Are Tablets Suitable for Academic Use?

With the launch of the iPad a not quite new industry was given a fresh clean look. Tablet computers have been around in various forms for years, but it took the iPad to bring tablets to the mainstream. This raised an important question for businesses and educational institutions. Can a tablet be effectively used in an educational setting? Many schools sought research grants to determine exactly how well a tablet fit into a student’s academic toolbox. Pepperdine tested iPads in various settings, and the School of Law even tested a hybrid tablet/e-reader in a classroom setting.

The SOLIS team had a chance to test the iPad with common accessories, including the keyboard stand. I typed a blog post both with and without the keyboard to determine the viability of replacing a traditional laptop or netbook with a tablet. At the time I did not think it would be worth the effort to have to bring all the accessories everywhere one went simply to be able to have a laptop experience on a cool new toy. As time has passed, I have begun to reconsider.

I recently took my Android tablet to an academic seminar. Part of the reason I bought my tablet was to have a lightweight, internet-capable device with which I could take notes, check email, or look up any relevant websites presented in a lecture. I have been using a netbook for conferences for the last couple of years, so this seminar was my first chance to field test a tablet.

With one minor issue regarding available power outlets for recharging, the tablet performed exactly as needed. I did not use any accessories, and typed my notes using the on-screen keyboard. The pace of the seminar allowed me to take short-hand notes, with varying levels of detail. I did not need to write copious notes, as there were online resources available. In the specific context in which I was using the tablet for taking notes, it performed quite well.

This field test, along with tests during most of my meetings this year have helped convince me that tablets can be useful both in an academic and business setting. That being said, I would still recommend keeping the netbook or laptop on standby in case you need some extra power or a handy attached keyboard. There are times when a tablet simply cannot provide the support you need.

As tablets are continuing to improve, they can be useful in an academic setting. We are not quite to the point of using them exclusively, but the option looks good in the not-to-distant future. I was quite satisfied using my tablet to take notes in an academic seminar. Tablets have certainly come a long way in a short time. I look forward to seeing how the industry grows over the next few years. Until then, test out your own tablet, and see if you can use it effectively for notes, research, or other academic use.