IPad initiative receives mixed reviews from freshmen

On September 9, 2013

With the launch of the iPad Initiative, thousands of ASU freshmen are entering college armed with what could be the newest educational technology. Yet despite the technological appeal, the initiative is being met with mixed reviews from first-year students, who say the cost of the tablet is too high to justify the requirement.

The initiative, which was officially implemented last February, requires all 2013-14 freshmen to have an iPad for their First Year Experience Making Connections course. The FYE department administration hopes the new technology will encourage students to pursue new avenues of learning and help them prepare for future technology use in the workforce.

Not all students are excited about the program.

“It’s a good idea, it just wasn’t ready,” said Lauren Widmer, a freshman nutritional science major of Paragould.

Laura Tedder, a freshman psychology major of Paragould, agrees. “(The initiative) should have been prepared more before $400 was pushed down on us,” she said.

Extensive preparation has been ongoing since February, according to Jill Simons, dean of university college and chief coordinator for the iPad Initiative. “It’s been a huge learning curve for all of us,” Simons said.

The biggest concern for most students is the high price tag on the tablets. IPads range from more than $300 to nearly $800 depending on model, size and memory, according to the Apple website.

“I feel like it’s a $500 computer replacing a $20 (Making Connections) book,” said Sean Dineen, a freshman biology major of Little Rock.

Maddie Blancaflor, a freshman mechanical engineering major of Hot Springs, said, “We only use it for one class so it’s really pointless to have a $500 iPad.”

Some students purchased their tablets on the upper end of the price scale. Emily Sanders, a freshman music education major of Rector, said she spent more than $700 on her iPad.

Ipads are available for rent through the campus IT Store, but some freshmen said they feel the cost is still too high. Rent cost is $50 a semester or $150 for fall, spring and summer terms. Students are also required to purchase the $48 Connect Kit, which includes the Making Connections book, the Common Reader book Zeitoun, six required apps and a $25 gift card to the IT Store. Students are still required to purchase the Connect Kit if they have their own iPads.

“Either way, buy or rent, it’s still too expensive,” Sanders said.

While some students like Blancaflor received their tablets as graduation presents, other incoming freshmen were completely responsible for purchasing them on their own. Natalie Oliver, a freshman chemistry major of Vilonia, said, “I had to pick up a couple extra hours at work to pay for mine.”

“It was the first major purchase I ever made,” Aundrea Allen, a freshman biology major of Hot Springs, said.

Taylor Loyd, a senior history major of Fort Smith, is also required to have an iPad for his work as a teaching assistant at ASU.

“I don’t think (the iPads) should be a requirement, and if it is, then they should be provided,” Loyd said.

Some students are concerned that the need to purchase an iPad comes in addition to the need to purchase a laptop for school.

“It’s easier for us to use a laptop than iPad for Composition 1,” Sanders said.

“What we’re trying to help students learn is that we’re not trying to replace a laptop,” Simons said. “The functions of a mobile device are completely different.”

“Another thing we are really watching is online books,” Simons said. “Over the course of the four years if students choose to adopt digitally, we really think that (the iPad) is going to pay for itself.”

Lack of WiFi connectivity has been a problem for students as well, especially in the freshman dorms, according to Widmer.

“It’s very hard to access Blackboard or even access WiFi, because the signal is being overloaded all at once,” Cheyenne Friar, a freshman psychology and English major of Paragould, said.

“If you lock the screen, the WiFi disconnects and you have to sign in again,” Sanders said.

However, WiFi signal in classroom settings works fairly well for clinical sciences department chair Stacy Walz’s Making Connections class.

“We try to use the iPads in every class, and we’ve never had a problem with overloading the signal, even when we are all looking at the same document or website,” Walz said.

All WiFi concerns are transferred to the Information Technology Department, according to Simons.

“They handle more of the technical aspects of the campus,” Simons said. “I have also heard some of those problems with the dorm Internet myself, so I believe they are currently looking into that.”

Additional student concerns stem from the lack of educational system application of the iPad outside of their First Year Experience class.

“I just use it in that class, it’s not used in many other classes,” Widmer said. Widmer’s Making Connections class frequently uses the iPads for quizzes and group website and document access.

Friar said, “Some of the older professors don’t use technology in class, and don’t want to see technology in class. They want you to put it up and not have anything to do with it.”

While some professors are reluctant to embrace the new technology, others enjoy being creative with new class-time assignments.

Judy Pfriemer, a Making Connections teacher for the college of nursing, sent her class on a campus scavenger hunt in which students used their tablets to videotape locations.

Pfriemer said students seem to be emailing her more frequently now, and hypothesizes that it could be because the tablets are constantly present.

Several student reviews of the initiative are positive as well. Many students are enjoying the opportunities the iPads give them.

“I can take notes on it in any class I want,” Allen said. She also uses her tablet for mobile Internet connection, and likes the fact her iPad maintains battery power better than her laptop.

Other students simply enjoy having the new technology available at their fingertips.

“It’s cool having one,” Blancafor said.

Students frequently branch beyond social networking and use their iPads for school assignments. However, not everybody is completely committed to the new technology yet.

Sean Dineen, a freshman biology major of Little Rock, wants to keep it simple.

“Give me a pen and paper,” Dineen said.

Others, like Tedder, say they are simply not “tech-savvy.”

Simons said the initiative is not trying to force students into a box, but rather broaden their horizons in a world of new media and communications.

“I believe the mobile device is going to be with us a long time,” Simons said. “It’s different, it’s interesting, we’re excited about it, and I don’t think it’s going away.”


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