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“This was an opportunity to use an innovative product and get people on board, trying something new in the classroom,” says Professor Beth Walker, associate dean for the W. P. Carey MBA. “We also knew it would make class materials very portable for students who didn’t want to lug around books or thick course packets, especially those who have busy work lives or travel. However, we saw some initial resistance.”
Tami Coronella, director of student services for the W. P. Carey MBA, helped set up the iPad trials. She had already been looking at ways to introduce new mobile technology into the classroom, when an existing course-packet vendor approached her about a pilot program with provided iPads. If the trials worked out, iPads might save students and the school some money in the future; the tablets cost less than the books and course packs normally used in these classes. However, students received books and hard copies of the materials as back-ups during the trials, just in case.
“These were great trials for us because we learned a lot,” says Coronella. “We encouraged students to use the word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools available on the iPad. For reading, though, the students had to be connected to the Internet in order to download some of the materials, and that was a bigger constraint than expected. Also, access to e-textbooks expires over time, so as long as that’s the case, we would need to keep providing many of the books and materials to the students for use after that access ends.”
The students involved in the trials met with a technical support team every two weeks to offer feedback, which was quickly utilized for their benefit. Through the two trials, about 60 students were able to provide input on what’s needed to make the iPad a viable class tool.
“We wound up creating lots of online resources and classroom support materials that are being used by many students, including those with their own personal iPads,” says Coronella. “We also had our course-packet provider create an easy-to-use app with simple access to required reading.”
Coronella says if prices start coming down, and access to textbooks online is offered without expiration, then iPads might make sense as replacements for other course materials somewhere down the line.
“We’re going to keep monitoring the situation,” she says. “I’d like to utilize the tablets, especially for our evening, online and executive MBA students, who are always on the go. Eventually, we’d also like to make many class lectures available as podcasts, and students can listen at the gym or while traveling. It’s a matter of convenience.”
The W. P. Carey School’s dean sums up the findings of this unscientific experiment by saying that iPads are great for reading, but still lack a lot of the functionality needed for education. He believes we have a long way to go before tablets could replace all traditional classroom materials.
“Right now, some things are more cumbersome than on laptop computers, and websites using Flash will just freeze on an iPad,” says Dean Robert Mittelstaedt. “In a nutshell, without more functionality, it’s not a replacement for anything we do in education; it’s just a nice supplement.”