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September 20, 2010, 05:52 PM ET

Classroom iPad Programs Get Mixed Response

A few weeks after a handful of colleges gave away iPads to determine the tablet's place in the classroom, students and faculty seem confident that the device has some future in academe.

But they're still not exactly sure where that might be.

At those early-adopter schools, iPads are competing with MacBooks as the students' go-to gadget for note taking and Web surfing. Zach Kramberg, a first-year student at George Fox University, which allowed incoming students to choose between a complimentary iPad or MacBook this fall, said the tablet has become an important tool for recording and organizing lecture notes. He also takes the device with him to the university's dimly lit chapel so he can follow along with an app called iBible. "The iPad's very easy to use once you figure them out," he said.

Still, Mr. Kramberg said the majority of students rely on bound Bibles in chapel and stick to pen and paper or MacBooks in the classroom.

Greg Smith, chief information officer at George Fox, said the iPad's technological limitations—its inability to multitask and print, and its limited storage space—have kept students dependent on their notebooks. "That's the problem with the iPad: It's not an independent device," he said.

Mr. Smith said that the 67 students—10 percent of the freshman class—that opted for iPads over MacBooks are really excited about the technology but have not been "pushing the capabilities" of the device.

Caitlin Corning, a history professor at George Fox, said it's been hard to meld iPads into the curriculum because only a small subset of her students has the device. Ms. Corning used the iPad as a portable teaching tool during a student art trip to Europe this summer, flashing Van Gogh works on the screen when they were in the places he painted them. Translating that portable-classroom experience into her classroom back in Oregon, however, has not been easy. "It's still a work in progress," she said. "It's a little complex because only some of the freshmen have iPads."

Faculty members at Seton Hill University, which gave iPads to all full-time students, are working with the developers of an e-book app called Inkling to come up with new ways to integrate the iPad into classroom instruction. The textbook software—one of many in development—allows students to access interactive graphics and add notes as they read along. Faculty members can access the students' marginalia to see whether they understand the text. They can also remotely receive and answer questions from students in real time.

Catherine Giunta, an associate professor of business at Seton Hill, said the technology has changed the way students interact with their textbooks and how she interacts with her students. While reviewing the margin notes of a student in her marketing class, Ms. Giunta was able to pinpoint and correct a student's apparent misunderstanding of a concept that was going to be covered in class the next day. "The misunderstanding may not have been apparent until [the student] did a written report," Ms. Giunta said. "I could really give her individualized instruction and guidance."

As students and faculty members around the country feel around for new ways to integrate the iPad into academic life, a handful of programs are taking a more formal approach to finding its place in the classroom. Students in the Digital Cultures and Creativity program at the University of Maryland at College Park will turn a critical eye on the iPad as a study tool while integrating it into their curriculum.  "I think [students are] taking a sort of wait-and-see approach," said Matthew Kirschenbaum, the program director and an associate professor of English.

Similarly, the faculty at Indiana University has formed a 24-member focus group to evaluate iPad-driven teaching strategies. The groups have started meeting this month to assess how their iPad experiments are going, with a preliminary report due in January. "It's meant to be a supportive, collaborative, formalized conversation," said Stacy Morrone, Indiana's associate dean of learning technologies. "We don't expect that everything will go perfectly."

Although not entirely related to the substance of the iPad educational debate, a pilot program at Long Island University was thrust into the spotlight over the weekend in an animated e-mail exchange between a college journalist and Apple's founder Steve Jobs. As Gawker reports it, complaints about a few unreturned media inquiries from a deadline-stressed reporter led to a curt "leave us alone" response from the Apple chief executive.

In the e-mail chain, Mr. Jobs said, "Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade."


1. mkirschenbaum - September 20, 2010 at 07:20 pm

I spoke with the Chronicle's report for almost half an hour and related many positive aspects of the iPad experience here at U. Maryland, including what is definitely overall student enthusiasm. The "wait and see" remark was, I believe, offered in the specific context of whether students thought the iPad would help them perform better in their classes, which seems fair, given that our program is exactly three weeks old.

