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Learning by ipad

Incorporating iPads into First Year Programming

By Holly Dolezalek | Summer 2011

Matt Carlyon has integrated the iPad into his life. Last year, Carlyon was one of the 450 incoming first-year CEHD students who received an iPad from the college. Though he was initially anti-Apple, the iPad was the only computer he had. Now he uses it in his performances as a spoken word artist, as well as in school.


“I use my iPad in some way for every assignment in every course,” he says. “But I also found it’s the perfect size for my spoken word performances – I hold it in one hand and swipe with the other as I read.”

As a member of Voices Merging, a campus spoken word and art organization, Carlyon performs at venues all over the cities, including the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul and Kieran’s Irish Pub in Minneapolis. When he was given a class assignment to create a digital story about a culture he participates in, it was natural that he would focus on the hip-hop and spoken word community.

He used a tool called Prezi to create his story, then used an app called Prezi Viewer to show the story on his iPad. “Digital stories are the best thing that technology has ever done for the art of storytelling,” Carlyon says. “[Prezi] does not distract as PowerPoint sometimes does, and it’s much more engaging than a poster, allowing personality to flow from the story. It’s simple, elegant, and does only what it’s supposed to do: tell a story.”

That kind of passion is just what Dean Jean Quam had in mind when she decided the college would distribute iPads to first-year students and to about 30 instructors. “I was looking for an idea to excite both students and faculty about teaching and learning,” she says. “One of my goals for the college is to embrace technology and innovation, because each year students are more sophisticated about technology and learning. I wanted us to use one of the newer tools in a way that would interest them and get them excited about learning.” Buying those newer tools cost less than $300,000, paid for by donor funds.

Carlyon completed his digital story for his Literatures of the United States—Multicultural Perspectives class, taught by Linda Buturian, a senior teaching specialist in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning. For the stories, each student produced video, images, and narration focused on a friend or family member’s experience of a cultural tradition or event. One created a digital story about how her family had left Vietnam and included context on the wave of Hmong immigration to the United States.

“These stories facilitated understanding about diverse cultures and encouraged real participation, even among the students who had been quiet in class before,” Buturian says.

Somewhat surprisingly, Buturian admits that she’s not fond of technology for its own sake. But that skepticism might be what has helped her to succeed and innovate with the iPad in the classroom.

“Most people assume that technology is benevolent or good because it provides us with convenient access to information and entertainment and allows us instant communication. But that access is available to only some populations, and it comes at a cost to other people and natural resources,” says Buturian. “I feel it’s important to help students think through these complex issues, while empowering them to integrate technology in their learning.”

That attitude has prompted Buturian to question what technology should do in her courses, instead of what it can do. “When I consider how to use the iPad in a way that supports learning, I ask the questions I apply to any use of technology for teaching: Is it worth the time and energy required to learn, both on my part and the students? Does it foster community in and beyond the classroom?” she says. “Will it deepen engagement? Does it facilitate understanding in a unique way?”

She found that technology helped facilitate understanding in her Literatures of the United States—Multicultural Perspectives class. For example, one day students were discussing a James Baldwin short story, called “Sonny’s Blues.” As they parsed the meaning of the concluding paragraph, one of the students noticed that the phrase “the cup of trembling” sounded familiar. “She whipped out her iPad and Googled it, and it turned out that it was a phrase from the Old Testament,” Buturian says. “Suddenly the discussion took on a whole new level of meaning.” The moment demonstrated how the iPad can be useful for meeting the University’s undergraduate Student Learning Outcomes, which include the ability to locate and critically evaluate information.

Through apps like ChimeIn, a survey app that allows participants to express their opinions and displays the opinions of the group for all, Buturian believes that using the iPad has also helped to build community in the class.


Because some of Buturian’s students had laptops, and all were more familiar with the traditional PC or laptop, the iPad wasn’t going to become useful until they knew why they should use it, says Jemma Sepich, who was the undergraduate teaching assistant for the literature course. Some had never had a computer of their own before and hadn’t even loaded e-mail onto their iPad by the first day of class.

To help students take advantage of its full benefits, Buturian began holding what she called iPad Mondays, and each week she, Sepich, or a guest guided students through a new way to use the iPad. For example, one week covered how to use Storyrobe, the app that many students chose to create their digital stories. Another Monday, Sepich walked students through the app store so they could find what was new and relevant to what they were doing. She also showed students how to highlight and search electronic text and embed podcasts in it.

“Once people understood that the iPad could do things like that, things that the laptop couldn’t do, they were more on board,” says Sepich. “By the end of the year, they were choosing the iPad over the laptop.”

Instructors have also been learning from one another as they go about how best to teach and learn with the iPad. To facilitate the process, David Ernst, the college’s academic and information technology director, assembled a faculty learning community with help from the University’s Office of Information Technology (OIT).

More formal instruction is also on the way. In the new school year, incoming first-year students will get the iPad 2. To help instructors get the most out of the upgrades in the new version, Buturian and Sepich, now working as an undergraduate research assistant, have spent the summer building a series of six modules that teach instructors how to use the iPad in the classroom. They’re including examples of postsecondary teaching and learning faculty and the apps or uses they have found (see box for examples).

Ernst says that in terms of what students are able to create, the iPad—especially the iPad 2—is a big leap forward for learners. “Today, if they’re going to create media, students have to check out or find a camera, record the video, find the hardware and software to edit it, and find support on their own if they need it,” he says. “Then they have to figure out how to compress it and get it to the instructor, and instructors end up spending so much energy just to support the technology.”

By contrast, the iPad 2 includes a high-definition video camera, and movie-editing software can be downloaded for just a few dollars. As a result, he says, students can record, edit, and send media using a single device.

OIT has partnered with the college in additional ways, providing student support for the devices and upgrading the wireless infrastructure in the buildings where students were most likely to be using them. They also managed a student survey at the end of last year to find out what was working in the project and what wasn’t.

That survey suggested that while there might be isolated issues, there was plenty to celebrate in the first year. “Students said that they’re having very few technical issues because the iPads are so easy to use,” Ernst says. “That’s really key, because that allows you to focus on what you’re trying to do rather than messing with technology.”

Already, other schools are getting in touch with CEHD to find out how they can use the iPad to teach and learn. As faculty gather information from student evaluations and their own experiences, the college will have more to share.

Dean Quam thinks that’s as it should be. “Our overarching goal is to keep thinking about how to embrace the next technology and use it in the best way to teach students.”


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