Professors experiment with iPads in the classroom

English professor Barbara Stuart once asked students in her food writing class to compare recipes in different cookbooks — now, there’s an app for that.

Through a grant from Information Technology Services, Stuart and several other Yale professors have loaned iPads to students in their classes for the semester as part of a larger effort by ITS to integrate more technology into the classroom experience. The professors said they think the iPads, which are used for homework assignments as well as lab experiments, have been successful, and they plan to continue incorporating technology into their curricula.

“The introduction of the iPad technology in the laboratory classroom is just the tip of the iceberg on the current revolution of teaching methodologies and tools we are experiencing,” biology lecturer Maria Moreno GRD ’93 said.

ITS Strategic Business Analyst Susan West said the grants are part of a three-year plan to bring a range of new technologies to campus — an initiative that began when Chief Information Officer Len Peters was appointed in May 2011.

“We are connecting with people across campus who are leaders in technology to determine what direction Yale should go in and how we can use technology in more innovative ways,” West said.

Biology professors said they were particularly excited about using iPads in their classroom. Last fall, Moreno said she linked the iPads of students in her “Principles of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology” class to small cameras inside her microscope so the entire class could view the image under a microscope while annotating it in real time.

“The main revolution is the ability to be able to demonstrate a biological phenomenon to all the students in the classroom simultaneously,” Moreno said.

Moreno said she thinks the technology is particularly useful because it also allowed students to capture the images they saw and to review them when completing laboratory reports.

Stuart said humanities professors have “a harder job” devising ways to take advantage of iPad technology than science professors using iPads, because the science classes all use the iPad image technology. In her English class called “Writing about Food,” Stuart asked students to use their iPads to download a variety of apps, such as “Epicurious” and “How to Cook Everything,” to help them conduct food research. She also required her students to download “GoodReader,” an app that allowed them to annotate PDFs on their iPads.

“I think we have to figure out a way to use the apps so that they enhance critical thinking,” Stuart said. “Otherwise it’s just going to be a fun toy.”

The benefits of iPads outweigh the difficulties they pose, Stuart said, because unmotivated students will distract themselves with or without an iPad. She said she believes that as iPads become increasingly popular among consumers, professors must find a means to use them productively in an academic setting.

Political science professor Greg Huber, chair of the ITS Advisory Committee, said he thinks technology should be integrated cautiously because of the potential distractions that devices such as iPads pose in classroom environments.

James Rosenberg, the founder of the education-focused nonprofit Adopt-a-Classroom, said he thinks educators should proceed with caution when experimenting with new technologies because students do not learn as effectively when looking at a screen.

“You can touch a textbook, or write on it, but a tablet doesn’t have that same tactile sense,” he said. “I’ve observed students having a lot more difficulty absorbing information from a tablet.”

The cost of an iPad starts at $399.

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