Bathed in the dusky haze of the afternoon sun, the smell of freshly mowed grass hovering as an undeniable harbinger of spring, the University of La Verne baseball and softball teams on April 8 don...
A pilot program of the Center for Teaching and Learning has students, faculty and staff putting portable computer devices to the test to discover if they enhance learning.
Debbie Deacy has discovered that, if nothing else, technology has made riding her bike more fun.
As the university’s Director of Purchasing & Procurement, Deacy is always on the go, meeting with colleagues to discuss their furniture options. The most efficient way to get around campus is on her bicycle — one with a basket on the handlebars that used to be loaded down with three-ring binders and bulky furniture catalogs. But that was before “Izzy.”“Izzy” is the Apple iPad computer Deacy is testing in a pilot project at the University of La Verne. Now, the heavy binders are gone; all the information she needs is stored in the notepad-size mobile device that her son named.
“Now, I just put a tiny, little iPad in the basket,” she said. “I also bring it to my meetings. It helps me stay on track.”
Deacy is one of six participants in the pilot conducted by the Center for Teaching and Learning. La Verne joins the ranks of several dozen campuses across the country that are piloting iPads in the higher education environment, including Seton Hall, Duke and the University of California, Irvine.
However, La Verne’s program is unique in that the six participants represent three different populations.
“My idea was to put two iPads in the hands of students, two in the hands of faculty and two in the hands of administrative folks,” said Nori Murphy, Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. “The idea was that these folks would really put this tool to use.”
The pilot is designed to answer the underlying question of whether use of this mobile device enhances learning on campus. The participants in the pilot are writing about their experiences in a blog, http://sites.laverne.edu/ipad-pilot/, sharing their joy — and frustrations — in using the iPad.
Deacy, who is also a graduate student, has experienced pros and cons about using the iPad. She can’t yet print from it through the campus wireless system because of security safeguards, and though the iPad has editing applications for Microsoft Office documents, it doesn’t directly support the Office suite.
“If you are someone who is typically at a desk eight hours a day, I don’t know how much help it would give you, as opposed to someone who is running around the campus a lot,” she said. “I think it’s a fantastic tool for people who are on the go, who need to stay connected. It helps make you much more efficient.”
The genesis for the pilot came out of the Educause 2010 Horizon report, which reported five trending technologies, including mobile technologies. After a series of discussions and attending a webinar on mobile technologies, Murphy and her colleagues decided to put together a pilot program using the iPads, which were new at the time. It was vital that the equipment was logical and that it could be legitimately supported, she said.
“We want to make sure that our university is cutting-edge and that we’re attracting the kind of student who wants to have a really rigorous, current education,” Murphy said.
For senior biology major Maddie Clements, the iPad has been helpful, for the most part.
“Overall, it’s been pretty useful in class. It would be more useful if it was expanded,” said Clements, who plans to become a high school teacher. She added that, from a student perspective, the uses are somewhat limited because the instructors don’t have them. “Other than that, the experience has been really good. I’ve had a lot of feedback from friends about it.”
Clements said writing for the blog has been fun. “I like being able to share about what I’ve found useful and interesting about it,” she said.
Clements is working with Kathleen Weaver, Associate Professor of Biology, on a Web site for the animal biology laboratory Weaver teaches, which will be designed around the iPad.
“I think it’s been really great,” said Weaver, who is also taking part in the pilot program. “One of the reasons that I think it’s been so great is that it has given me a chance to look at the different applications that are available within my discipline and see how I can integrate them.”
Having the iPad inspired Weaver to develop the Web site. Students would be able to have the iPads with them in class as they go through dissections and then use them at home.
“I think in the beginning we were all kind of stumped; it took that next push,” Weaver said. After finding some tools online, Weaver now has potential uses of the iPad at the forefront of her brain when she attends conferences, asking others how they would use it. She has even found a little microscope called a Proscope that can be used with the iPad.
“I think it’s great that La Verne is trying to stay on the front wave,” Weaver said.
While some skeptics might say that such electronic devices get in the way of people conversing, Murphy says tools such as the iPad actually facilitate communication rather than hinder it.
Clive Houston-Brown, Associate Vice President of Facilities & Technology Services & CI, uses an iPad but is not one of the pilot program participants. “I attend a lot of meetings. I’m away from the office a heck of a lot,” he said. “I use a Blackberry and have access to e-mail readily, but only on a read-only basis. It’s not conducive to responding to e-mail. The iPad allows me to respond and stay mobile and stay connected. I respond in real time as much as possible.”
Houston-Brown estimates that having the iPad allows him to capture an extra 30 to 60 minutes a day because he can respond to e-mails in short periods of time between meetings. He is looking to get access to his files on his iPad.
“I think it’s an exciting pilot program,” adding that it’s crucial that any pilot program has the right people participating in it who are willing to jump right in and help educate others. That’s the case here, he said.
The timing for the project is also good. The university just finished a two-year overhaul of its wireless network. The campus is 100 percent wireless and offers the highest speed available.
“La Verne is very open to the use of technology and mobile media like this,” Houston-Brown said of the pilot program.
Murphy agrees with that sentiment.
“For a small, private college, I see this kind of device fitting in perfectly with the kind of feeling we have always tried to maintain on campus,” she said.
It also fits better in a bike basket.