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



Educational Uses for the iPad? The Student Perspective.

iPads in class

Apple’s iPad, and now iPad 2, have been enormous commercial successes by all reports but can iPads be used effectively in education? While this is still an open question, some initial reports seem to suggest the answer is: Yes. This blog post will address mainly the students’ reactions to using iPads instead of textbooks. The next blog post will report on the professors’ reactions.

A number of colleges and universities are experimenting with using iPads to promote teaching and learning objectives. Seton Hall University, for example, gave iPads to all full-time students to see if the device could be used productively in a university environment. While they weren’t exactly sure how the iPads could be used best, “students and professors seem confident that the device has some future in academe” (Kaya, 2010). Other institutions such as Williston State College, a two-year college in North Dakota,  are buying iPads for their faculty (Li, 2010). Other examples: a Project Management class at Notre Dame University is being taught with iPads instead of textbooks; Standford University gave iPads to all its first year medical students last fall; Duke University and Northwest Kansas Technical College provide iPads to their students.

Few of the reports that mentioned distributing iPads to students or faculty, however, cited any systematic study results.  One exception is Reed College. In a study conducted at Reed College, students in an upper division Political Science class were provided iPads (first-generation) with the course readings loaded in PDF format. The authors of the study stated that the goal of the study was to assess the value of using tablet technology (i.e., iPads) in a university environment. More specifically, the study objectives were stated as follows: “Potential features of e-book technology we plan to explore include: (a) the ability for students to have immediate, searchable access to all their course materials in one, lightweight device; (b) a reduction in the total cost of course materials; (c) a reduction in the use of paper; (d) ability of students to navigate course materials quickly and easily; (e) ability of students to highlight and annotate texts; (f) impact of iPad-based course materials on comprehension and classroom discussion; and (g) integration of e-book technology with other curricular tools such as Moodle (Reed’s open source learning management system).” (Reed College Study)

The data collected from the Reed College study consisted, apparently, of self-reports from the students. The students were given iPads to use with the stipulation that (a) anyone could drop out of the study at any time and return the iPad (and receive the course materials in traditional textbook format instead), and (b) all who remained in the study could purchase the iPad at the conclusion of the study at a very reduced cost. Notably, only one student declined to participate and everyone in the study chose to purchase the iPad at the end of the semester.

What feedback did the Reed College students provide? Here I will highlight a few of the students’ comments and refer the reader to the Reed College Study report for the full explanation of outcomes.

  • Students liked the idea of having all their course reading materials, including electronic reserve articles, on one reading device and, surprising to me, they did not feel the need to print nearly as much as they did in other classes because they found the iPad’s annotation tools quite adequate.
  • Students appreciated the ability to switch among reading materials to focus on certain relevant passages during lectures and in-class discussions.
  • The iPad was praised for its legibility and accessibility features.
  • Most students seemed to believe that the iPad was a valuable tool and they would prefer it to textbooks, provided the reading materials were optimized for the iPad and the cost was reasonable.
  • While the student reviews were very favorable overall, there were a number of deficiencies noted such as the iPad’s lack of a centralized file system; the virtual keyboard was another shortcoming, as most people find it inadequate for anything more lengthy than a short note.

Some publishers are beginning to make textbooks available in an eBook format but it seems likely that these efforts won’t accelerate until eBooks generate a similar profit as traditional textbooks do now. There are unique possibilities available with e-content such as interactive activities, embedded video, expert commentary and so on. A hint of how these possibilities could be realized can be seen in the favorable reviews of two recently published apps: T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Kerouac’s On The Road.

Next Post – The iPad in education: The Professor’s Perspective


Kaya, Travis. (2010). Classroom iPad Programs Get a Mixed Response. Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 57 Issue 6, pp. 1-3.

Li, Sophia. (2010). Williston State College Gives iPads to Professors. Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 57 Issue 2, pp. 1-4.





Good Teaching – What Do Students Say?

Palomar College is certainly not alone in devoting time and resources to document the variables involved in effective teaching and learning. Instructors are being asked to include student learning outcomes (SLOs) on all class syllabi. We have a Learning Outcomes Council (LOC) as well as a Palomar Outcomes Database (POD).  This issue of learning outcomes and how best to promote them was the topic of a number of studies presented and discussed at the 2010 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning.

