Can an iPad replace textbooks?

Dear iPad Owners,

I hope you had a great first day with your new purchase. Did you stay up late last night reading a novel?  Was it sitting there on your night stand, tuned to your favorite newspaper when you woke up this morning? Any chance there is a “Make Coffee” app?

Okay, I must admit that I am a little jealous of  you.  Given all the negative press, it was a bold move to stand in line at the Apple Store or at your front door waiting for the UPS guy.  I was tempted to join you but kept telling myself I must resist… No camera… Price needs to be lower… Is the Apple Store still open?… No 3G yet (forget 3G, I’m waiting for 4G)… Too many proprietary peripherals… Are there any left?… Just a big iPhone… No multitasking… Where are my car keys?

Well, I made it through my first full day without buying an iPad.  Good for my bank account but not so good for my mind as it is racing with lots of questions for you.  As an instructional technologist, my first questions revolve around how the iPad can benefit education.  Specifically, I am interested in the iPad’s ability to replace textbooks.  What are your first impressions about the iPad’s ability to address major issues other eReaders have encountered when attempting to replace traditional texts?

(I am expanding on three issues Weili Dai raised in a recent eSchoolNews article.)

  1. Currency – Will it be easy to update an eText, allowing content to maintain currency? How will readers know if an an update has been made?
  2. Cost – Will eTexts be reasonably priced? Are open texts and existing PDF-formatted articles easy to access?
  3. Weight – Do you quickly get tired holding the iPad in common reading positions?
  4. Reliability – Does the eReader app respond in a consistent manner during common electronic reading activities? (e.g. turning pages, jumping to the table of contents, searching for key words, looking up definitions)
  5. Notes-worthy – How easy is it to take notes? Are there options to embed notes within texts or export notes to a word processing document?
  6. Accessibility – Can a text be read to you? Are there  learning disabilities affordances such as highlighting words or groups of words as they are being read? How easy is it to change font sizes? Are there options for users with limited use of their fingers?

Well that’s all for now.  Hopefully you can respond to this message using WordPress’s new iPad app.  I appreciate any help you can provide as I wait for the perfect tablet computing device… Do you think BestBuy has any left?





  1. I am writing this response with my iPad (using Safari). Yes, I stood in line yesterday with other Apple fans. I’ve downloaded only free apps so far, and only a few classic books. But one of those apps is the WordPress app… So the iPad isn’t only for consumption. I think tools like the iPad now (or the OLPC XO3 in two years) could become standard student tools for day-to-day consumption AND production of text. The Dragon Dictation app that I have on my iPhone also works well on the iPad.

    You have outlined a nice wish list for textbooks on the iPad. But if we are only using the iPad as a print/paper replacement, we are perpetuating the old model of education. While it won’t be the best multimedia production environment, it has other potentials for content development. I wish it allowed multiple-tasking, but I think that will come (I had a 128k Mac, so I’ve lived through 26 years of Mac OS development).

  2. Thanks for sharing. All kidding aside, I really do wish I would have been in that line yesterday.

    You caught me as my first iPad questions are pretty “old school.” In defense, I believe that the way tablet devices like the iPad will make it into the classroom is when administrators, teachers, and parents see them as a replacement for something that is already in the budget. Replacing book budgets with 1-to-1 technology will happen when we find an e-reader that allows students to have a better experience than they currently have with physical textbook. I experienced this firsthand with my daughter when I talked her into being part of an eText pilot for her school. She was all for it until she found out that she would not be able to use a highlighter and make notes in the margins of the eText, at least not in the way she was doing it with a physical book. One of the things she cared about most was markings that the student who had the book before her made.

    It’s my opinion that the textbook battle will be won by an eReader when students are not only able to enter comments and highlighting in an easy manner but they are also able to share notes with other students/educators/authors in an eText social networking environment.

    After the battle has been won, and the technology is part of the budget, the sky’s the limit on how these devices can be used for collaboration and construction in the classroom. I am looking forward to hearing your ideas on how these devices can be used to create learning portfolios.

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