Next year, some Duke students will be able to play with Apple’s latest toy—and use it for classwork, too.

The Duke Center for Instructional Technology is looking for ways to incorporate the iPad into the classroom, said Lynne O’Brien, director of academic technology and instructional services. CIT plans to buy a number of iPads for faculty and students by this Fall.

“We’re very interested in what the iPad might enable for education and research at the University.” O’Brien said. “Duke is a leader in exploring the use of mobile devices with multimedia. I think we will do some kind of explorations with the iPad.”

She added that funding from the Duke Digital Initiative will be used to purchase iPads for loans at The Link in Perkins Library next semester.

Her department is looking to understand the iPad’s strengths and weaknesses, particularly in relation to its readability. CIT will compare the reading experience of the iPad to the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, laptop and other electronic devices as well as to the standard hard copy.

O’Brien said Duke’s faculty will make the final judgment regarding the iPad’s educational and technical value. Members of the faculty can approach CIT with a research question and a plan to use the iPad in the classroom. If CIT approves the professor’s proposal, students will be provided with iPads to use in the course. After a semester, the professor must provide an evaluation of the device.

O’Brien said that so far, about eight to 10 faculty members have contacted CIT to learn more about the iPad.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the Fall, we have at least half a dozen instructors doing some type of experiment with them over the course of the semester,” she said.

David Johnston, a research scientist in marine science and conservation at the Nicholas School of the Environment, is hoping to get funding to use the iPad in his course on marine megafauna.

“One of the things that we can do with mobile devices [like the iPad] is use rich media to help explain how those animals move, how they spend their days and where they go using video animation,” Johnston said. “Mobile applications provide the ability to interact with data and to explore the information to better understand it.”

He said the iPad could be used to explore population models or demonstrate how penguins forage and use their flippers to swim.

Even students who do not sign up for courses that use iPads may see benefits from the device. The Duke University Computer Store currently has iPads for sale and has sold approximately six so far, said Twanda Whitten, assistant manager at the store.

O’Brien said there are many iPad applications that could be useful for students, including a new application created by Blackboard Inc.

She added that the University was involved in early testing of Blackboard’s application, which allows students to access information on Blackboard from an iPad.

Duke was asked to be involved in the process due to its “reputation for trying to do things early with new technology,” O’Brien said.

In Fall 2004, the University provided a 20 GB iPod for every incoming freshman to encourage academic use of the devices.

“With the iPod... we chose to be one of the early institutions to find the role of this new technological device in education,” O’Brien said. “We decided to let 1,000 flowers bloom, to make broad access to [the iPod].”

Since then, the University has not provided free technological devices for its incoming students and there are no plans to provide iPads to the Class of 2014.

“The iPod project was a one-time project that was funded through strategic initiative funds.” O’Brien said.

CIT will have iPads available for examination at the upcoming Instructional Technology Showcase April 30 in Perkins Library. At the event, Duke faculty will discuss what they have done with technology in their classes. Students and faculty will also be able to propose ideas to CIT consultants at the event.

“If there are people out there who have interesting ideas for learning, I hope they’d get in contact with us,” O’Brien said. “The best ideas don’t come from the companies and they don’t come from us—they come from the faculty and students.”