14 November 2012

iPads in the Library: Interim Observations

This is my article written for the college Staff Bulletin.

Last spring, the college library, supported by the College’s innovation fund, started a project of introducing tablet devices for supporting classroom-based and independent learning in the college. Tablets are a new kind of technology and it is not yet clear what are the best ways of using them in education. The purpose of the project is to learn what tutors and learners will do with the tablets; then evaluate their appropriateness for teaching and learning, as well as to identify the barriers and problems related to their use.

The six iPads purchased for the project have become the most used resource offered by the library. Within the first two months alone they had been borrowed 170 times, with 85% of overall loans by students and 15% by tutors.

The iPads are mostly used in classrooms for research where learning involves a lot of interaction and change of activities. For example, Performing Arts students very quickly switched from laptops to iPads for use in their studio. Students have been using tablets for taking photos, making videos, editing photo and video content, and taking interviews for their research projects.

Staff have discovered how convenient iPads are for video recording the evidence of students’ work in a classroom; how easy is transferring those videos to Dropbox, sharing them with the whole group, linking to Moodle and embedding them into PowerPoint documents.

Also, staff from support areas use tablets in their work. Kelly C. promotes the Job Shop to learners who enquire about the career development opportunities (on the photo).

John T., Engineering, has been using tablets with his level 1 learners for four days every week. In his opinion, tablets allow more flexibility and enhanced interaction in the classroom: they can be easily shared, passed around or placed in the centre of a group of students working on the same project.

His students reported that they preferred working with tablets to textbooks: they liked an easy access to a lot of information and the whole experience of using a physical touch. For the majority of learners this was the only occasion when they used iPads; in spite of that, they quickly learned the basics and showed each other their discoveries.

Among the difficulties, learners mentioned occasionally unstable wi-fi in their classroom and inability to easily transfer their writings over to their personal computers. This should be rectified when Microsoft apps for iPad are released next year. Surprisingly few tutors requested apps to be downloaded to the devices; it seems the concept of apps is more complex than the devices themselves.

The library has already had to deal with the first e-safety incident taken place when a learner was using one of the iPads.

These are only interim observations; they are encouraging – there is incredible buzz about iPads in the library: learners love using tablets in the classroom and outside. As this technology and our experience of using it develops, tablets will successfully compete with PCs for the place in education; and it will happen very soon.

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