LOS ANGELES, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- A growing number of U.S. schools and universities are providing students with iPads, which may usher in a new era for education by transforming paper textbooks into e-textbooks.
In California, new algebra iPad app will be tested in Fresno Unified School District and three other school districts this school year to see whether students learn better with electronic equivalents of traditional textbooks.
Fresno Unified school trustees have approved the agreement that will place iPads into the hands of 100 students at Kings Canyon and Sequoia middle schools. They will join 300 students in Long Beach, Riverside and San Francisco school districts who will also trade textbooks for iPads.
The new program provides an opportunity for California schools to take the lead in digital textbook innovation.
In Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the education publishing company that created the algebra program, is working with Apple Inc. -- the iPad's manufacturer -- and is subsidizing the pilot program. The students will get iPads and will be allowed to take the flat computers home.
The iPad app essentially replaces the traditional 800-page algebra textbook, allowing students to use it for homework, note-taking, quizzes and possibly testing.
The app includes tutorial videos that can help students at home and automatically let teachers know how students are progressing. Students will be allowed to use the iPads for other uses, such as surfing the Web.
Some U.S. universities are rushing to hand out free iPads to students and faculty in hopes that the tablet computer will revolutionize education.
Seton Hill University, George Fox University and Abilene Christian University each pre-ordered bundles of iPads with plans to experiment with how the tablet could change classroom learning.
Officials from each university told www.wired.com that they saw the iPad as having potential to render printed textbooks obsolete.
"Those big, heavy textbooks that kids go around with in their backpacks are going to be a thing of the past," said Mary Ann Gawelek, vice president of academic affairs at Seton Hill. The school is giving iPads to its 2,100 students and 300 faculty members beginning this fall.
"We think it's leading to something that's going to provide a better learning environment for all of our students. We're hoping that faculty will be able to use more of a variety of textbooks because textbooks will be a little bit less expensive," said Gawelek.
Students who use iPad can currently access about 10,000 e-textbooks through a third-party company called CourseSmart, which includes titles from the five biggest textbook publishers.
CourseSmart is a subscription-based service that charges a fee for students to access e-textbooks of their choice for a limited time.
More and more schools and universities are handing out iPads to their students as a learning tool. Monterey College of Law is distributing iPads to students enrolled in a program that helps them prepare for the Bar Exam.
Stanford University School of Medicine said it will give iPads to 91 of its students, while freshman students at Illinois Institute of Technology will be getting their iPads this year.
The University of Maryland will hand out iPads to 60 students, as part of a program called Digital Culture and Creativity.
It's obvious that school administrations and the education community at large are viewing these devices as the inevitable next stage in incorporating technology in the learning process. There will certainly be hurdles along the way as educators figure out the most efficient and creative ways to use the tools.
The possible success of iPads will be made after the failure of Amazon's Kindle DX. Amazon released its 9.7-inch Kindle DX e-book reader in 2009, which was aimed at students and the textbook market. But it failed to penetrate the e-textbook market and to impress students with Kindle DX pilot programs launched at a handful of universities.
Educators held that the iPad has far greater potential to succeed as an educational device than Amazon's Kindle DX. Where the Kindle is sluggish, monochrome and limited in interactivity features, the iPad is fast, sports a colorful touch screen and supports enough apps to cater to a broad audience of students.
The iPad has expanded the possibilities for more powerful and dazzling interactive textbooks with its color display, video, touch screen, Internet access and capacity to accommodate thousands of applications.
Textbooks designed specifically for the iPad with 3-D illustrations, video lectures, interactive tests and links to the Internet already are beginning to emerge.
Educators held that the iPad and other electronic tablets like it coming down the pike may in a few short years start pushing paper textbooks into the academic backwaters of the slide rule and typewriter.
According to the National Association of College Stores, Students in the United States spend on average about 700 U.S. dollars a year for textbooks. The amount has been flat or declining since 2006 with the advent of online and rental textbook companies, and electronic textbooks may drive prices down more.
Also, most major textbook companies are rapidly converting all of their textbooks to digital formats, and the increasing use of iPads at schools will further encourage textbook publishers to drop their prices for e-textbooks and make them more convenient to be used by students.