While some have argued that students are not effective judges of what teacher variables promote student learning, most assessment programs do consider student evaluations to be important. Most student evaluations ask students to rate, on a Likert scale questionnaire, how well teachers measure up to some list of predefined characteristics. By contrast, a study conducted by Memorial University used a student survey instrument composed of open-ended questions designed to assess students’ perceptions of effective teaching. According to the report, “The primary purpose of this research was to identify the characteristics of effective on-campus and distance teaching as they are perceived by students at Memorial University, to determine if these characteristics are consistent across the two modes of delivery, and to isolate instructor behaviours that students believe are components of effective teaching in both on-campus and distance courses.” An interesting design strategy of the study was to “leave open-ended the qualities of effective teaching.” Students were not asked to rate their teaching-learning experience based on some preconceived ideas of educators but were free to discuss their perception of the experience in a narrative format. “In the analysis phase of the project, 69 adjectives that described instructor behaviours were isolated. Further analysis of these 69 characteristics, and the behaviours associated with them, distilled to nine predominant themes, indicating nine prominent characteristics and sets of behaviours . . . that are indicators of effective teaching.”

Survey Says . . .

On-campus students identified the following 9 most important teacher characteristics that best promoted their learning (1= most frequented cited,9=9th most frequently cited).

  1. Respectful
  2. Knowledgeable
  3. Approachable
  4. Engaging
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Responsive
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

One of the research questions of the study was to determine whether or not characteristics considered important for good teaching in an on-campus environment would be similar to the characteristics important for good teaching in an online environment. The results indicated that,apparently, good teaching is good teaching irrespective of delivery modality; with some minor differences in emphases, the same nine characteristics turned up on both lists. Here is the list of teacher characteristics important to online students.

  1. Respectful
  2. Responsive
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Approachable
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Engaging
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

Those who have denigrated the concept of student ratings as being little more than a popularity contest, or a poll of which teachers tell the best jokes, might reconsider that view if other studies support this study’s results: it may be that  students are capable of identifying variables important to their learning after all.


Delaney, J., Johnson, A., Johnson, T., Treslan, D. (2010). “Students’ Perceptions Of Effective Teaching In Higher Education.” 2010 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

Group Exams: A Teaching Strategy?

This blog post isn’t about teaching online. It also isn’t about using technology. However, I came across a report about an intriguing strategy designed to engage students and promote learning in a way I hadn’t considered and I wondered what other educators thought of the idea.

Many instructors want to stimulate students to collaborate with each other and suggest that students form study groups, share notes, study together for tests. While students sometimes see the merit in doing those things, unless the instructor explicitly rewards this behavior, it rarely occurs.

A recent Faculty Focus report described one innovative approach to encourage collaboration – group exams or quizzes. The basic idea is that students can sometimes present course material in a way that resonates with other students in a different way than instructor-delivered lectures.

As Weimer (2011) puts it, “Because a lot of education emphasizes competition, students are slow to adjust in environments that value cooperation. They won’t offer help unless there are benefits from doing so or risks if they don’t.” At least three different ways to implement this incentive were presented.

(1) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. students take the test/quiz individually and the score they earn is recorded;
b. if everyone in their group receives an individual score of C or higher, each student receives x bonus points (e.g., 2 bonus points);
c. if everyone in their group receives an individual score of B or higher, each student receives x+x bonus points (e.g., 2 + 2 points).

(2) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. when it comes time to take the test/quiz,one group member is randomly selected;
b. that student takes the test/quiz individually;
c. the score earned by that student is recorded for all group members.

(3) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. each group member takes the test/quiz individually. Then they have x minutes to meet with their group to discuss the test/quiz,focusing particularly on questions with which they had difficulty.
b. finally, each group member can revisit his/her quiz and change any answer previously given.

In the scenarios cited above an incentive is provided to students to work collaboratively. In these scenarios students understand the benefit of teaching each other, see the value in working together, and have an interest in all group members doing well on the test/quiz.

Most educators would like to believe that their course facilitates the acquisition of course-specific information, critical thinking, and, perhaps, collaborative learning. It certainly is true that effective collaboration with others is a skill needed in vocational or professional jobs. In the academic arena this skill manifest in many ways.

Many organizations rely on committees to achieve company objectives. For example, currently Palomar College has been authorized to hire a number of full-time, tenure-track  instructors.  In the disciplines affected, hiring committees have been formed to select from the qualified applicant pool. Ultimately, the selection committee must, through a collaborative process reach consensus on which applicants to forward as finalists. This basic approach occurs throughout the hiring process in other professions as well.

So would a group exam or quiz work in my class? My thinking right now is that while I wouldn’t use it for an exam, I would consider using it for a quiz. Educational research as well as my own classroom experience convinces me that more substantial student learning is accomplished when students are actively engaged in a class. To the extent that collaborative activities promote involvement that would otherwise be missing, I think they are worthwhile.

A group quiz? Sure, why not?

Resource:  Faculty Focus

Teaching With Technology

A few months ago I took an online class called Social Media that focused on using Web 2.0 tools for education. One of the most potentially useful and impressive tools we used in the class was something called Voice Thread. In a future blog post I’ll describe how I’m using it in my online class but here I want to just explain what it is and then show a more interesting example of the tool than my own.

