The iPad in Education: The Professor’s Perspective

In my last post I discussed some of the ways Apple’s iPad is being used in education – from the student’s perspective. Here, I would like to consider the same issue from the instructor’s perspective: How helpful really, is an iPad, for a classroom instructor?

In one of the better studies of the usefulness of the iPad for classroom teaching – The Reed College iPad Study – the college faculty participants found the iPad to be very useful: “In addition to its usefulness in preparing for class and responding to students’ written work, the iPad proved to be extraordinarily well suited to use in classes that involved a great deal of movement by students and instructors, such as in science labs and dance studies.”

Many instructors cited the value of having class materials such as the textbook, journal articles, and other media on the iPad; others mentioned the convenience of the iPad’s relatively long battery life and small size which made it easy to carry with them, either while traveling or to use in class. According to the Reed College report, “In fact, the faculty members who used ipads in active classroom environments found them to be superior to laptop computers.” This assertion would require some supporting evidence to be convincing to me; none was provided in the report.

Western Illinois University initiated a Faculty Innovation Program to equip ” . . . our faculty to meet increasing student needs and expectations for technology integration within the classroom . . .”  During 2010 the innovation program made iPads available to faculty. Dawn Sweet, the program coordinator stated: “There is a mobile evolution taking place in society today, and we felt it was time to move toward a more mobile and personalized device in order to prepare our faculty for mobility within the classroom.” Some of the examples of how instructors in this program are using the iPad include the following:

  • Professor Simon Brassell is using the iPads in the Geology classroom. Rocks are arranged to mimic a natural pattern of outcrops so that students can migrate through the space, and access/record information about each sample on the iPad. The iPad apps used in this class include Compass, Clinometer, and AirSketch.
  • Associate Professor Patty Scott has introduced Concept Mapping via the iPad to her students in a research course. Working with a graduate student from HITS (working on the project with Scott as part of a Master’s thesis), early indications are that use of the iPad will result in strong concept maps.
  • Associate Professor Susan Robinson is downloading radiologic images and videotaping images with the Flip camera, then placing them on the iPad for additional analysis.
  • Clinical Assistant Professor Debra Wood is making videos of tissue preparation so the students can watch said videos on the iPad. Wood’s interest in this approach is whether it will help students with effective preparation of pathology slides, as they can watch the videos while they’re working.
  • Associate Professor and MD Alex Djuricich is working on two projects. In the first project, he wants to use the iPad to improve the hand-off of patient information from one resident to an on-call resident. Djuricich’s other project is looking to develop patient education video materials (along with existing material) to help improve patient understanding of various procedures and treatments, e.g., how to properly use an inhaler for the treatment of asthma.
  • Assistant Professor Amanda Cecil is teaching a Global Tourism Seminar where students are exploring and evaluating the use of many travel and destination applications geared to tourists. For her Mechanics of Meeting Planning course, students are using iPads to view virtual venue tours, select meeting sites, design rooms, plan menus, and create staffing grids for meetings and events.
  • Assistant Professor E.J. Choe is using the iPads in her musicianship courses. Students participate in novel activities to train them to measure intervals and hear the difference between two notes sounding together or in part.
  • Lecturer Jennifer Nelson uses iPads in her Introduction to Oceanography classes. Working in small groups, students use the iPads to examine tidal data for selected US coastlines and, later, to explore the coastlines’ depositional and erosional features.
  • Lecturer Jonathan Rossing has his Communication Studies students explore mapping of connections between communication theories and real life scenarios with the iPad apps Popplet and iBrainstorm. Students also explore news apps and websites, and record finding and reactions using note apps.
  • Senior Lecturer Suzan Stamper has iPads to enhance the study skills of international undergraduate and graduate students and to promote active learning for improving their English grammar, reading, listening, speaking, writing, and vocabulary.

Along with the creative uses of the iPad in higher education, a number of frequently cited iPad limitations should be mentioned.

  • The iPad’s lack of a cohesive file management system along with the difficulty of transferring files to and from a computer is seen by most faculty as a major impediment. The most frequently used tool to assist with file management was Dropbox, a free web hosting service that will let you store your files online and share them with your other computing devices.
  • An iPad liability often cited was the virtual keyboard – useful for composing notes but inadequate for inputting anything more than a few paragraphs. This limitation can be overcome in large part by buying an external keyboard and a word processing program for the iPad such as Pages or Office HD (edit and create Word and Excel documents).
  • Another issue for many instructors is the iPad’s lack of Flash or Java support which results in some restriction of viewing certain images and videos. While it’s true that the iPad’s native Safari browser does not support Flash-based videos, other iPad browsers such as Skyfire do.
  • Almost all the faculty who participated in the various iPad studies used one or more PDF reading and annotation tool; most used were GoodReader, Readdle Docs, and iAnnotate.
  • With the iPad2’s support for data projector’s, many faculty reported using the iPad for classroom presentations – with mixed reviews. Some faculty liked Apple’s Keynote app while other opted for a more robust app such as Quickoffice Pro.

So it seems that many instructors are experimenting with ways to integrate the iPad into their pedagogical activities. Many of the scenarios though seem to imply that many or all of the students in the class also have iPads. Until this is the rule rather than the exception in college classrooms, the utility of the iPad in the classroom will be somewhat limited. The sense I got from reading through the reports from those who are using the iPad in higher education is that, while most faculty report they like using the iPad, they still working through the issues of integrating this tool into classroom activities.


Indiana University: Project: Faculty Learning Communities: Exploring innovative teaching and learning with the Apple iPad

iPad Power: How To Transfer Files

Oklahoma Pilot iPad Study

Wired magazine’s article about iPad pilot studies for higher ed