University Tempts Students With Free iPads

If you’re considering a school for next year, you might want to put Seton Hill on the shortlist, as the university in Greensburg, Pennsylvania is the first academic institution to announce free iPads for every full-time student beginning in Fall, 2010. The goal is to create a connected campus where students can share notes, download textbooks and exchange files all on one unified platform.

Seton Hill is a Catholic liberal arts university, but regardless of the curriculum, a free iPad would definitely influence my choice of schools, especially given that you’ll be paying ridiculous amounts for tuition no matter where you go. Better to get something awesome in the bargain.

That’s not all you could get, either. If you’re a first-year undergraduate student just starting out, you get a 13-inch MacBook, too. It’s like some kind of Apple (s aapl) customer loyalty indoctrination camp. That’s an education you can’t put a price on, if you ask me.

So are iPads in the academy a good idea? I mean, Apple’s new wonder device obviously has its merits as an educational tool. Anything that makes reading seem cool and futuristic does. But what about rolled out as a comprehensive solution at a higher learning institution? Will a bunch of undergrads running around with quick and easy access to Facebook chat make them study any harder or smarter?

[related-posts topic=”ipad”]In a word, yes. These days every student going into college has a notebook or netbook computer, and almost no one takes notes by hand anymore. In that environment, it’s virtually impossible to find a student who isn’t already able to devote as much class time as they want to distracting pursuits like social networking sites and games. It’s not very likely that the iPad could even manage to exacerbate that problem, given how widespread it already is.

On the other hand, the iPad can do a lot of good in an educational environment, especially when it’s universally available, resulting in an even playing field. Unlike computers, the iPad is basically a single-focus device. It allows students to concentrate on one app at a time, which is perfect for those who have trouble reining in their attention on traditional computing platforms, myself included. It also provides great opportunities for truly collaborative learning experiences, depending on what kind of apps devs come up with, or on what kind of special features educational publishers include with their textbooks.

Seton Hill may be the first school to offer up free iPads for students, but I doubt very much it’ll be the last. Aside from providing a great incentive to attract new students, it also provides terrific opportunities for institutions interested in being at the forefront of advances in scholarship and education. And it gives me one more reason to consider going back for that second degree I always wanted. Too bad Seton doesn’t offer a program in marine biology.