iPad project – Library Services & Medical and Dental Sciences

Over recent years, there has been plenty of discussion about the use of iPads and other mobile technologies in supporting students and the learning experience.  I think it’s fair to say that in some quarters, there’s a sense that if students are given the technology, the learning experience is automatically enhanced.

But is this really the case?

To investigate the impact of iPads on student learning, Library Services are currently running a project with the College of Medical and Dental Sciences where 6 undergraduate students have been loaned iPads for a year.  The idea is to investigate a range of issues including: how learners will adapt to using tablets; which applications are more suited to note-taking and revising; what the impact will be on lectures, wireless networks, paper use and learning spaces; and purchasing models for app versions of library books and resources.

All students who have been loaned iPads have also committed to being part of an online community.  We have a Ning message board and monthly ‘surgeries’ where students come and share their ideas and experiences.  Other existing tablet users have been invited to join the community and the surgeries.  So far, what’s emerged is a mixed picture as students get to grips with the technology.

On the whole, students are enjoying using iPads and are keento work with them to see how they can enhance their studies, although one first year student handed back her iPad within the first fortnight as she couldn’t see herself using it.

The first challenge was the spending model issue; Apple are not currently set up to support the institutional purchase of apps, so we’ve had to order iTunes vouchers for students to purchase apps with themselves.  We’re hoping that the availability of vouchers will encourage students to think for themselves what they should be purchasing.

WiFi has also proved more of a challenge than anticipated, as it quickly emerged that there is currently no WiFi access in most halls of residence, although I understand this is something that will be upgraded soon.  This has posed challenges for our first year students who have had to find other ways to use their iPads in halls.

Students from clinical years have faced rather different issues, with patients not understanding that the trainee doctor in front of them is using their mobile device to take notes, consult reference texts, and so on, assuming that they must be on Facebook or playing games.  This fundamental misunderstanding has also been reported by students in lectures.

Despite a few teething troubles, our group of students are enthused by the project and are interested in working on solutions to these issues.  It’s early days yet, but we hope to be able to derive some ‘best practice’ guidelines on using tablets in a learning environment, suggest some good quality apps to students, and work out how best to provide app versions of library resources.

Post by: Sarah Pittaway

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