iPad @ Universities

When Apple released its first iPad in 2010, forward-looking universities around the world started research studies on how this device could be integrated into learning and teaching.

There are many representatives of the educational system still getting euphoric when it comes to iPads in schools or universities. That is basically positive as it forces all the people involved to try to go new ways. Teachers always look for techniques to generate interest and keep motivation on a high level. But they are also responsible for the young people and cannot delegate this responsibility to a device. Success and positive results in learning and teaching with an iPad is no automatism. It’s hard and subtle work to adjust all the parameters which give direction to new methods of learning.

The intention of research …

Research initiatives have to find out where an iPad could improve the learning and teaching process in general.

Here are some research activities:

  • Shifts in paradigms
    The integration of the iPad in the classroom is not only enhancing the way students learn but also changing the way instructors teach. Students now expect stimulation and immediacy; everyone wants everything faster and easier than before.
    “Our students are already so visual as far as learning styles are concerned that it’s becoming the new wave,” says Dr. Garcia. “We, as instructors, are going to have to adjust our teaching methodology in order to keep them engaged and in using the iPad, we can show the students movies and animations and give them a wide array of multimedia resources that they can tap into.”
  • Adjusting the content to its needs
    “The iPad is typically thought of as more of a consumer product”, says Dr. Garcia “but with the right fine-tuning we were able to modify some applications to make the lectures easy to view for the students.”
  • Easy deployment of course material
    About 30 years ago I myself was a teacher of physics, maths and informatics. Course material was produced by duplicating stencils written by hand or with a typewriter. Today teachers can develop their courses on a PC or an iPad and send it to a commonly used resource e.g. cloud storage from which students download it to their mobile device.
  • Reducing costs of learning
    HCC Houston Community College
    “It’s hard having to come up with the money to buy books every semester,” says Mari Hernandez, an Anatomy and Physiology student. “With the iPad, I was able to download it for free and start studying right away, instead of waiting until I could afford to buy the book.”
  • Increased mobility
    one device for the classroom, the campus and at home
  • Improved collaboration techniques
    Young people today are highly engaged in social networking and it’s an everyday experience to exchange information via Twitter or Facebook.
    Learning methods have to accept these new ways of how young people communicate with each other. The professor standing in front of his students and using a chalkboard for hours does not enhance collaboration which contradicts the expectations of young people how to get in touch with learning material and at what time they want to do it.

The problems …

All that glitters is not gold.
The problems I see are

  • how to find out the right apps for the students
  • how to establish a set of apps which are universally accepted by the students even if they already use an iPad with their personal favorite apps
  • how to organize and manage all the information to easy access on a subsequent date (the problem refers basically to the lacks in the iOS filesystem, where data are spread over app specific folders)
  • how to integrate a PC, which still cannot be replaced by the iPad
  • how to ensure a high quality level of the software used (you cannot wait for bug fixing during a semester)
  • how the file management can be organized after finishing a course
  • how to enable the teacher to search within documents of his students
  • how to establish a consistent naming system for the files created during a course
  • what the solution can be for iPads iOS with its one-window-at-a-glance-design, which can be obstructive when researching open topics and summarizing results
  • how students can be involved if they use private Android based devices
  • how distractions can be avoided while using a device instead of a pencil and a sheet of paper

Some other problems I see with regard to content, quality and style of courses offered at iTunes U.
There is NO QUALITY CONTROL just as there are no real criteria for recommendations of apps in the App Store. It’s Apple’s way of looking at iTunes U and App Store as an offer to enhance hardware and software sales.

The offer of iTunes U is voluminous but after looking into lots of courses, the quality often could not convince me. I saw courses which were just videos of lectures without lecture notes provided. I also find courses with videos where a teacher just wrote something on a chalkboard.
To find out the right courses may last hours, days, or even weeks.
This more traditional approach reduces the capabilities of an iPad to a usual consumer device.