2. nathan_stevens - September 20, 2010 at 08:48 pm

IPADs allow students and faculty to use their free time wisely. Web pages can be stored on the devices to be viewed while riding a bus. Notes could be taken offline while watching a child's sporting event. New collaboration app are coming out every week. New apps are adding projection to connect to an LCD. There is an app for almost every subject. The only limits of the device is your imagination and flash.I am currently working on 3 iPAD projects and trying to get 3 more started. Ebooks are the start of how use this type of device can be. Another reason to look at mobile devices is that a laptop has a limitation of 3-4 hours of battery life where the iPad gives up to 10 hours. College infrastructure are not ready to handle the power demands of every student having a laptop. The iPAD and other mobile devices allow funding to focus on the student and not infrastructure. The mobile device has come along way from Handsprings and Newtons, I the future seems bright.

Nathan Stevens
North Carolina State University

3. daveapostles - September 21, 2010 at 06:33 am

Is their no moral conscience in US HE any more?

4. jpistone - September 21, 2010 at 07:56 am

I think we need to be careful we don't approach this device through a rear view mirror (horseless carriage thing). It's no more a laptop than the iPhone is a cellphone. Both are portals that can connect you up with information and processes elsewhere. As Nathan points out, the limitating factor is imagination (with HTML5, Flash won't be much of an issue). If you approach this thing as just an electronic text storage device, then, no, it's probably a constraining device.

5. stevefoerster - September 21, 2010 at 08:04 am

#3: Would you care to be more specific why you're asking?

6. jrlupton - September 21, 2010 at 08:57 am

"It's not a laptop." i think that's the key point. It does different things, and is especially great for reading documents (books, pdfs, websites) just about anywhere. The keyboard is simply not good enough for notetaking in class -- to toggle between symbols and letters and learning to tolerate so many errors would be a real detriment in a note-taking situation.

7. billhandy - September 21, 2010 at 09:11 am

As one of the professors involved in the Oklahoma State University iPad pilot I have already found many benefits of the device and overall feedback from the students has also been positive.

That being said I would add it is still too early in the semester for anyone to yet give it a thumbs up or down with regard to academic enhancement.

8. lverdusco - September 21, 2010 at 09:31 am

I am disappointed that CHE would cite Gawker. This site has not been know for its journalistic ethics and there have been many sites that have questioned the validity of the report.

9. professorrct - September 21, 2010 at 09:34 am

I'm involved in a pilot program at Freed-Hardeman University (West TN) and have found many benefits that go beyond note taking and text reading. Access to the web, esp YouTube vids, gives students a way to learn skills separately and in groups during class. I can then contextualize the skills they're learning and provide enrichment in class.

Teaching theatre technology with the iPad has proven to be a boon. I agree, it's too soon to call it a success, but the iPad's certainly a valuable addition to technical theatre training.

10. aborroni - September 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

At Oberlin College (Ohio) we are also looking at iPads. There are two major initiatives: one in the library and another through the Educational Technology division. EdTech is focusing on how iPads can be used in the classroom. We are particularly interested in its use beyond a document/media distribution tool. 5 faculty were chosen and given iPads and access to a pool of 20 that can be delivered to their class. We've asked them to explore various apps as tools for acheiving specific pedagogical goals and chronicle their explorations and experiences in a public blog.
Our experiences in managing the iPads is also being documented and we will survey the students at the break.
As with what has been reported by others, there are some apps that are useless but there are some that, combined with the easy to use interface and portability of the device, have been very useful additions to the teaching/learning environment.

11. amorrone - September 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm

To provide a bit more information on what we are doing at Indiana University, the focus groups that are referred to in the article are actually Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs). We will have three FLCs this year, two of which are interdisciplinary, and one that focuses specifically on the use of iPads in the health sciences. Faculty interest in participating in these FLCs was very high and we received more than 120 applications for 24 slots. A selection committee reviewed the applications and selected faculty members who described the most promising and varied projects. The members of the FLCs will share iPad kits (25 iPads per kit) that their students will use to experiment with the use of the devices in teaching and learning. The teaching centers on our two primary campuses will assist in preparing the iPads for use in the classroom and for providing pedagogical support. We took a FLC approach because we believe that having faculty members who are committed to researching the effective use of these devices and then sharing their findings in bi-weekly meetings will result in greater impact than if we would have funded a series of individual faculty projects. The FLC members have committed to produce a report by the end of January on their preliminary findings from the fall semester. I was quoted in the article as saying that we don't think everything will go perfectly, and that's true, but we also believe that this is an exciting project that will yield important findings about the effective use of iPads in teaching and learning.

