iPad usage in classrooms expands

When ecology and evolutionary biology professor Linda Puth took her field ecology class to Horse Island, she used to face a problem: Many of the island’s species were invasive, which meant they did not figure in the field guides students used to identify the marine organisms.

This fall, though, Puth’s students simply whipped out their iPads, turned on their 4G network and compared their own photos of organisms to those online.

The iPads came through Yale’s Instructional Technology Group, or ITG, which for the past three years has been experimenting with classroom use for electronic readers, including Amazon Kindles and multiple generations of iPads. Once a more informal venture funded by the Yale College Dean’s Office, the initiative has since matured into a well-known and accessible program supported by the budget of the ITG. According to Matt Regan, a senior Academic Technologist at the ITG, 200 iPads have been made available to professors, by application, for either semester-long or temporary use by students in their classes. This semester, students in seven courses have been supplied with iPads.

Professors and students interviewed said the iPads have not necessarily change the nature of their classes, but have allowed for standardization and simplicity, whether in the gathering of research or the reading of assigned materials.

“It’s not the technology that’s driving the class,” Regan said. “It’s still pedagogy.”

Though Yale’s use of iPads is relatively recent, Regan said the program has already reached a turning point because it must reckon with the fact that more and more students have their own iPads. Currently, when a class uses iPads, students must use the Yale-provided iPad even if they have their own because the University’s tablets come preloaded with the necessary apps.

But as Apple has recently decided to allow institutions to rent out app licenses, students who have their own iPads may soon be able to check out apps for semesters at a time, just like they check out books, he said.

The classes awarded with iPads this semester run the gamut from writing courses to classes in the arts and sciences. They include history professor John Gaddis’ “Art of Biography” and art professor Jessica Helfand’s “Blue” alongside research classes like linguistic professor Claire Bowern’s seminar on field methods.

Of Yale’s 200 iPads, Regan said 120 iPads were purchased this past summer for the exclusive use of science courses.

While professors must submit a proposal that details how they might use the iPads in their classes, selected applicants meet with Regan and Lauren King, who works in Bass Library, to flesh out their ideas and explore iPad features they may have not considered.

By using different apps, every course takes advantage of the iPads in its own way.

Last semester, for example, Arabic professor Sarab Al Ani’s introductory course used the iPads to make and distribute notecards, while economics professor Donald Brown’s “Welfare Economics and Equity” used an app that allowed students to use a virtual whiteboard in class.

Bowern said students in her linguistics field methods class are using audio and transcription apps on their iPads to record a Quechua speaker and share the material.

The intuitive layout of the iPads, in addition to the fact that most students are already familiar with the tablets, allows students to agonize over the linguistics rather than the recording technology, Bowern said. While different recording equipment has proven cumbersome and distracting to students in the past, the iPads remove technical hurdles, she said.

But Bowern said she can only imagine the iPads being useful for a very specific type of research seminar, noting that they might be redundant in large courses where lectures and discussion are the order of the day.

Benedict Scheur ’14, who was given an iPad for a class on the “Biology of Terrestrial Arthropods,” said he ended up using the iPad for his other classes, often substituting it for his laptop.

“It’s your whole backpack stuffed into one little thing,” said Mary Shi ’14, who was given an iPad last semester for “Genocide and Ethnic Conflict.” She said her classmates ended up saving a lot of paper by doing their readings on the iPad instead of printing them out.

Shi said the experience convinced her she should get her own iPad.

In fall 2013, eight classes used iPads.

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