Abilene Christian Universityâ€™s two-year experiment distributing iPhones and iPod Touches to all incoming students is getting a lot of press right now. This is a topic close to my heart, as Iâ€™ve been working on a smaller-scale, but similar, experiment on my own campus. (Longtime [hah!] ProfHacker readers might remember a preliminary post about this experiment from our early days.)
I think that the jury is still out on their experiment.Â We can probably all agree that the PR firmâ€™s video about the experiment is embarrassing.Â (The grammar queen in me smiles at the title: The hyphen in â€śMobile-Learning Reportâ€ť seems . . . weâ€™ll call it anxious.)Â Long on buzzwords and student satisfaction, but short on actual academic examples, itâ€™s just a bad idea all the way â€™round.
We can probably also all agree that data and commentary like this is close to useless:
Students in last yearâ€™s class reported using the devices for academic purposes nearly once a day. Student approval of the project stayed fairly steady over the course of the year.
â€śIf this didnâ€™t have a whole lot of substance, youâ€™d see initial positive response and then a fall-off,â€ť said Phil Schubert, executive vice president at Abilene Christian, in an interview. â€śBut the survey showed just the opposite. It showed a high level of positive feeling towards the experience.â€ť
Iâ€™m simply shocked that students report being satisfied with the most popular smartphone or media device on the market.Â What will the studies show next?Â And â€śnearly once a dayâ€ť is hardly transformativeâ€“in fact, itâ€™s a little patheticâ€“especially given the example cited in the Chronicle article, of a student looking up information quickly on Wikipedia during class.
Having said that, the universityâ€™s website is considerably more interesting, as theyâ€™ve identified several faculty-led research projects that may well yield useful results.
So, a query, ProfHacker readers: What would convince you that your university should hand out iPhones/iPod Touches/[politically-correct open-source wireless handheld device of your choice] to all students?Â What evidence would you like to see? Â Assume, for the sake of argument, that cost to the university is manageable.
To be totally above-board about this: Right now Iâ€™m teaching two sections of the same course: same texts, same syllabus, similar students, but with one section having iPods and the other not.Â And, in general, I think handheld wireless-networked computers ought to be a powerful device in education.Â Skeptics, though: What would win you over?
Image by flickr user Johan Larsson / CC licensed