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iPad Making the Grade in the Classroom
Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2012
Written By:  Brian Kirschner
Contact:  Brian Kirschner
Contact Email:  b.kirschner@usciences.edu
Contact Phone:  215.895.1186

For many people, the iPad has become an important tool for their personal and business uses as evidenced by Apple’s growing sales figures. The classroom is yet another setting where the iPad’s potential is being explored and tested.

A USciences pilot program involving three programs from chemistry and physical therapy showed enough promise that USciences information technology department is looking to expand its usage to five programs this coming academic year, while every department on campus is taking a keen interest in integrating the tool.

“As far as success is concerned, the majority of the data returned from student feedback was positive in nature,” said Rich Cosgriff, director of classroom technology. “One of the biggest indicators of success was that every department on campus has committed to professional development cohorts. That time commitment that faculty is giving to us is a major indicator of success. The fact that they are all interested in the pilot and the iPad, but they understand that they need to know more before they feel comfortable incorporating it into their curriculum, is very positive.”

Dr. Catherine Bentzley, associate professor of chemistry, was one of those faculty members who used the iPad in her chemistry class to interact with the students as well as have them utilize it as a research tool.

“The students would be given a problem at the end of each chapter where they would have to use their iPads to do a search and then to figure out their problem and then submit their problem set on the iPad,” Dr. Bentzley explained. “For example, they had to figure out how many grams and moles of salt there was in the ocean but they would have had to use their iPad to look up what is the volume of the ocean and how much area does it cover and things like that and what is the percentage of salt in that volume of water.”

She also had students present in class about helpful applications they found.

“We found a lot of good nomenclature applications, periodic tables, periodic trends, and ones for organic reactions. If the students were having trouble with a concept, they could use their iPad and an application to work on an idea that they did not understand.”

In classroom use, Dr. Bentzley used apps like Air Sketch to “draw” on her iPad for all to see on the board or markup student responses before sharing documents back through Drop Box. Using Panopto, a recording platform that integrates notes and slides, she was also able to record her lab lectures giving the students her lecture and lab notes in a tidy package that they could access before each lab.

“Most helpful, and what I think the students liked the best, was that I would tape my pre-lab lectures with Panopto, download the lab notes and mark them up with Air Sketch in sync. That way the students could see the directions, hear me lecturing about it, and see my notes as they were being generated. They could go back and forth and take as much time as they needed to process each lecture. It was a neat feature.”

Bi-weekly department meetings helped generate ideas for new uses of the iPad. Dr. Bentzley also collaborated with colleagues outside the university who are doing similar things.

Certainly there are limitations. There are currently few app platforms similar to interactive e-text books that are specifically developed for chemistry with built in apps.

“The business field already has some apps like that, but the science field is just taking a little longer to get up to speed on that,” she said. Which is why if she had to give the pilot program a grade right now, she would say B .

Cosgriff recently returned from presenting the results of the pilot program at The Campus Technology 2012 Conference in Boston.

“A lot of folks at the conference were really impressed with the apps that we found and the ways that we used the apps,” he said.

In the expanded pilot program for 2012-13, every department has committed to professional development cohorts to learn more about the iPad and how it could help enhance their classroom. It’s anticipated that two-thirds of all faculty will have an iPad in the fall and that iPads will be made available for all students within 1-2 years.

With use of Apple’s ubiquitous tool continuing to rise meteorically, it won’t be long before the iPad rises to the top of the class and gets an A .

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