ASU Herald Says iPads for Freshmen Getting 'Mixed Reviews'

Arkansas State University's move to require freshmen to purchase iPads for use in its first-year experience course called "Making Connections" is getting mixed reviews from students, according to the Jonesboro campus' student newspaper.

In an article in Monday's Herald, students say the cost of the iPads are too high to justify the requirement that all freshmen purchase or rent Apple's tablet, which can range in price from about $300 to $800. That's not including a required $48 "connection kit," which includes a course textbook, a copy of the course's common reader book, and a suite of productivity and creative apps.

“I feel like it’s a $500 computer replacing a $20 (Making Connections) book,” said Sean Dineen, a freshman biology major of Little Rock.

Maddie Blancaflor, a freshman mechanical engineering major of Hot Springs, said, “We only use it for one class so it’s really pointless to have a $500 iPad.”

Others complain that campus WiFi connectivity, which ASU said it has been working to improve, remains spotty, even in places where the freshman "Connections" classes meet. It's an issue ASU's IT department continues to troubleshoot.

The article also includes positive feedback from other students who like the convenience of the multipurpose device, its long battery life and, of course, the "cool factor" of having one.

ASU has touted the program, which obviously carries a "cool factor" of its own for a university looking to set itself apart. It'll be interesting to see how this experiment plays out. Last year, ASU had more than 1,700 students enrolled in the freshman course -- a good sample size for testing new technology and introducing digital textbooks, some of which are written by ASU faculty.

Cost concerns among cash-strapped students are certainly real and not to be dismissed. But I have a feeling that in 10 years we'll look back and wonder why everyone was lugging around four or five expensive textbooks instead of one slender tablet packed with digital tomes.

(Disclosure: I am an ASU graduate.)