VT image
Voice Thread

Imagine sitting with a group of students while you project a Power Point slide or perhaps a short video clip. Further imagine that, while you are all watching (or looking at) the media, anyone can make a comment to call attention to some aspect of the slide or video or simply pause it while a discussion ensues. This is what is possible online with Voice Thread! The instructor or students can create the media to provide as the stimulus for discussion and everyone can join the discussion. Some will choose to write comments, some will make vocal comments, and still others may choose to use a web cam to make their comments. Voice Thread accommodates all of this.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using Voice Thread is the social engagement it facilitates. Everyone is involved. And students can drive the discussion by presenting their own artwork, poetry, writing, or by uploading Power Point slides or a video. Voice Thread can help to overcome a major obstacle online students complain about: social isolation. Hearing their classmates or seeing them also when a web cam is used, can go a long way to bridging the social community gap that often exists when on-campus classes and online classes are compared. With an on-campus class Voice Thread could be used to provide peer review or feedback instead of taking class time to do it. Voice Thread has been used in many creative ways as you’ll see if you visit the links below.

When you first sign up for a Voice Thread account you are given three free voice threads. If you try it I bet this is one social media tool that both you and students will find both educational and fun to use!

Entertaining Example that illustrates the potential of Voice Thread

Students discuss art

Video, Video, Video

video image

Videos, particularly short videos can be excellent devices to engage students but where are some good sources for appropriate video material? And how do we use them in our Blackboard classes? This second question has become very important as of this writing because the You Tube Mash-up tool in Blackboard that generated a lot of excitement is now not working correctly. In fact, using it can cause some major problems (see Terry Gray’s tutorial below).

Listed here are a few of the many video sources available to us. Most can be easily placed into Blackboard as a web link and some can be embedded. Most of the links on this page go to video sources that are keyed to education. The last three illustrate how videos can be used to (a) introduce the instructor, (b) provide guidance to students, or (c) wrap an assignment around a short video.

Terry Gray’s Description And Solution To You Tube In Bb Problem

YouTube Videos Chosen For Educational Merit (You be the judge)

TeacherTube – Videos Picked By Educators

iTunesU – Apple’s Site For Higher Ed Content

UC Berkeley – Web Casts That May Appeal To Some

The Slap – An Example Of Incorporating A Video Into An Assignment

graphic of roomClick Here To See Renee Barrett’s Video to Students – She used the XTRANORMAL Site (You write the text, the site makes the video)

Rob Mustard’s Welcome Video to Students

Next Semester: A Really Good Discussion Board Plan!

computer classroomHere it is about three weeks away from our new semester starting and I’m planning a new, revised, and totally better online discussion board for my online classes. Never mind that I really don’t know our new Blackboard 9 system that well yet or that I’ll be teaching an online class that I haven’t taught in a couple of years – I mean I’ve got three weeks!

I’ve been a big supporter of online discussion boards for a long time so I was intrigued by an article in a recent Faculty Focus Special Report. The article by Rob Kelly was titled “A Plan for Effective Discussion Boards.” I began to read, assuming I would find my discussion board strategies validated. About half-way through I came across a paragraph that began “Too often, however, instructors simply ask students to state their independent thinking on a subject and perhaps comment on two classmates’ postings.” Whoops – that’s a big part of what I typically do; perhaps I’m not on the cutting edge of best practices after all! Not that my approach is a bad or ineffective one, but the article pointed out a number of ways to make a more effective discussion board.

One of the tips in the article was that the instructor should have an active presence on the discussion board. This may strike some as obvious but I’ve heard arguments from colleagues that the instructor should be as unobtrusive as possible: since we probably won’t post a response to every student, every time, this reasoning goes, it’s better not to post at all because responding to just some students’ posts may make the others feel as though their posts aren’t worthy of the instructor’s response. Some instructor’s handle this dilemma by posting a summary at the end of the week’s discussion board period. While I do like the summary idea, I think a good way to acknowledge to students that you will not be replying to every student post is to say you plan to choose a few representative posts to respond to each week (or module).

What I most liked about the article were the recommendations by Richard Paul that are likely to engage students at a deeper level of thinking. Paul’s six recommendations as contained in Kelly’s article are the following.

Conceptual clarification questions – questions that get students to think about concepts behind their arguments, for example,Why are you saying that? What exactly does this mean? How does this relate to what we have been talking about? Can you give me an example?

Probing assumptions – questions that get students to think about the beliefs that they base their arguments on,for example, What else could we assume? How did you choose those assumptions? How can you verify or disprove that assumption? What would happen if . . . ?

Probing rationale, reasons, and evidence – questions that get students to think about the support for their arguments, for example, Why is that happening? How do you know this? Can you give me an example? What do you think causes . . .? On what authority are you basing your argument?

Questioning viewpoints and perspectives – questions that get students to consider other viewpoints, for example, What are some alternate ways of looking at this? Who benefits from this? How are x and y similar?

