Exploring the use of iPads and mobile devices in education.
This is an edited version of a much more detailed blog post. To read this full post, please see the Trinity College iPad Program Blog.
In 2012 Trinity College welcomed it’s first full cohort of Foundation Studies students into a 1:1 iPad teaching and learning environment. In February this year approximately four hundred students began the full program which will run until December. In 2010 and 2011 we ran two pilot programs with a smaller group of students over a shorter time frame. Discussion of these pilots and the perspectives of staff and students can be seen in earlier posts, and in our first Report. A more formal evaluation of the second pilot is still forthcoming. See the previous post for some insights into how students from our first iPad Pilot performed in the 2011 February Main Program.
As the infiltration of mobile technologies into our classrooms and lecture theatres has become ubiquitous over the past two years, it becomes less imperative to be asking what are the academic benefits to students and teachers of mobile technologies, and more interesting to be asking in what ways we can exploit the presence of mobile technology to engage students more with interactive tasks, encourage broader questioning and critical thinking, and demand from students a greater involvement in their own learning – and particularly at Trinity, in the tools students can employ to further their English language learning. We feel that these objectives are not far away from realisation, and the anecdotal evidence gathered so far from teachers and students is very encouraging.
Case Study – Writing Skills
Working with our students to improve their writing skills in English is always a priority, as this is a fundamental skill students will need to succeed at University in Australia. In Literature and EAP in particular, students are required to practice their writing skills by completing paragraph writing assignments in class time. With every student in the class equipped with an iPad, such writing tasks can be drafted and edited and submitted within class time, and then if necessary, the teacher can provide feedback for improvement. Peer reviewing of students’ written work is also an upcoming prospect.
However, one aspect of this process of learning to write better in English, which was highlighted by several students from the last August and September intake in our ongoing research, was that always writing using a computer / mobile device with a spell checker and a keyboard, made learning vocabulary through practicing hand writing more challenging. Writing out words using a pen and paper is something these students have come to rely upon as a mechanism for improving vocabulary, and accurate spelling. So, while I don’t see this finding as an argument against iPads, I do see it as a reflection of how teachers need to be responsive to students’ actual needs and ways of learning, and to build flexibility into their program designs. It often takes a change in a learning environment to make visible processes and practices which generally remain taken for granted. This gives us the opportunity to reflect further, consult with students about their needs, and involve them in the design and delivery of their courses much more.