Classroom iPad Programs Get Mixed Response

A few weeks after a handful of colleges gave away iPads to determine the tablet’s place in the classroom, students and faculty seem confident that the device has some future in academe.

But they’re still not exactly sure where that might be.

At those early-adopter schools, iPads are competing with MacBooks as the students’ go-to gadget for note taking and Web surfing. Zach Kramberg, a first-year student at George Fox University, which allowed incoming students to choose between a complimentary iPad or MacBook this fall, said the tablet has become an important tool for recording and organizing lecture notes. He also takes the device with him to the university’s dimly lit chapel so he can follow along with an app called iBible. “The iPad’s very easy to use once you figure them out,” he said.

Still, Mr. Kramberg said the majority of students rely on bound Bibles in chapel and stick to pen and paper or MacBooks in the classroom.

Greg Smith, chief information officer at George Fox, said the iPad’s technological limitations—its inability to multitask and print, and its limited storage space—have kept students dependent on their notebooks. “That’s the problem with the iPad: It’s not an independent device,” he said.

Mr. Smith said that the 67 students—10 percent of the freshman class—that opted for iPads over MacBooks are really excited about the technology but have not been “pushing the capabilities” of the device.

Caitlin Corning, a history professor at George Fox, said it’s been hard to meld iPads into the curriculum because only a small subset of her students has the device. Ms. Corning used the iPad as a portable teaching tool during a student art trip to Europe this summer, flashing Van Gogh works on the screen when they were in the places he painted them. Translating that portable-classroom experience into her classroom back in Oregon, however, has not been easy. “It’s still a work in progress,” she said. “It’s a little complex because only some of the freshmen have iPads.”

Faculty members at Seton Hill University, which gave iPads to all full-time students, are working with the developers of an e-book app called Inkling to come up with new ways to integrate the iPad into classroom instruction. The textbook software—one of many in development—allows students to access interactive graphics and add notes as they read along. Faculty members can access the students’ marginalia to see whether they understand the text. They can also remotely receive and answer questions from students in real time.

Catherine Giunta, an associate professor of business at Seton Hill, said the technology has changed the way students interact with their textbooks and how she interacts with her students. While reviewing the margin notes of a student in her marketing class, Ms. Giunta was able to pinpoint and correct a student’s apparent misunderstanding of a concept that was going to be covered in class the next day. “The misunderstanding may not have been apparent until [the student] did a written report,” Ms. Giunta said. “I could really give her individualized instruction and guidance.”

As students and faculty members around the country feel around for new ways to integrate the iPad into academic life, a handful of programs are taking a more formal approach to finding its place in the classroom. Students in the Digital Cultures and Creativity program at the University of Maryland at College Park will turn a critical eye on the iPad as a study tool while integrating it into their curriculum.  “I think [students are] taking a sort of wait-and-see approach,” said Matthew Kirschenbaum, the program director and an associate professor of English.

Similarly, the faculty at Indiana University has formed a 24-member focus group to evaluate iPad-driven teaching strategies. The groups have started meeting this month to assess how their iPad experiments are going, with a preliminary report due in January. “It’s meant to be a supportive, collaborative, formalized conversation,” said Stacy Morrone, Indiana’s associate dean of learning technologies. “We don’t expect that everything will go perfectly.”

Although not entirely related to the substance of the iPad educational debate, a pilot program at Long Island University was thrust into the spotlight over the weekend in an animated e-mail exchange between a college journalist and Apple’s founder Steve Jobs. As Gawker reports it, complaints about a few unreturned media inquiries from a deadline-stressed reporter led to a curt “leave us alone” response from the Apple chief executive.

In the e-mail chain, Mr. Jobs said, “Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade.”

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