Anastasia (Stacy) Morrone
Indiana University

12. windfix - September 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Groan. Another mass movement to jump on the next shiny device and later find ways it can be useful. Look hard enough, I'm sure you'll all find reasons why all the funding was WELL spent.

13. rashford - September 21, 2010 at 01:48 pm

Our university library has an iPad with which I've been experimenting. It's excellent for certain purposes such as viewing interactive ebooks like "The Elements: A Visual Exploration" by Theodore Gray (youtube video demo of this book http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHiEqf5wb3g).

There are also more and better apps being created and made available daily for this device. The many ebook reading apps freely available for the iPad makes for a nice ebook reading experience. The PDF reading options are also increasing in quality and quantity.

But there are a couple of things that really excite me about this device - one is the announcement a few hours ago of google docs editing finally soon to be enabled on the iPad, iPhone and Android devices: http://bit.ly/aeBVqN (my university is a Google Apps for Education school so this is especially important). The other is that iPad version 2 is not far behind. I expect to see many excellent new and needed features (cameras, multitasking and more).

Personally, I believe tablets like the iPad, and many others now coming to market, are here to stay, and educational institutions are wise to be experimenting with these devices (and proud my university is participating). It's still very early.

14. ryantpalmer - September 21, 2010 at 01:49 pm

@ lverdusco- Is this a better source for you: http://www.hulu.com/watch/179629/abc-good-morning-america-steve-jobs-to-student-leave-us-alone

15. cnathenson - September 21, 2010 at 01:53 pm

I've only begun to play with my iPad for teaching. So far, the biggest limitation I've experienced is the difficulty (inability?) to create my own "e-books." I can easily photocopy excerpts from texts into a bound textbook that one can highlight and annotate, but the iPad has no such native ability. Some third-party software will allow annotation, but true sharing, such as the kind described by using Inkling, seems to be limited to textbooks offered through those vendors' stores. Where's the app for those of us who make our own e-texts?

16. ericylai - September 21, 2010 at 07:48 pm

FYI, here's a list I've been maintaining of schools and colleges deploying iPads:


As of Sept. 22, I'm up to 33. Would love any tips via Twitter @ericylai or email ericyolai@gmail.com!

17. nathan_stevens - September 22, 2010 at 08:55 am

cnathenson I use epub2go.com to create ebooks. Upload you file to their site and the will email the book back as an epub. I am glad to see so many others moving in the mobile direction. The students are already at this point with their phones. Students seems to know more about the functions of their phone than they know about their laptop. JrLupton is correct that the virtual keyboard is not quite up to par. I purchased the keyboard doc to go with my ipad and change the way I use it. I had a few people that I was defeating the purpose of the iPAD by toting around an extra keyboard. The keyboard fits in my back pocket, which is a real bonus. I would like to hear from anyone who is looking to use paid apps in their projects. We are getting ready to purchase apps through the volume licensing program for one of my projects. We are looking at using the iPADs as offline data collectors, as distance ed tools, and teaching tools. I am adding new apps and ideas to my site daily.


18. mjohnson2009 - September 22, 2010 at 10:02 am

I've been and will continue to watch the evolution of the iPad with great interest. My informal research has been specifically on its use in education. So far what I've seen is that as it exists today, it is not a laptop replacement. It's great for reading text from a variety of sources (i.e. blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc.) and consuming various media but it lacks is in content creation and cost.

I was involved in an HP tablet pilot group and had the pleasure of using one of their tablets. I loved it and as such, often equate to that experience. I used a "pen" to write notes and the device either captured notes as written or converted them to typewritten text. I found it did a good job converting the text. It also had a keyboard that could be flipped so the device acted more like a laptop or hidden behind the screen so the device acted like a tablet. I often removed the keyboard altogether because using the pen was much easier and produced good results. I ultimately got rid of it because it didn't have enough power to serve as my sole computer. (I do some video and image editing that require programs needing more memory than the device offered.) I truly think this device didn't sell because of cost. I believe it was in the $1400 - $2000 range.

