Tabula Rasa


The rise of iPad-supplemented learning


By Bill Giduz

Nelson Professor and Chair of Psychology Cole Barton was initially led to experiment with the iPad in his “Abnormal Psychology” class due to the cost and rapid obsolescence of the course textbook. But he soon came to believe the tablet computers might have additional value. The power of the small Apple device to bring together a large number of capabilities led him to wonder whether it may help students learn better.

Barton discussed his ideas with Mur Muchane, executive director of Information Technology Services (ITS), who turned out to be asking the same questions.

Muchane explained, “We always keep an eye on new technology, and the iPad strikes us as particularly promising. It represents capabilities never put together before in one package. When Cole expressed his interest in the device, we saw the opportunity for a pilot project.” ITS purchased 17 new 16-gigabyte iPad 2s for members of Barton’s class. To better gauge the effectiveness of iPad-supplemented learning,

ITS loaned devices to only a randomly selected half of the students in the class. Most of the other students work on personal PCs.

In the course, an introduction to the treatment issues in contemporary psychology, students were assessed with two quizzes, a term paper, and final exam.

Barton also designed the course to develop and support students’ technological literacy. He assigned students to three-person groups that researched a significant controversy in the field, and posted their findings to a class blog.

The experimental nature of the class made it an ideal project to locate in the new Center for Teaching and Learning. The class meets in a CTL room once a week along with Barton, an ITS staffer who helps with technical issues, and a reference librarian to help students with online research methodology and access to high-quality scholarship in psychology databases.

Students also loaded into their computers a free neuroanatomy application developed by alumnus Mark Williams ’03 that provides maps of parts of the brain, and links readers to information about the neurological functions of specific regions.

Muchane continued, “Because they can interact with content in multidimensional ways, students more fully engage with the content at a higher level. Class discussions are happening at a higher level of understanding.”

Barton said he’s been totally seduced by the capability, portability, and adaptability of the iPad.

He uses it as an e-reader, and plugs it into classroom projection screens to project pictures and video. He forsees a day when he will use its “face time” feature to talk to students remotely during office hours, and when students will use it to interview psychologists elsewhere for research projects.

The ITS collaboration with Barton’s class and iPads is just the first venture into that new direction. Muchane said his department is exploring mobile device enhancements in other classes, and is developing Davidson apps for mobile devices.


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