Weber State University provided iPads free of charge to students this semester as part of an experimental case study.  The ongoing research, presented at WSU’s Teaching and Learning Symposium last week, is designed to discover the influence of mobile technology’s reach into the classroom.

The students in the courses that provided the iPads responded positively to using the tablets. However, many students had trouble adjusting to the technology, and others found it was not as convenient as they had hoped. The tablets have proven to be helpful in some areas with drawbacks in others.

Sian Griffiths, Jordan Hamson-Utley and Carl Porter were the three instructors chosen to incorporate the iPads.  Adam Johnston, Teaching and Learning forum director, and Shelley Bellflower,  director of Technologies, Training, and Planning, reviewed proposals to decide which instructors would receive iPads.

The iPads were integrated into the existing curriculum in an effort to enhance the overall goals of the course.

“I can’t let the iPad get in the way of teaching. I needed to replicate the course,” Porter said, who uses the iPads in his Developmental English course. “In the end, I need to teach students grammar and how to write — and they’re going to use the iPad. They needed to learn how to write a good college essay, and that was the goal.”

In the beginning, Porter said he expected the iPads would be a distraction.

“I anticipated that they would sit and play with them,” Porter said. “They did, at first, like with any technology. But students check out all the time anyway.”

Porter and his students use a stylus to mark up the papers and complete worksheets on the iPad. Certain apps also allow students to access Canvas, peer-edit assignments in Dropbox and easily turn in assignments to their instructor via the iPad. Students are also able to quickly access assignments and receive feedback as soon as it is available.

Griffiths uses the iPads in her Advanced Speculative Fiction Writing course and found that using an iPad has saved paper. Her students were able to share comments and share their writing, making class workshops easier.

“Usually these classes are like tree killers,” Griffiths said. “We’ve been able to save a lot of paper. They can draft on the iPad and have peers comment on it.”

Hamson-Utley used a set of 10 iPads in her Athletic Training evaluation courses and was able to utilize apps such as Clinical Orthopedic Exam, or C.O.R.E, to help students learn how to evaluate injuries. Hamson-Utley feels it is important for students to become familiar with field technology.

“If the student is familiar with technology, it will prove to be useful to them,” Hamson-Utley said. “They’ll be able to interact with physicians and understand the technology needed in the field.”

The iPads can also be used as an e-reader, allowing students to purchase textbooks and workbooks on the Kindle app for less money than a traditional textbook.

“You can have all of your textbooks on one super-light little thing and have all your notes on that, and have everything you need in one place, with your calendar and the Internet,” Griffiths said. “It’s easy to carry around.”

However, the textbooks created issues, as they were not always formatted for an e-reader, and often the page numbers would change based on the orientation of the iPads, making it difficult for students to literally stay on the same page.

“I found more and more students bringing laptops to class,” Griffiths said. “ They find there are more things they can do on their laptop.”

Cost is also an issue. According to Hamson-Utley, a private school with  $40,000 tuition, providing iPads to students would not be an issue. However, a school like WSU would have more of a problem with costs of the units.

The long-term learning benefits of iPads in the classroom are still unknown. Griffiths said that the education value in the iPads is hard to assess, and it will take time and investigation to truly know the answer of the educational value.

Even with the drawbacks of the iPads, Porter sees a future for iPads in the classroom.

“I see potential,” he explained. “But there are things that need to be smoothed out.”

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