Dean Temkin explains the iPad Initiative

In August of 2016, Norwich began to equip some students and faculty with Apple iPad Pros. The principal hope of this initiative is to provide a robust set of tools to our students, through a mobile computing platform, that can expand and improve opportunities for engaged personal learning.

In some companies, like IBM, mobile computing devices now outnumber laptops and desktops. Encouraged by this evolution and the growing scope of mobile computing in primary education, industry, and professional practice, this initiative has been exploring how iPads may be used to enrich studying and learning at Norwich while promoting another level of digital literacy for all students.

What changes occur when an instructor at Norwich can count on everyone in a classroom having equal resources and ready access to information? We expect that providing a common mobile device to every student will provide new opportunities for studying, collaboration, experimentation, fact-finding research and content generation.

The iPad Initiative’s first group of faculty and students began in fall 2016 with 113 student devices issued to sophomores in nursing, sports medicine, athletic training, and studies of war and peace, together with the seniors in psychology. Initially a group of 25 faculty volunteered to participate and explore how the device could impact teaching and learning in their classes. By the end of the first semester more faculty expressed interest and by last spring more than 60 faculty were using iPads. As of January 2018, the number of faculty and staff users will total 119.

Approximately 230 students in eight departments are using iPads this year, a number that is planned to nearly triple in fall of 2018 to more than 600 students when iPads will be required for all students in nursing and all incoming (i.e. freshmen) students in the Bachelor of Arts majors. Last year’s and this year’s students have been using university-owned devices and the students have not incurred any individual cost. Once the iPad is required for an academic program, students will be issued iPads to keep and will pay for the device through a dedicated fee. We are still determining how the fee will be structured, but the intent is for this expense to simply cover the educational cost of the iPad Pro, Pencil, and case – the same “kit” students are using now.

In the first two years, the goal has been to learn how we can best support this work; to provide faculty with professional development opportunities and training; and to learn the tool and understand its capabilities. There is an idea in the area of technology and learning, known as the SAMR model. SAMR is credited to Dr. Ruben Puentedura and stands for Substitution, Adaptation, Modification, and Redefinition. This model presumes that the greatest opportunity for innovating the way we learn via technology is through these later stages of modification and redefinition. These first two years of the initiative have provided an opportunity to help students and faculty discover some of these more transformative opportunities while we are also trying to optimize the user experience. We have been working to test our mobile infrastructure; explore how best to wirelessly integrate mobile devices with projectors; explore the reliability of the devices (and our wireless network); and determine how IT can best support this work.

Integrating technology into learning has long been part of the university’s strategic plan. This project was initiated as one strategy to broadly address this goal. President Richard Schneider and the Board of Trustees of the university have supported this work with $150,000 in university funding during its rollout in the first year, and $300,000 this 2017-2018 academic year. These funds are being applied to the cost of the devices, training for faculty and staff, adding wireless connectivity to the projectors in classrooms all across campus, developing a new Norwich University app, and funding new support positions in instruction technology. Our new provost, Dr. Sandra Affenito, is very supportive and has been very helpful moving this effort forward.

The phased rollout of iPads aims to discover and explore how students use the devices and through their input, help us enhance their use and usefulness. Each semester we have been seeking input from users regarding apps, the training and in-classroom technology. In simpler terms, we’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, find the best tools for wireless connectivity, and create a model for using this powerful digital tool that could eventually be incorporated into teaching in all departments. We will be conducting a survey in the spring asking all students in this year’s cohort to share feedback with us about their experience. (Individual feedback is also welcome if anyone wants to send me thoughts or ideas you can email me at atemkin@norwich.edu. Please write “iPads” in the subject line).

I sometimes get the question, “Why iPads when many students already have a computer?” While there are ways in which they are similar – for example both platforms run Microsoft Office – an iPad offers different opportunities due its size and adaptability. It is light enough to carry around, is well-suited to field work and it includes a high quality camera, microphone, and speaker. I learned from Michelle Lee (’16, ’17) that she used iPads regularly in her work as an aviation mechanic for the Vermont Air National Guard. She explained that the technical manuals and repair instructions are all provided via an iPad she uses while she is working.

The iPad has a broad set of very accessible apps, including some powerful discipline-specific tools, and most apps are free or very inexpensive. One less obvious benefit is its usefulness as an e-reader. Many university textbooks, magazines, journals, and novels are now available as electronic text. For textbooks, these are usually less expensive than traditional printed copies, and in some cases are considerably less. Many eBooks can be rented, and in some fields there are evolving libraries of new open source texts. We are hoping most students will ultimately save enough through eBooks to more than compensate for the cost of the device. In the evolving inventory of eBooks, publishers are providing new opportunities through audio and video clips, links to external content, the ability for the text to be read out loud, variable text size and color, and integrated study tools. With the Apple Pencil, issued to each student, it’s often possible to take notes, annotate diagrams, draw, paint, and calculate within these texts.

In short, the vision underlying this project is to make the iPads a common valuable tool-set for every student, a device that every student will have and find useful in the classroom, studio or lab, for homework and to study.

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