iPad set to be Trinity College teacher’s pet

iPad pilot moves to second stage with expanded staff use of the tablet PC

The use of the iPad as an education tool looks to be gaining momentum with Melbourne University’s Trinity College giving the tablet PC a big thumbs up for for ease of use and collaboration opportunities following the completion of a pilot trial.

Under the trial, which started in August 2010, international students who began in the August intake of Foundation Studies last year pursued education with iPads being used as tool in their formal studies.

Foundation Studies prepares the international students to go on to further study at Melbourne University. The tablets were used in the teaching of language, maths and physics.

The report found that following the trial 76 per cent of staff and 80 per cent of students recommended the tablet for educational purposes.

The original trial rolled out 70 iPads with 45 used by students and the other 25 handed to academic staff. The second phase of the trial was to have staff trial all of the 70 iPads, and the third phase, due to budgetary approval, was to retrial the iPads with the August 2011 intake of students.

Stage four would involve rolling out iPads every year to 700 Foundation Studies students.

Trinity College Foundation Studies associate dean for academic operations, Glen Jennings, said the iPads proved to be an ideal technology for classroom interaction between teachers and students.

“They’re very portable and flexible," he said. "The touchscreen technology enables particular forms of learning such as enhancing physics experiments.

"It allows real-time access to information, which sounds simple enough but we didn’t have computers in our classrooms before."

This was because, prior to the trial, there was no Wi-Fi Internet in the classrooms. Individual students were allowed to bring netbooks and laptops but the school did not have rules about standard operating system or technologies.

“It opens a whole way to do group work or pursue individual projects," said Jennings. "It’s not all teacher centred or hierarchical.

"You can promote it in an individual way and our students need to do a lot of collaborative work so it’s an ideal technology for group work.

"The University of Melbourne hasn’t got a standard policy for computing devices but staff there feel that the foundation students will be better prepared through using iPads. A lot of university material is now on podcasts and in computers."

According to Jennings, none of the tablets were broken or needed repairs, which was a "good outcome" as the students were carrying the iPads around in their backpacks and taking the devices home every night.

While teachers had misgivings that the students would be distracted by using the Internet or playing games while in the classroom, the results found that this was not the case.

"Students were engaged in their learning as it more exciting for them than the talk and chalk approach,” he said.

While the Internet did not prove to be a problem, Jennings said it had measures in place for future trials such as the requirement to turn Wi-Fi off prior to a classroom session.

Originally the school had planed to create its own applications for the iPad to aid the teaching of language, maths and physics. While these have not been developed, Jennings said that if it proceeds to stage four of the project, this would be looked at again.

Since stage one of the trial was completed, the college has rolled out wireless access points to all of its classrooms. It is also looking at purchasing more big screen TVs and video cameras this year to aid course work.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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