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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Notre Dame Begins Test Run of iPads With a Paperless Course

by Jaymi Heimbuch, San Francisco, California

ipad real book photo
Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

The University of Notre Dame is taking the use of e-readers in classrooms seriously, embarking on a one year study of how the devices integrate into classrooms. The first course to have students use an iPad instead of any text books is Project Management, a class with 40 students that will not only use the iPad as a book, but will also be encouraged to use it for everything else in daily life and report back their impressions (hmmm, could that possibly have been at Apple's request?). Apple is making a big push to turn iPads into the next big thing in education. The company wants to corner the market for electronic readers in schools, and has been discussing getting text books into digital format for some time now with major text book publishers. This new test run with Notre Dame could have big consequences for how speedily the device replaces paper books in schools.

The move isn't without competition. The Kindle has been touted as the solution for textbooks in schools for a couple years, though when it had a test run at Princeton, the students were less than impressed, wanting something easier to interact with instead. And Barnes & Noble, while not yet getting close to the classroom with their e-readers, has started angling for students to use e-books for their studies.

Tuaw reports that while the iPad is more than just an e-reader, allowing students to do a lot more with not just the ebook but with searching for articles and other information as well, the Notre Dame course professor, Corey Angst, wants to make clear that the iPad is part of a bigger kit of resources for students. No one device has come close to being a catch-all for students, but Apple is hoping to inch closer to the iPad being one tool that can't be left out of any classroom.

Whether or not the use of e-readers in classrooms makes a difference on the environmental footprint of scholastic is yet to be seen. While thousands of paper books can fit into one device, reducing the number of trees sacrificed to the printing industry, the embodied energy of electronics, let alone their e-waste at end of life, creates a massive footprint for the devices. Which will end up having the smaller footprint in the long run depends on many factors, including how thoroughly students use e-readers as opposed to books. It'll still be years until we know which is "better" and until then, we're using the earth's resources from both sides -- trees and water for books, and raw materials, electricity and recycling energy for e-readers.