Apple's iPad Aims to Revolutionize Education

The iPad exposed a dirty little secret about the American workplace: Most people don't use computers much in their jobs. But now the iPad might change how a traditionally non-tech worker - the high school teacher - performs in the classroom.

The iPad promises to make your work life a little easier. Traveling salespeople, airline pilots and even construction workers don't have to carry around heavy binders anymore. Executives can check real-time business analytics statistics without having to run back to their desktop computers.

But education is different.

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Apple and the iPad has the potential to shake up the way teachers do their jobs. Last month, Apple took dead aim at high schools, unveiling iBooks 2 for the iPad (a storefront for multimedia high school textbooks) and iBooks Author (a Mac app for creating multimedia textbooks).

The iPad, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author don't just replace a five-year-old thick history book, they offer up a wholly new way of teaching. Imagine videos, interactive pictures, real-time updates, virtual tours and dissections, teleconferencing, animation, and search-based exploration.

Most companies at other industries simply hand out iPads to mobile workers or connect iPads to their networks in order to make workflow more efficient—not to revolutionize it. CRM, BI, Office-type and other existing business apps were turned into iPad-lite apps.

In fact, the dirty little secret of the iPad is just how little we use technology at work. That is, we mainly check email, surf the Web and use only a few job-related standard apps.

Only two years ago, the iPad debuted among a chorus of critics denouncing the iPad as a toy. Today, Apple claims nearly all Fortune 500 companies are actively using the iPad. Yet jobs haven't changed much due to the iPad.

Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work

High school teachers hardly use any technology in the classroom. They've depended on books and a chalkboard since 1801, when the chalkboard was introduced into the U.S. education system. Linear, chapter-based textbooks are an anachronism when it comes to knowledge transfer, says Kyle Wiens of iFixit, a Web site that teaches people how to repair consumer electronics products.

"The way we think isn't linear—it's associative," wrote Wiens, in a VentureBeat column about iPads in education. "We jump from concept to concept, our brains naturally latching onto the next most interesting idea. The path to knowledge is best approached organically, not prescriptively."

If Wiens is right, high school teachers will have to change their ways. There are already 1.5 million iPads in use at education institutions, Apple claims. Right now, iBooks take the form of linear textbooks with some multimedia features thrown in. But that can change quickly given the iPad's potential.

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Will teachers embrace a new way of teaching?

It won't be easy, says TJ Houston, director of IT at Huron City Schools in Ohio. With iPads, students could "possibly be smarter" than teachers, he says. "The teacher also needs to take advantage of the iPad. I'd hate for a teacher to use the iPad as just a normal textbook."

Already, there's been pushback from some teachers. In the summer of 2010, teachers at Brother Rice High School, a private all-boys Catholic school in Bloomfield Hills, MI, gave the iPad a failing grade. Without real-time remote monitoring capabilities, they argued, students would be up to no good on their iPads.

Nevertheless, the iPad is just now heading toward school—and carrying revolutionary iBooks ideas.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

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