As the first real contender in the category of streamlined computing tablets, the iPad has captured its share of hype. The iPad’s potential remains undeniable, particularly in education. Education is discovery, education is interaction, and education is exploration. These are all activities facilitated by the iPad. And it is easy enough to use to be effective in early childhood education.
I believe that the ultimate goal of the iPad (and its future ilk) is to be so intuitive that the user will forget they are interacting with a piece of technology. Achieving this goal will usher in a new era where we will be able to bypass the laborious work of teaching students to use a particular technology, so they may then use it to learn, and get right to the engagement.
The iPad (or any technology) will not replace live instruction, as some have suggested, anytime soon. However, it should enhance the learning experience with simulation and virtualization unmatched even by the real thing. While we may not be able to manipulate holograms projected from the face of the iPad (or will we?), I suspect we’ll be surprised by the similarity of the 2020 classroom experience to scenes from science fiction.
Few barriers stand between my vision for the classroom of tomorrow and the iPad concept as it stands today. The greatest hurdles are more likely to be financial. At the current rate, public school will have little budget to devote to implementing advanced learning tools. iPad prices start at $499 each and, so far, Apple’s only concession to educators comes in the form of a $20 discount on each unit when purchased in sets of 10.
For a more concrete sense of what the iPad can do, I’ve made my picks for the best existing iPad apps for education, and provided examples of where I hope developers take their apps in the near future.
Top 3 Education Apps of Today
1. 3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool
This app currently stands as the 7th most popular free educational iPad app but it is a good bet that it ranks #1 among med students, biology teachers and host of other segments. Within the app you get all the ability to manipulate cells that you would expect and hope for. The app allows you to create countless stain combinations zoom in on specific organelles, and learn how they interact. Once you’ve completed a stain, you can send your cell off to students and colleagues with accompanying notes. 3D Cell Simulation isn’t quite robust enough to do groundbreaking cell research but it may well be used to train the next generation of Nobel Prize winners.
3D Brain is a similarly valuable tool but both apps could use additional animation functionality demonstrating processes like cellular respiration and neural transmission.
2. Star Walk / Pocket Universe HD
It’s a tight race in the Astronomy field between these two apps. They share the features that make them remarkable and the price point is the same ($4.99). Both apps began on the iPhone but really didn’t come into their own until the iPad’s release in April. In a nutshell, these apps give you a guided tour of the sky that adapts to your earthly location and the direction you are facing. Let’s go ahead and give Star Walk the edge as the winner of the Apple Design Award.
3. Wolfram Alpha
The key feature of the Wolfram Alpha app is that it allows users to access Wolfram Alpha’s tremendous cloud-based computing power remotely on the lightweight (in pounds and processing) iPad. By returning sophisticated data analysis in response to search queries, Wolfram Alpha allows the user to focus on improving judgment and decision-making. Unlike most other educational apps on the iPad Wolfram Alpha is an excellent resource for students and educators in various disciplines from engineering to medicine to meteorology to marketing. If Microsoft’s Bing.com is the intelligent search engine, as its recent campaign declared, Wolfram Alpha is the genius of the search engine world.
Top 3 Educational Apps of the Future
1. iChemistry Lab
With biology and chemistry experiments becoming causalities of budget cuts in many districts, the iPad could become a workable replacement for full-fledged laboratories. A well-designed app incorporating the appropriate consequences of any combination or action a student might pursue would allow science teachers to incorporate more experiments than ever into their lesson plans.
As a chemistry reference, The Elements does a nice job of providing deep information and breathtaking visuals. So get that for $13.99 until someone takes the hint on iChemistry Lab.
The brain processes music differently than almost any other type of information or idea. Therefore, teaching music, and composing it, requires a flexible platform. The ideal application would offer multiple methods of input including virtual keyboard, voice/auditory, tablature, and traditional music notation. iSalieri would utilize the iPad’s multi-touch surface to allow users to learn rhythm by tapping out beats, and use the accelerometer, perhaps, as an aid in a marching band or other performance context. Link multiple copies of iSalieri for a synchronized learning experience.
Currently, among the best music education apps, according to the iPad Music Education Project, are Nota HD (Theory), Mozart HD (Music Reading), and Pianist Pro (Composing & Arranging), and Pitch Primer (Singing).
3. History: Maps of the World: The Real Deal
Currently, History: Maps of the World exists as a free app containing antique maps sometimes annotated with historical events. With the proper enhancements, this app could become a showcase for the educational experience on the iPad.
The first feature I would add is a set of dynamic maps showing borders shifting over time as power and land is redistributed. Detailed coverage of history’s most important wars would also be a great addition. The iPad is perfectly suited to provide a bird’s eye view of the strategies employed at Waterloo, Gettysburg, and Normandy Beach.
The third feature I would implement can wait for the next generation of the iPad as Apple opted not to include a camera in the device’s initial release. This feature would be an augmented reality module that would allow users to see historic sites as they looked in their prime by pointing the iPad camera at them in present day.