fabulous,’ Lynch said -- is about a third of the heft of an Apple laptop. ‘That’s instead of 52 pounds of books,’ he said.

Schools could stick a wireless keyboard or iPad Keyboard Dock in each kid’s desk, and suddenly, the tablet device becomes a capable computer, perfect for banging out long essays.

Most consumers said they’d consider an iPad to use as a portable work device, according to a recent Sybase survey. If teachers can get their homework assignments onto their kids’ favorite gadgets -- a device that they’d presumably carry with them to most places -- perhaps students would be more inclined to actually read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ -- or pull up the SparkNotes in their Web browser.

The iPad lacks a webcam, which means schools couldn’t give into the temptation of spying on students remotely, as was the case recently for a Philadelphia-area high school. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

Still, Lynch has reservations. The iPad, like an iPod or iPhone, needs to be tethered to a computer running the iTunes software to back up files and receive software updates. That alone could be a nonstarter. Marymount provides students with external hard drives to back up their school-issued computers.

‘You still need machines,’ he said. ‘If I’m a student, and I need to back up, I need a laptop. So then are we going to have to give them a laptop and an iPad?’

That’s what one college near Pittsburgh plans to do.

Starting in the fall semester of 2010, Seton Hill University in Greensburgh, Pa., will give each full-time student of the Catholic liberal arts college an iPad in addition to a 13-inch Apple MacBook.

The maker of Blackboard, practically a college staple for organizing class assignments, will release its iPad application on Monday. Like the iPod before it, the iPad, which arrives in stores on Saturday riding a tsunami of hype and critical acclaim, is expected to be a hit on college campuses.

But will high schools, which tend to have a rather intimate relationship with Apple anyway, bite?

-- Mark Milian