New initiative puts iPads in students’ hands

By Joshua Scott

Published: Monday, January 31, 2011

Updated: Monday, January 31, 2011

iPad 1/31/11

photo courtesy of Steven Rockwell

Professor Jason Adams (from left), hands an iPad to Kirk Lonidier, a political science major.

President Barack Obama emphasized America's need to become innovative in the application of technology during his State of the Union address last Tuesday. ASU is one of a few universities testing those waters by implementing a new pilot program that provides iPads for students in two classes this semester.

Obama said, "It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor."

Students enrolled in American political thought and intergovernmental relations will get a chance to translate his words into actions. They will be introduced to what political science professor Jason Adams calls "paper-free learning." As part of the initiative, 45 of the tablet devices have been provided by the school for the students to keep in and out of class during the remainder of the semester.

"I see this as an exciting development both in the transformation of knowledge and in politics at large, at the same time," Adams said.

Originally intending to have his students bring in their own devices, such as iPhones and laptops, he began inquiring about a grant for such a program at the Interactive Teaching and Technology Center.

"I was interested in basically doing a grant-writing project. Originally I was thinking of this as something I would hope to do in the future. When I talked to Henry Torres at ITTC about it, he directed me to an ITTC computer program for doing so," he said. "He then went to the ASU administration and came back with the information that they were actually pursuing a pilot program to test whether students might find these things to be useful contributors to learning."

While future developments depend on the success of the program in actually improving the educational experience, and on ASU budgeting, Henry Torres at ITTC talked about assisting more professors in the future with incorporating new technology and ideas in their curriculum.

"Jason and I had been discussing ideas on how he might use his classes to extend the learning in a classroom to the students' lives on and off campus by using the iPad. I then spoke with Mark Hoeting and learned that he too was already working on getting iPads and we made the connection to get Jason set up," Torres said. "I think it's great to have faculty that think outside the norm and want to test new ideas and concepts...If a professor comes to me inquiring about how they might use new technology or with ideas for extending the student learning experience, I'm all for helping them if I can."

Other schools, such as Duke University, have been experimenting with their own pilot programs that obtain iPads for educational purposes.

When Duke revealed its early impressions on how effective the iPad was in learning, it came down to what applications were available to the student. While some are free to download and use, not all are. ASU is providing vouchers to pay for the application purchases as well as a prepaid SIM card for mobile Internet use.

"I see myself using the iPad for e-textbooks as opposed to standard textbooks since the capability is there to annotate notes to myself on the pages without doing any damage to the file," said Kirk Lonidier, a political science major participating in the program. "It is very convenient to have a device that can replace several textbooks. This is my first time using an iPad, but there is little difference in the function of it as opposed to an iPhone or iPod Touch. The only difference is size."

Lonidier also said he was concerned about the purchasing of accessories, including a protective case, to make the iPad function to its full capacity. He said it was difficult for him to justify purchasing something for a device he would have to return to ASU.

Other students have already begun to put their iPads to use.

"The first day I received the iPad I downloaded, from Google Books and Kindle, four books for Dr. Tusalem's revolutions and foreign policy class and a book for Dr. Adams' class," said Steven Rockwell, another student in the pilot program. "Within the read highlighter tool, a dictionary, set bookmarks, post notes, write in the margins and search the entire book. I can also access my books from my desktop computer, the iPad or my iPhone, so I always have them with me, however, the iPad provides the best reading experience."

Rockwell said though he initially wanted to revert to pencil and paper, he eventually became comfortable taking notes on the device.

"I am both proud and appreciative of ASU for its progressive approach toward higher education," he said.

While there are still many things to figure out during the course of ASU's iPad experiment, Adams sees other ways the iPad will benefit students besides its e-book role.

"One thing I have them using on the iPad is an application called AudioNote, which can record lectures while you take notes, and I'm also going to have them use Keynote for presentations," he said. "We'll plug in the iPads into to the projector and then with an extended VGA cable, the student can have their presentation device with all their notes and everything right in front of them, while the relevant videos and images appear on the screen for the entire class."

Adams sees the effects of these devices reaching much farther than just education, with much attention paid to how changes in the way we communicate and receive information impact the state of politics.

"My interest in the iPad is a direct outgrowth of my usage of media in teaching, of using film, video, and trying to think through the political implications of popular culture," he said. "You know, how does the development of new technologies and new media forms change the political culture? How does it change what is possible for one to do, and at the same time, how does it change what is possible to be done to you. If you look back to the American Revolution, aside from other things, it was largely a product of the new capacities made possible by the printing press. Thomas Paine's Common Sense and other such pamphlets were distributed to the people at large in order to form a totally new public. Before that it was much harder to agitate large numbers of people around a common purpose, particularly a non-traditional one. One only need look to the insurrections in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt in recent weeks to understand how the much lower entry price and greater reach of these new devices and media forms are fundamentally changing what is politically possible today."

The university hasn't revealed an official price tag for this endeavor.

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