I returned mentally exhausted from my two weeks of continuing ed courses at the seminary. (If you’re curious, I took courses on “The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers”, “The Doctrine and Practice of the Lord’s Supper,” and “Reconfiguring Your Sunday School.”) The first week alone I had 33+ hours of classroom time. It’s been 17 years since I graduated, and although I study on my own and have been back to the Sem a number of times, I can feel the effects of time beginning to take their toll.
I’m glad to report, however, that my iPad-only experience was a rousing (although still limited) success. There were some tasks that I actually felt were easier to do on the iPad. And those things I couldn’t do directly with the tablet almost always had a work-around.
Things that were better with an iPad:
- Portability. Unlike the other students who had to carry bulky bags to class with their laptops, most didn’t even know that I had brought an iPad with me unless/until I brought it out for research or to take notes.
- Reading. All of the courses I took required extensive reading outside of class. I enjoyed loading up the PDF files in GoodReader and sitting in the comfy chair out in the lounge or in the library. Others had to hunch over their laptop screens — or kill an entire tree to print out the materials. Additionally, GoodReader has an excellent highlighting feature built into the app.
- Battery power. Most of my fellow students needed to sit near outlets to make sure they had a steady stream of electricity to power their laptops. (Although the seminary thoughtfully provided power strips in most classrooms.) I only need to remember to plug in the iPad before my head hit the pillow at night and I was good to go for another day.
- Entertainment. Naturally I mean outside of classroom time, when my reading assignments were done. Far be it from me to check FaceBook while the professor was lecturing! One night I started watching a Netflix movie, but I soon drifted off. The best recreational use I got from the iPad was reading a book during the flight home.
Things that I could do just as well on an iPad as on a laptop:
- Taking notes. I wouldn’t want to use the built-in keyboard for extended typing, but Apple’s keyboard dock made entering notes during class every bit as easy as it would have been with a laptop.
- Class presentation. I put together a short presentation using Keynote that looked better than anything built on Windows-driven laptops. I was amazed how easy it was. Connecting the iPad to the classroom projector (with a dongle I brought) was a breeze as well.
- Email. I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s Mail app on the iPad, but it works.
- Access files from home. I have all of my work (but not sensitive personal) documents synched on DropBox. It was a cinch to access any of them in seconds.
- Internet access. This one might actually belong above. Many fellow students complained about spotty network signals throughout the dorms. There was only one fleeting moment where my iPad’s connection dropped out — only to pick up the signal again within seconds. I was able to surf the web and do specific tasks like personal banking and reserve my seat for the flight home.
Things that were difficult or impossible to do with just an iPad:
- Access the seminary’s file system. Some professors put class notes and other required material on the seminary’s “common drive” which was made accessible to students. It can be tricky to navigate these network drives on a laptop, but the iPad has no ability at all to access that kind of secure file system. (Is there an app for that?) I discovered a really kludgy workaround that involved signing into my email account on the library computer, but it was awkward and time-consuming. This was the iPad’s biggest Fail of the whole two weeks.
- Print. If I had needed to print a document — past contrary-to-fact conditional — this would have been another Fail.
- Work with Biblical languages. I use Logos for my work with Greek and Hebrew at home, even though I know I don’t use a fraction of what the software is capable of. The Logos app is handy for reading text, but there’s no way you can do anything like serious exegetical work with the iPad version alone. Fortunately, the courses I took didn’t require much work with the original languages.
Some gaps in functionality were filled with campus PCs (for example, accessing the school’s file system) and others with my trusty iPhone (like taking pictures of the seminary’s beautiful campus). In the end, I was very happy with my decision to only bring my iPad. I noticed another pastor had brought both. He rarely took out his iPad, preferring to work almost exclusively on his laptop. Further conversation with him, however, revealed that he wasn’t fully aware of everything that his Apple tablet was capable of. Maybe next time he’ll consider leaving the laptop at home as I did.