The iPad is about to hit Australia amidst a lot of hype, expectations and excitement. This latest release from Apple’s  stable of beautifully designed and balanced  products (the nec plus ultra of  form meeting function)  is already having an incredible impact on publishing and education.

In the USA, three universities are already preparing to hand out free iPads to students and faculty confident that the new touch-screen tablet will revolutionize education.

In interviews with Wired.com just prior to the iPad’s launch in the USA last week, officials from each university saw the iPad as having potential to render printed textbooks obsolete.

“Those big, heavy textbooks that kids go around with in their backpacks are going to be a thing of the past,” said Mary Ann Gawelek, vice president of academic affairs at Seton Hill, which is giving iPads to its 2,100 students and 300 faculty members beginning this fall. “We think it’s leading to something that’s going to provide a better learning environment for all of our students. We’re hoping that faculty will be able to use more of a variety of textbooks because textbooks will be a little bit less expensive.”

Typically though the technology is being rolled out before the deals with publishers and infrastructure necessary to provide the textbooks or course content are in place. There is little doubt that this will be resolved in the future but universities, such as Sefton, planning massive rollouts may find an army of students clutching iPads and still lugging around a ‘backpack of heavy textbooks’.

One solution already available is CourseSmart. CourseSmart is a subscription-based service that charges a fee for students to access e-textbooks of their choice for a limited time. Here’s a little promo of the way they are approaching the use of the iPad for education:

Bill Rankin, a professor of medieval studies at Abilene University and involved in an iPad pilot programme at the university, believes the iPad will focus on the future of publishing.

“This is really about people re-imagining what books look like — re-imagining something that hasn’t really been re-imagined in about 550 years,” Rankin said.

About five years ago my students stopped taking notes,” Rankin said. “I asked, ‘Why are you not taking notes?’ And they said, ‘Why would we take notes on that?…. I can go to Wikipedia or go to Google, and I can get all the information I need.”
The issue being grappled with by educators is how to provide the learning tools to students so that they can separate good information from useless information when, on the internet, they co-exist in a vast and borderless ocean of content.
There seems little doubt though that tablet technology, led for the moment by the iPad, will have far reaching effects on both education and publishing and that the introduction of this technology gives us the opportunity to approach learning and teaching in new and very exciting and challenging ways.

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