The iPad for Academics — and Computer Scientists?

July 12, 2010 at 10:46 am 11 comments

I agree with this blog, that the iPad is a great paper replacement.  I prefer reading on my iPad to paper, book, or newspaper now.  It’s better than my Kindle, too.  The part that I’m wondering about is whether the iPad is just remediation — it is a better medium for what we did with paper.  Or can it go beyond paper, for academics?  I’m really enjoying reading Time on the iPad.  The Time app, with its powerful images, interesting navigation, and embedded videos, is better than the magazine.  Can we create a more powerful educational medium with the iPad, where simulations, interpreters, and social learning situations are embedded in the “Paper”?

Where the iPad does shine is as a paper replacement. The iPad is the long, long awaited portable PDF reader that we have hoped for. Finally, we have a device that preserves formatting and displays images, charts, and diagrams. After decades of squinting at minuscule columns of photocopied type we can now zoom in on the articles we are reading and perfectly adjust the text to the width of the screen. You can even highlight and annotate documents and then send the annotations back as notes to your computer.

via Views: The iPad for Academics – Inside Higher Ed.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • […] today can only measure the Internet as it is today.  The potential (as I’m suggesting in my mini-post today about the iPad) is much greater. This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous […]

  • 2. Alan Kay  |  July 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm


    You ask “Can we create a more powerful educational medium with the iPad, where simulations, interpreters, and social learning situations are embedded in the ‘Paper’ ”?

    How about something like:

    Click to access Kay72a.pdf

    I have a feeling it will take Golub 40 years more to get some sense of this stuff … (I’m hoping that he is not representative of “academia” …)



    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  July 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm

      Absolutely, Alan! That’s the idea. Now, is the iPad the platform for realizing your ideas?


      • 4. Alan Kay  |  July 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm

        Hi Mark,

        In the 1972 paper I speculated about whether you could make the entire screen sensitive to finger touch and just display the keyboard. Nicholas Negroponte and his ArcMac research group at MIT in the 70s did the first multitouch display (I think Chris Herot might have been the researcher), and we were able to try many of the things that the iPad now does.

        The typing on a flat display tests gave mixed results. The good news was that you didn’t really need key travel if you had just the right sound for feedback, and the bad news was that you had to be a little careful when trying to touch type at speed. I found that you can touch type pretty well on the iPad if it is in the frame and folded so it sits up at an angle and is in landscape aspect. Then you can have the backs of your palms on the table and this will allow good enough anchoring to type at speed without having to look.

        Even so, I think this is a bit borderline on the iPad.

        I was also very pleased to see just how well (and linear) is the touch sensing on the iPad. The first test I did was to find a good drawing app (most of them are bad) and put a ruler down on it to draw straight lines (and then came out really straight in the app). To do this I got a capacitive stylus at the Apple store (a must for really being able to do a wide range of real things on the iPad).

        I had calculated in the late 60s that you would need about a million pixels to “do most things” on a Dynabook (and this was recalculated several times in the 70s using a variety of assumptions but getting roughly the same results). The Alto display in 1972 was “halfsized” at 606×808, but we soon started making 1212×808 displays that had pretty much enough pixels. The great anti-aliasing of the iPad makes up for not having quite enough pixels.

        The great weakness of the iPad and the general laptop is that they are so consumer package software oriented – and have backslid since the highpoint of Hypercard (which I think was the first really good general authoring system for the general public). A few generations of improvement in Hypercard (in simplicity, comprehensiveness and power of expression) would have given us something very much like the visions of the Dynabook.

        This was a case, I think, where the commercial possibilities of selling to consumers (as opposed to getting the users on the kind of learning curve through education that reading and writing require) completely swamped what is wonderful and important, and in the process quite misled educators as to what personal computers should be all about.

        And, since 95% of the Dynabook was a “service idea” and only 5% the 2lb tablet, I think we are still amazingly far from the Dynabook vision. (This is really too bad, since Moore’s Law has provided the iPad with many orders of magnitude more power and capacity than the Dynabook required ……). I’ve used a visual metaphor in recent talks in which a picture of stacks of books, tools, a microscope, etc., are shown “this is what we were providing in the invention of personal computing”, and then a picture of a monkey admiring his reflection in the barrel of the microscope “but instead pretty much everything that was done got turned into no more than a mirror”.



  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Max Steel. Max Steel said: The iPad for Academics — and Computer Scientists? […]

  • […] Continued here: The iPad for Academics — and Computer Scientists? « Computing … […]

  • 7. Alfred Thompson  |  July 12, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    The current state of eBooks strikes me as not much of an improvement over paper. In fact in many ways they are worse except for things one reads in a linear fashion. It’s the the “jump” from blackboards to white boards in some respected. A little ease of use but we’re using them the same way. Except that we can’t use eBooks the same way as paper as easily.
    The real value in eBooks will be when they are a real difference. Software like OneNote is potentially one very minor way to improve things with note taking, recordings and a good organization. But we need books with not just clear images and graphs but animations, videos and sound. We need books out of Harry Potter. The potential is there but the interest in developing such platforms does not seem to be that strong.

    I would hesitate to focus on one piece of hardware either. Net books with touch screens, available from several manufacturers, are available. And quite frankly developing to Windows tends to be more open than for the iPad.

  • […] Guzdial writes a little bit about the iPad as a paper replacement versus something that goes beyond paper. Be sure and scroll down for Alan Kay’s comment about […]

  • 9. Gene Golovchinsky  |  July 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Supporting active reading on a computer requires a combination of appropriate display and input hardware, and software designed to support the activity. The iPad screen is certainly good enough for reading. The capacitive screen is a bit of a handicap because it does not support writing with a pointy stylus, making it hard (but not impossible) to do handwriting well.

    The real weak link is the software. An active reading app should support a number of features such as annotation, cross-document reading, search and navigation, etc. There are some apps (such as iAnnotate, which I reviewed recently) that are starting to address some of these issues, but we have a long way to go.

    • 10. Alan Kay  |  July 14, 2010 at 8:46 am

      Hi Gene,

      Two comments.

      First, the capacitive stylus is good enough for handwriting when combined with a program that can ink fast enough (most can’t).

      Second, “for what kinds of reading by whom?” Highly fluent quick readers such as yours truly can read much faster on well printed paper than on even good looking dynamic displays like the iPad or pretty good passive displays like the eInk ones on the Kindle. The reasons for this were studied extensively at PARC in the 70s. Displays are better today, but good readers can still feel the differences.

      This is a bit of a disaster, as it tends to lead to just reading for info-bites rather than for multiple perspective contexts — and I think that it certainly would make it almost impossible for most readers to get really fluent.

      So just text replacement without any of the important service aspects beyond search (for example: active authoring of simulations as part of “reading” and essay, a tutoring UI to help with difficult concepts, etc.) is a real double edged sword which seems to do one thing but is actually causing less positive results.



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