Why I Returned the Apple iPad Tablet to Rutgers University

This past week, Matt Bailey, the president and founder of SiteLogic, Cindy Krum, the Chief Executive Officer of Rank-Mobile, and I taught half a dozen of the modules in the Rutgers Mini-MBA: Digital Marketing certificate program. Rutgers incorporated “cutting-edge digital technology” into our teaching approach for this program – supplying all participants with their own free Apple iPad tablet, containing the pre-loaded program materials.

Eric Greenberg Rutgers iPad 2

Now, the 30 participants in my two modules seemed to like their iPads. But when I was finished teaching the Online PR Strategies and Social Media Marketing modules, I returned the Apple iPad tablet that I’d been loaned for the program to Rutgers University.

Why did I look this gift horse in the mouth? That’s a story worth re-telling.

For starters, Apple gave us early versions of the iPad, which lacked some of the features — such as a physical keyboard, a webcam, USB ports, and multitasking — that most laptop or netbook users take for granted.

So, I had to make adjustments to my strategies or style of instruction.

For example, during my Online PR Strategies module, I asked the participants to conduct some keyword research on their iPads. But I didn’t ask them to attempt to optimize a press release.

Why? Because I found the iPad virtual keyboard is fine for hunt and peck typing or taking notes, but it isn’t suited for touch typing or editing long documents. And while I was confident that participants could hold the iPad tablet in one hand and poke a few keys with their fingers, I didn’t want to make them set their iPads flat on a table and bend over it to see the virtual keyboard while trying to optimize a press release.

During my Social Media Marketing module, I asked the participants to visit the Facebook page for Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR). But I didn’t ask them to play the four videos on the SMLR Facebook page because the iPad doesn’t support viewing Web videos in Adobe’s Flash technology.

Finally, the number of top iPad apps for college students and professors was limited.

Rutgers had pre-loaded Evernote, a free iPad app. Evernote is a service that lets you clip audio, video, text, images, whatever you can think of and save it to a central web repository. You can assign documents or files with tags for easy collections and organization and you can use it to create voice notes, attach pictures and make edits to text documents.

But Rutgers couldn’t have pre-loaded Flipboard, because it wasn’t available until this past week. The iTunes App Store describes Flipboard as “the world’s first social magazine.” It is a fast, beautiful way to flip through news, photos and updates your friends are sharing on Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately, a couple of positive reviews of Flipboard by Katherine Boehret in AllThingsD and Robert Scoble of Scobleizer last week caused a surge in user demand that temporarily overloaded Flipboard’s server capacity.

As a result, the Flipboard description in the iTunes App Store advises, “We are now allowing setup for the Facebook and Twitter sections on an invite basis.”

Nevertheless, as Rob Pegoraro of Faster Forward observed a couple of days ago, “I would imagine there is an interesting story to be written about how Flipboard got into this mess and how — let’s be optimistic — it worked its way out of trouble. I know I would enjoy reading such an article. In the Flipboard app.”

So, I didn’t return the Apple iPad tablet to Rutgers University because I hated it. And I didn’t mind being asked to test some bleeding edge technology.

But in its current incarnation, the iPad is a left-handed teaching tool. It’s on the brink of the verge of the edge of replacing my laptop, but it’s not quite there yet.

Still, the iPad shows a lot of promise and developers are starting to launch some killer apps for higher education. So, I’m going to wait another month or two before putting my stamp of approval on it.

Now, I would love to be asked by Rutgers to teach the Mini-MBA: Digital Marketing certificate program again this fall. And by that time, I hope that Apple will have worked out the kinks in its “magical and revolutionary product” and I pray there will be a couple of killer iPad apps that participants can use in the program.

Then, the interactive sessions and class exercises will become even more valuable.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Participants got their money’s worth this time around — learning a new business model for digital marketing through case studies, the latest research, and best practices in the industry. I know, I’ve read their reviews online.

But, it never hurts to improve the return on investment the next time around.

Get it? Got it? Good.

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