Some Advice on Buying Macs and iPads at my School

I had an incoming student ask for my advice on which devices to buy as they start their learning career at CU’s School of Dental Medicine.

This was my response:

As you are asking for my personal opinion, I will give it to you based upon how I do my daily work and how I have seen effective students work this year (our first year of using both iPads and Macs together). First, I love my iPad Pro. I have been using an iPad since the original generation because I love iOS and the way you get to think about “Apps and Actions” instead of “Files and Storage.” The more that I can use my iPad for productive purposes, the happier I am. I often find that I am better able to concentrate on a single productive task while on the iPad because of the way it is set up (there aren’t a nearly infinite number of windows that I can keep open at any given time). With that said, there are still things that I cannot do as easily from the iPad. And so I often find myself remotely accessing my MacBook Pro in order to accomplish a variety of tasks such as extensive work with spreadsheets and accessing desktop only applications. For this setup, I do not need the latest and greatest Mac. Rather, I just need one that I can always leave on to be there whenever I need it. If this setup sounds like you, I’d go for the best iPad Pro for your needs (either a 12.9 or 11 inch with Apple Pencil Gen 2) and go with a lesser Mac that you can defer to when you need it.

Second, I have seen students in their first year really like using iPads for note taking and annotating powerpoint files. They are often drawing on top of PDF readings or recording and annotating lectures. These are iPad-first students, and some of them rarely use their Macs. However, I see lots of students who prefer to type on their Mac laptops and make use of the massive storage they have, while leaving their iPads for only accessing the content-based apps that we have provided for specific classes. If you are the type of person who really does prefer to type extensive notes, a laptop is far better suited to the task. The exams for each of the courses are currently given primarily via Mac Laptop, but there are some students who are more comfortable on iPad, so they do that there as well. It really is a preference thing at this point, but we are moving forward with the idea that you should be able to do these exams from anywhere. 

Last, I think it probably comes down to what you want to invest your time in. There is A LOT of content coming at you in the first year, and you want a setup that is going to be easiest for you to learn that content. If you know how to use the iPad already and are familiar with navigating the mobile-first paradigm (I launch this app to do this thing), then it may make more sense to invest more there. If, on the other hand, you find yourself thinking about keeping a series of Word docs or Powerpoint files for each of your courses to help organize your learning, investing in the laptop is going to be easier for you. Ultimately, the technology should just be a tool to help you learn. It should not “get in the way” of your learning. So, I would start with the following tasks that a first year student does frequently and see which tool you might want to use most often. Whichever device feels more comfortable to you, I would invest in more heavily:

  • Taking notes during class
  • Taking pictures of your work in lab
  • Reviewing slides from your faculty members
  • Making powerpoint “cases” to present in class
  • Making flash cards/review materials
  • Accessing an LMS (Canvas, in our case)
  • Taking an Exam with multiple choice questions
  • Messaging your classmates
  • Reading a digital textbook and taking notes
  • Accessing an Electronic Health Records system

There are a lot of other tasks that you will obviously be doing with these devices (I haven’t spoken about any personal uses, so consider those too), but I hope that helps a bit for making your decisions. The only other suggestion I have is to wait until at least the end of June before buying anything. Mac laptops should get a refresh this summer, and you may have an easier time deciding after that point. Let me know if you have any further questions, and I’d be happy to follow up.

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