March 30, 2010

iPads and irResponsibility

Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania has announced it will give every full-time student a new Apple iPad upon arrival in the fall. This seems remarkably irresponsible to me. In a time of scant resources, does it really make sense to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to a device very few people have ever even touched and for which not a single device-specific educational application has been built and tested with real students? With a total enrollment of approximately 2000, and a per-iPad cost of approximately $500, Seton Hill could spend $1,000,000 on this experiment.

The iPad may very well turn out to be an excellent, maybe even game-changing, device. But let’s at least give it a test drive. If the iPad proves a flop—Steve Jobs is not without his failures; remember the Lisa, the Cube, and the Apple TV?—Seton Hill will have spent an awful lot of money simply to (and I hate to put it this way) tie itself to the Apple hype machine for a day or two.


  1. I am not sure you are taking into account the whole picture. They are not only buying the iPads they are buying the publicity. I had never heard of Seton Hill before and I have seen 5 different tweets come through mentioning it on small list of people I follow on twitter. (you being 1 of them)

    So they are getting the hardware + the buzz. I am still not sure it is worth the million bucks but it certainly worth more than just the hardware.

  2. @Drew – Thanks for the comment. You’re right, of course. But if that’s Seton Hill’s intention, then that’s a pretty cynical use of educational technology dollars. I don’t know which scenario reflects more poorly on the university, in fact. (Great to hear from you, BTW.)

  3. Hi Tom … I am torn on this one. If you recall when Duke did something similar with iPods several years back lots of us frowned on that one as well. I know my group at Penn State are buying 10 or so so we can work to understand affordances and by the time we get a sense the hype machine will be shut down. We are also going to run a couple of studies with several classes next Fall, but by that time we fully expect there to be a solid collection of iPad specific apps and texts that can be connected to curricular goals.

    At the end of the day, I suspect the money is relatively trivial, but it is coming from somewhere. Something else *had* to be given up for this to work. If they do pull this off something good will come from it — the power to be able to reliably know *all* your students have the “right” tools for your design is really interesting. There are affordances embedded in the iPad that we just don’t yet understand … the fact that someone else is footing the bill for us all to watch and learn from is interesting. We learned quite a bit from Duke, perhaps we’ll learn something here as well — even if it is that this experiment is nothing more than a publicity stunt.

  4. Publicity like that Seton Hill is receiving can work on several levels, including generating more applications for admission (which is often a good thing at a small school like Seton Hill) and donations from alumni and others. Those are important potential benefits to a move like this.

  5. You might want to drill down a bit an look at the bigger picture before you do what many pundits did, speak out without being informed. The Griffin Technology Advantage is directly tied to a change in the way courses are delivered at the university and this was one piece of the puzzle. The tech plan is revolutionary in this size of an institution.

    Next time before you jump on your soapbox you might want to click and read a bit more.

    Oh yeah, they also pulled the biggest tech media coup in recent history by being a small, nationally unknown university and landed on Good Morning America, Wired Magazine, and don’t surprised if you don’t see it pop up in many more places before the fall.

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