My Proposition for the Future of Higher Education

Ok, not really. To say that I might have something that would significantly change the outlook of higher education is a strong statement.

But, I think I'm on to...something.

Here is my situation: I, as most people know, own an iPad. I didn't know how I would use it at first, but Allison and I are already figuring out how we are going to buy the next iPad as well so that both of us can have one.

Here's why:

In grad school (definitely in divinity school and higher education, probably in most others as well) you do a lot of reading and writing. Most of this reading is not done from traditional books, but rather from online PDF documents that have been scanned in by someone who works in the copy room. The typical practice is this: a few days before you are to have read an article, you go to your computer, download the PDF onto your computer, send it to print and print it out. Then you can read it, highlight it, etc. The process is great, students are responsible for the printing instead of teachers carrying loads of paper into class, and everything is online for easy access should someone lose a document etc. It also keeps the cost of physical books that a student might have to buy to a minimum. Most of these articles are from random sources or reference materials that cost way too much to ask a poor grad student to have to buy.

However, I see three fundamental issues: 1) Copyright. 2) Significant waste of paper(this has been a reality of the world for a long time). 3) The digital world only benefits us to access it, not to actually interact with it.

But, the iPad has changed all (except for the Copyright idea, that still seems to be an issue) that for me. (To prove my point, the Divinity School changed the main printer in the library and it took me three weeks--literally--to notice the change)

Here's what I do now:
1) Check the syllabus for the next assignment.
2) Log onto Blackboard from my iPad and find the revenant PDFs.
3) Click the files.
4) Tell the files to open in "Goodreader" (a fantastic PDFs reader app $.99)
5) Read the files, draw on them, write, mark, etc.*
6) Sync your folder of PDFs with Dropbox or MobileMe.
7) Take the iPad to class.

*Thanks to Goodreader's ability to markup PDFs AND save them to the PDFs files, I can highlight (if it recognizes text), underline by drawing with my finger, draw shapes around text, leave comments in text boxes that minimize and maximize as I tell them to. When this file syncs with my Dropbox account, I have an annotated PDF file wherever I go on whatever device I am using at the time. How cool is that?

Reading the files is much preferable for me on the iPad, because I can zoom in on text and actually read the files ALMOST as if they were a book. I can't tell you how many times I have seen student print out the files really small because the library computers' default printing was screwed up or because they were trying to save paper. I, on the other hand, don't have to remember to print and can zoom in on text that is hard to read.

It's not a perfect experience, yet. Depending on how large the scanned file was, each page takes a second to render each page. This isn't the end of the world, but can be annoying when someone is quickly referencing a page number.

So here is my proposition: Add $500 to the bill for each student (in higher education pricing, it doesn't hold a candle to other costs and seems to be a worthwhile investment) and deliver all reading assignments via an iPad. Duke has a history of doing this with its undergrads with iPods (and the use of iTunes U) and later MacBooks. Obviously, the additional fee might be optional, but I would imagine it would be easier to sway people.

Just a thought, but I think...a good one.


PS- Yes, I did type this whole thing on my iPad and despite a few typographical errors, it was an enjoyable experience.