A detailed report into one of Australia's first iPad roll-outs in an educational setting has recommended the popular Apple tablets be utilised by all staff and students, following positive results from a trial involving limited numbers of staff and students.
The trial conducted by University of Melbourne residential college Trinity College over the past six months saw some 44 university students allocated an iPad to assist with their work, as well as several dozen academic staff. At the time, Trinity set up a blog, mailing list and wiki server to foster discussion around the trial, which could see a wider deployment to some 700 to 800 students if it went well.
The aim of Trinity's so-called "Step Forward" project was to test the iPads in an educational environment, as well as to evaluate whether a wider deployment would be appropriate. Apple's tablet was chosen due to a number of factors such as educational flexibility, cost, weight and battery life, although a number of other devices such as netbooks, laptops, ebook readers and Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet were also tested.
In a report on the trial published on Saturday and available online, the college found that both staff (72.2 per cent) and students (80 per cent) overwhelmingly recommended the iPad for use by others. "iPads are effective, durable, reliable and achieve their educational aims of going further, faster and with more fun," the college wrote.
Trinity found through its trial that iPads were not a replacement for desktop or laptop computers, or even other educational technologies, but were an "enhancement".
The report, published under the names of Trinity academic and IT staff Glen Jennings, Trent Anderson, Mark Dorset and Jennifer Mitchell, recommended that iPads be rolled out in 2011 to all staff involved in Trinity's Foundation Studies course, which prepares overseas students for undergraduate university entry.
In addition, the quartet recommended that the college prepare for rolling out the iPad to all staff and students by using the device for the August 2011 student entry, as well as to all students in the Foundation Studies program in 2012. It has previously been reported that this could see some 700 to 800 students receive iPads.
Such a roll-out would mirror a similar initiative by the University of Adelaide, which in September revealed it would give hundreds of students enrolling in a science degree in 2011 iPads, in an attempt to kill off the humble paper textbook.
However, the report wasn't all praise for the iPad; it also contained a number of recommendations for other institutions looking to follow in Trinity's footsteps.
The college noted that high-quality audio-visual equipment such as flat-screen TV monitors and document cameras, along with timely IT support "are required to enable full integration and best use of the iPads". "Such equipment and support are crucial if the educational aims of the iPad use are to be realised rather than thwarted," the college wrote.
Other issues raised by individual educators included the inability to transfer information across applications on the iPad without connecting the device to another computer, which they noted was "a frustrating and unnecessary limit" on the iPad. Complaints about the iPad's lack of support for Adobe Flash also popped up, and one educator found the iPad's virtual keyboard too small. The issue of student distraction also came up.
Despite these problems, Trinity's evaluation found the iPad was currently the "superior" device on the market for this kind of educational use. The college also tested Apple's iPod Touch and MacBook Air, Dell's Inspiron Mini 10 laptop, Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Amazon's Kindle Reader, but preferred the iPad over all.