Probe implications and consequences – questions that get students to think about the [sic] what follows from their arguments, for example, Then what would happen? What are the consequences of that assumption?

Questions about the question – questions that turn the question in on itself, for example, What was the point of asking that question? Why do you think I asked this question?

While it may not be practical for us to post responses to every student post, posting the sort of Socratic questions listed above to a representative group of student discussion board posts will encourage everyone to think more critically.

And speaking of grading rubrics . . . ok, I’ll save that for another day!


Kelly, R. (nd). A plan for effective discussion boards, in a Faculty Focus Special Report

Social Media and Education (it’s not an oxymoron)

social media toolsMaybe I’ve been too influenced by a social media class I took recently but I’ve become determined to implement some of the Web 2.0/Social Media ideas to which I’ve been exposed. BTW, for those who think the title of this blog post does constitute an oxymoron, you might appreciate some better ones as contained in The Internet’s Best List of Oxymorons . But seriously folks . . .

Blackboard 9 has recognized the utility of including Web 2.0 ideas by providing easy ways of including tools such as Slideshare, You Tube, and others right in their newest version of the course management system. Take a few minutes to review the excellent tutorials about how to use some of these new Blackboard features by checking out the Academic Technology web page (thanks, Terry).

Another really useful resource for using these ideas is contained on the Online web site, in the blog titled 100 Inspiring Ways to use Social Media in the Classroom. This is a compilation of some terrific ideas about how to incorporate social media – all the way from K-12 to Universities.

I imagine that more instructors than before will begin to use various Web 2.0 tools in their classes and I would love to hear from any of you who do it now or who anticipate doing it in the near future.

Web 2.0 Tools

As social networking and Web 2.0 continues to grow in popularity, some are asking: What is Web 2.0 anyway? From the Teaching Without Walls website:

Web 2.0 is a common term used to describe “version two” or the “second generation” of the internet. Web 2.0 is distinguished from web 1.0 in one very simply [sic] way: content may be easily created by users who are no longer required to be technical experts. Thus, web 2.0 is exceptionally promising and liberating for educators who too frequently feel trapped or overwhelmed by the speed of technology. Further, web 2.0 tools cultivate participatory, active learning activities and/or environments for students, facilitating exciting new ways to assess learning and engage students.

In this blog post I want to describe one Web 2.0 tool that, at first, I dismissed as frivolous. I may still come around to that opinion but, for now, I’m being more open-minded about it as several colleagues see a lot of value in the tool. The tool is Wordle which is described as a tool that automatically generates a word cloud from a word list you provide. Wordle has the attraction of being the simplest tool to use you could imagine. Just enter words and Wordle generates the word cloud and shows you which words were used most frequently. The more a particular word or term is used, the larger it appears in the word cloud. The interpretation is up to you. This has some potentially interesting and educational uses. Maybe. One way I used Wordle was to capture all the student posts in a Blackboard Discussion Board Forum as you can see in the graphic below. If there is interest, I can detail how I did this in another post.

Discussion Board Posts

The word cloud of student posts on the subject of discipline brought up some intriguing discussion connections that I could use to get students engaged with the topic. For example,while the word “parents” was the largest word in the Wordle,implying it was the word most often used in the student posts, the word “mother” was much larger than “dad.” This could lead to a consideration of the relative influence of mother and father in the students’ discipline histories. Other word comparisons could also lead into deeper discussions such as the word “children” being much larger than “adolescents” – is it true for most that more discipline is required when we’re younger? But aren’t we more confrontational with parents as teens? And what do we make of the fact that spanking, spanked, and punishment were fairly large and hence more frequently mentioned? And I couldn’t help feeling somewhat reassured that words like hurt, slapped, belt and so on were not evident.

So, while Wordle is not for everyone, it may strike some as an engaging way to get students interested in examining an issue or topic

Twitter Revisited

A blog post back in January was about the use of Twitter in academia. Just recently I came across a Faculty Focus survey, Twitter in Higher Education 2010: Usage Habits and Trends of Today’s College Faculty, which reported on the current use of Twitter in higher education.

This report is informative and worth reading as it provides a background and context for each of the survey questions and, particularly helpful, provides the reasons the respondents gave for their responses. The survey found that more higher education professionals are using Twitter compared with last year.

From the report: “Of those who currently use Twitter, the most common activities include to share information with peers and as a real-time learning source.” While some do use Twitter in the classroom or to communicate with students, these are less popular activities – although this use has seen an increase from 2009 to 2010. Another finding was that 57% of those who use Twitter now plan to increase their use in the coming academic year. The report also sheds light on why many educators do not use Twitter; currently some 35% of those who responded to the survey use Twitter in some capacity and 65% do not.

Any educator contemplating using Twitter will find this report on Twitter use in education valuable reading.