Summary …

iPad was first released on April 3, 2010.
A new technology was introduced by Apple. The hardware meets most of the requirements but at the time the software including the operating system has not yet been fully developed. Developers all over the world got euphoric as Apple did when introducing the App Store in July 2008. Now it’s time to look at the facts a bit more objectively. I don’t see a real benefit in offering more than 700,000 apps if there is no implemented quality control with user friendly technical criteria lists instead of promises.
I installed about 200 apps on the iPhone. For too many of them special features were announced but after purchasing it turned out that they are buggy and for some apps I wait for a bug fixing for months. Do we need an app for answering the question ‘Why the sea is salty” (McGraw Hill)? Today apps can be seen as usual consumer products like shirts, jeans and other stuff. I like to call some apps as ‘7 Up’ apps. Use them 7 minutes or 7 hours and flush them down the toilet to clear the space for the next app. Are the apps for learning or just playing with this handy device? Is there a compulsion to try out new apps in periods getting shorter and shorter?

iPad MAY BE A TRANSFORMATIVE TOOL in education as it can house all resources (books, readings, video, audio), connects to the internet for doing research, provides a vehicle for maintaining communication, replaces ‘dead tree’ paper versions of resources and does it all in an easy to carry around, quick starting, and simple interface.

So the most important questions which have to be found out by research studies are:

  • Does iPad improve the motivation of students?
  • Are there measurable better results in graduation of students using iPads compared to those using the more old-fashioned learning techniques?

All the studies I looked into verified improvements in all fields.
Unfortunately many of the results published were of poor quality as they did not outline the relevant aspects in a clear and comprehensive way. Some studies compiled statistics with an entirety of about 20 students. That’s unscientific.

Anyway you can also find truly meaningful documents like The Reed College’s iPad Pilot Report published by The Reed College (see link below).

Attachments …

A highly interesting and meaningful document I found out at

Reed College: iPad Pilot Project

Apple supports education by introducing iBooks and iTunesU.

iTunes U …
let teachers create their own courses to unleash the full potential of iPad in a classroom. Ideas can be shared in a powerful new way, and the students get a rich, immersive learning experience using the iTunes U app for iPad. iTunes U is available at any college, university, or K-12 school.
From the iTunes U app, students can play video or audio lectures and take notes that are synchronized with the lecture. They can read books and view presentations. See a list of all the assignments for the course and check them off as they’re completed. And when you send a message or create a new assignment, students receive a push notification with the new information.
With the Apple ID anyone can subscribe to any courses.

Some of the really exciting features of the iTunes U experience is that as the video materials are playing, it is easy to pause the video to take notes. This creates a time stamp and a small thumbnail. When you look at your list of notes, it is possible to touch on the time stamp and be taken to that exact point in the video for review.

An example of iTunes U content by
Union University, Jackson, Tennessee

Introducing iPads into classrooms

The apps …

That’s the biggest problem when using an iPad.
It’s not easy to find out apps with the following capabilities.

  • UI which fulfills Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guidelines
  • reputable developer with innovative ideas and fast support
  • suitable capabilities to connect with different cloud providers including iCloud
  • support of well-known file formats (instead of proprietary formats)

Here are my proposals for the software configuration …

  • iWork for iOS (Apple)
    Pages for summarizing results in a final paper
    Numbers for ToDo lists and documentation of the learning process
    Keynote for presentation of intermediate and individual results
  • iThoughts (Craig Scott, UK)
    a mind mapping app for research and organizing one’s brain

    Reflect what you have learned by creating a mind map.
    You will forget many detailed information but you should not forget the topics and their dependencies. Mind mapping on an iPad supports this essential part of the learning process in a specific way.

    It’s because a touchscreen is much nearer to human activities than any other device or textbook could be. What we do is mostly what we do with our hands. It’s our first approach to new things. Creating artworks, modeling new devices or writing down all the ideas leading to the E=m c c equation on a sheet of paper while walking through the room and reflecting our thoughts is almost always done by hand.

  • FileBrowser (Stratospherix)
    as the file transfer app with capabilities to connect directly to networks, clouds and USB drives
  • Camera (Apple)
    to scan documents and use photos for clarification
  • Documents (Readdle)
    to establish syncing of a cloud folder where the teacher provides documents for his students
  • iDriveSync (Pro Softnet)
    to establish syncing of a cloud folder where the teacher provides documents for his students

An external storage has to support WebDAV as it is more flexible than Dropbox. All other providers furthermore offer more free storage capacity than the 2 GB of a Dropbox account. Additionally, a WebDAV connection can be used to save iWork documents.

An alert reader might miss a suggestion for a note taking app because an iPad is frequently used for that task. But I cannot make any suggestion which app meets the requirements of students. So look here …

Further information …

Associated blog links …

Thanks …

I have to explicitly thank Nicolas Forsans, Associate Professor in International Strategic Management at the University of Leeds (UK) who forwarded some useful links to me which initiated my idea to write this article.

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Thanks for reading my blog.