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The iPad is a social device.  In some truly amazing case studies – the Pompeii team, this school in Scotland – the iPad is successful because everyone involved has one.  In a solitary use, it can also help the user do amazing things such as David Hockney’s artwork, but an educational setting calls for more collaboration. This is where the iPad shines.

You might think, “Of course the iPad is social. It has all kinds of apps for Twitter and Facebook and chat and what not.” While that’s true, it is not exactly what I mean by social. I had a different kind of social in mind that I had not been able to see in action up until last night. Two of us from the library were invited to give an iPad demonstration to a group of students in one of the residence halls. There were about twelve students in attendance. According to a quick show-of-hands survey, three had seen our iPad demo before and over half had some other iOS device. I talked for a couple minutes about the iPad lending program at the library, about the difficulty in choosing apps, asking them to give us ideas (immediate response: Angry Birds), and then asking for questions.

One of the students said she had heard there were some schools giving out ereaders to all their students and wanted to hear more about that. (By the way, reader, if you’re interested – I have a collection of links to such examples in my Delicious bookmarks.) I said there were some folks on campus who were throwing around the idea of getting iPads for the next incoming class, and there were other folks on campus who wanted all the students to have a choice of device. The benefit of letting students choose their own ereader is that there would be a healthy mix of experiences for comparison. The benefit of having the same device for everyone is consistency and easier collaboration.

To illustrate, I brought up an app we’ve only had installed on the iPads for a couple days: Share Board. I started the board, and then the students clustered around the other three iPads and joined my board. I started drawing, they saw it on their iPads. They started drawing and within seconds everyone was completely focused on one of the iPads, reaching over to tap on the screen and see the colors flying around. We pre-load the iPads with old library photos, which the students were able to easily insert into the whiteboard and sketch over. As an observer, it was fascinating to me to see how much this simple thing could captivate their attention. I kept expecting them to start getting bored with it since there really is not much you can do with Share Board other than, well, share. But students not holding an iPad were shouting instructions to the 3 students holding a device, which would then make the students in the other groups start laughing. They even asked me to make a blank board for them so they could start over again. Eventually we pulled ourselves free of the white board, and they started exploring other apps. Now that they were in clusters around the iPads, any other app they opened became a social experience, too. One group started using the Anatomy Lite quiz and turned it into a game, pointing and tapping together. This inspired another group to do the same thing and soon there was a competition going to see which group could get to the highest level. Not Angry Birds, mind you. Anatomy. Pointing at bones and muscle groups. And they seemed to enjoy it!

I have high hopes for other interactive screen-sharing apps, such as Fuze Meeting and Meeting Mngr Pro but have yet to try them out in a meeting setting.  I am very surprised that more apps don’t offer this feature. For example, I would LOVE to see interactive screen sharing in my favorite note-taking app Notes Plus, which allows for handwriting, typing, and drawing – handling all this input in beautiful ways.  Or imagine what an academic writing group could do if everyone could share comments in real time on an app like GoodReader?  The more potential I see in the iPad, the more frustrated I am that we aren’t there yet.