The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



iPad receives rave reviews

Kristen Durbin | Friday, November 12, 2010

After completing Notre Dame’s first iPad-based e-reader pilot class in October, Corey Angst and his Project Management students found that the device lived up to its widespread media hype.

“My students felt that the iPad would be useful before they even began using it, and there was hardly any change in that belief over the course of the class,” said Angst, assistant professor of management at the Mendoza College of Business.

Angst administered four surveys to his students throughout the course: one before the students received their loaned iPads, one three weeks into the course, one at the end of the course and one a few weeks after returning the devices to the University. He said these surveys provided him with valuable feedback as to whether or not iPads play a significant role in an individual student’s learning experience in relation to a specific course.

“One of the goals of this pilot was to monitor the usefulness of the iPad in a classroom setting, and the survey results showed that the students’ opinions on this remained relatively constant,” Angst said. “This seven-week class showed that there is tremendous value in the device, but not necessarily in the way we anticipated.”

Both Angst and Jon Crutchfield, academic technologies consultant, emphasized the fact that high expectations usually go hand in hand with brand-new technologies, but these expectations usually give way to marked decreases in user satisfaction. However, that trend was not observed in this initial test run at Notre Dame.

“As people begin to use new technologies, their satisfaction usually goes way down once they start to find the limitations of a device,” Crutchfield said. “In this case, the satisfaction level of students on the final survey was almost identical to the expectations expressed in the first survey.”

In response to the survey question, “Which statement best sums up your general feelings about using the iPad in the Project Management course?” only two of Angst’s 36 students chose the answer “I didn’t like it,” as opposed to 12 students who answered that they loved using the device during the class.

According to Angst and Crutchfield, the most widely observed drawback to the iPad was its e-reader capabilities, which contrasted with their initial prediction of the device’s viability as an alternative to traditional textbooks. Crutchfield noted that most students had difficulty annotating and highlighting text in the electronic version of their textbook and that making the transition from a traditional textbook proved challenging.

“We thought the e-book aspect would be the strongest determinant of value for students,” Angst said. “Instead, students felt there were limitations to reading books on the device, but they were willing to give up optimal book reading for the iPad’s other advantages.”

Angst and his students cited the device’s portability, consolidation of information in one place, easy access to content, functional versatility and connectedness as the iPad’s advantages. Angst also said many of the applications available on the iPad have significantly improved since the beginning of the class, and he predicts the iPad and other e-readers will function better as textbook alternatives in the future.

Two focus groups met to discuss the role of the iPad in the Notre Dame classroom after the Project Management class ended. Student members of these groups were able to provide feedback about how they adapted to using the devices daily.

“Some older students told us that they had learned how to study successfully over the course of their time at Notre Dame, so asking them to switch to a different style of learning was a challenge,” Crutchfield said. “Some of the students were more successful than others at taking what they know and using it differently.”

The focus groups also compiled a list of the pros and cons of using iPads in the classroom.

However, the surveys Angst administered to his students provided more specific student responses to their individual use of the iPads.

“One thing that struck me was my students’ responses to whether they thought they could learn more in any class, not just Project Management, using the iPad,” Angst said. “Fifteen of them felt that they would learn more just by having the device available.”

Although students were encouraged to use the iPads as they wished without being extensively trained, Angst said that professors who teach iPad-based classes in the future should have an understanding of apps that are available, as well as provide students with some guidelines as to the device’s capabilities in relation to their specific class.

“Professors can set themselves up for failure if they allow student use of the device to be entirely organic,” Angst said. “Some students will embrace the freedom, but others won’t bother to figure out how to use it if they are focused on more important things in terms of academics.”

In terms of the ways students used the iPad to fit their needs, Crutchfield said he was surprised that a few students typed all their class notes on the iPad’s keyboard.

“It’s not the greatest keyboard in the world, so we expected that to be a challenge,” Crutchfield said.

Despite the device’s drawbacks, Crutchfield said only two students had technical problems with their iPads, both of which he said were easily resolved. Additionally, the device’s monitored security settings prevented one student from losing all his data when his iPad was stolen from his car.

Both Angst and Crutchfield said that the pilot was valuable in highlighting the fact that introducing the devices at an earlier point in students’ college careers would help facilitate further integration of the device into regular learning.

“When students were asked how the devices would have affected their learning if they had been given to them as freshmen, most agreed that they would have learned to study using the tools provided,” Crutchfield said.

Angst said the ultimate goals of these pilot classes are centered around the student and his or her individual needs.

“It all comes back to the student choosing a device that allows them to do the things they personally need to do, whether it’s the iPad or another device,” Angst said.

Overall, Angst and Crutchfield said the pilot achieved the goal of providing more information about the use of e-readers in the classroom, and it will continue as the more data is gathered from the current round of classes using the iPad, including First Year of Studies Dean Hugh Page’s Contemplation and the First Year Experience class, librarian Cheri Smith’s Library Research course and Professor Erin Ponisciak’s Law School 101 class. The devices will be used in a Law School course and at least one foreign language course next semester, Crutchfield said.

“We weren’t looking to see if the iPad was the perfect e-reader or classroom support technology,” Crutchfield said. “But it gives us a baseline to compare similar devices in the future, which we still intend to do.”