As far as the iPad, I can't imagine writing a whole APA- or MLA- style paper using its Pages application. Even if you paired it with a bluetooth keyboard, many of the features are difficult to find and some not even offered in the iPad version of the app. As far as handwriting notes, I can't imagine having to use a "cottonball" pen on a routine basis. It's just too difficult to draw something recognizable with the pen - although it works well for drawing pictures. So, as far as content creation, it's fine for kicking out a quick e-mail, blog post, or to jot down a to-do item.

The other thing working against iPad completely replacing the laptop is cost. Most college students simply can't afford both an iPad and a laptop. So, many opt for the laptop that allows them to do everything they can do on the iPad (although, I admit, it's not as fun).

19. gahnett - September 22, 2010 at 03:50 pm

I'm of the same opinion as mjohnson2009. It's not a replacement for a laptop. So, do we need something that's portable, but not as portable as a cellphone, for use as an educational device that can do what we need it to do?

nope. (speaking as a representative of the peoples.)

Most arguments on here sounds like a marketing ploy. "It's great, it does this, it's small, it's light, etc, we just have to build an app for it and it's coming...and it'll eventually be able to store as much information as laptops, it'll be more energy efficient, etc."...


20. interested_reader - September 23, 2010 at 07:41 am

@gahnett - have you actually tried using an iPad? Many people who had preconceived notions about what they might or might not be good for have changed their minds after actually using one. I did. It's far too early for broad sweeping judgments about their best use in the classroom, but as a new way of sharing content, iPads are surprising useful. Far less intrusive than a laptop, with the ability to just pass something around a room or show to your neighbor (or watch class video while riding the bus, one of the examples already mentioned). I imagine that many of the people interviewed for this article probably cited far more potential uses than the reporter included.

21. pierce_library40 - September 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm

What's needed to make the iPad truly useful in an educational setting is something that makes input much easier than it is now. The virtual keyboard is virtually useless for anything except very short text creations. To marry it with a Bluetooth keyboard makes the device as functional as a netbook, but ultimately less convenient (and more expensive).

What's need is a Bluetooth stylus that disenables the touch screen and allows true stylus input, so handwriting can really be used for input. I'm not sure why we haven't seen this device yet--it's an obvious need to make the iPad a significantly useful educational device.

22. krissydawn16 - September 23, 2010 at 08:40 pm

I want to know why Ms. Giunta thinks that reviewing her students' note-taking skills on an iPad is somehow more effective than reviewing hand-written notes. Students are suddenly reading their textbooks because there is a new toy on which they can do it. That will die out soon and students will resort back to spiral-bound notebooks. And, Ms. Giunta will stop reviewing her students' notes and their misunderstandings will once again go unnoticed until exam time.

23. mabulencia - September 25, 2010 at 02:10 am

The iPad like every technology has a place in the classroom as long as learning needs are kept in focus. The example at George Fox University illustrates that access and equity is clearly a factor to consider if educators or institutions are to develop learning activities and strategies around iPads. In the case of Ms. Guinta at Setton Hill, the question would be, how many students does she have and how her strategy will cope if she was to look after a larger class and provide individualised feedback?
The debate continues and more pilot projects (and focus groups) will be formed.
In my opinion, we need to first understand what and how we are teaching. Identify if there is a need to introduce the technology in the classroom and if so, what technology or application within the technology. Finally, to get student feedback and monitor their performance in class (iteratively and continuously) to see the effectiveness of our decisions as educators.

24. timewaster123 - September 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Yes, seconding the need for a pen, and I won't be getting an ipad before that happens. Part of why I don't like the iphone is that I had a palm before, and while only b&w, the stylus was great and a fairly natural device to use. (Plus yuck, greasy fingers all over the screen bothers me, I don't know why.) But certainly the technology is there to do a fine point stylus recognition.

Because of differing preferences and uses, perhaps they need to include an option to toggle between stylus vs. fingers on later versions of the ipad...

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