Faculty Response

Sarah Kersh

Assistant Professor, Dept of English 

I used the tablets for my WRPG211/ENGL212 course called Writing in and for Digital Environments. 

  • What did you like about using the tablets for your class?

The classis a writing-intensive course designed to teach students about multimodal writing and to challenge and develop students’ writing skills.  Tablets in our fall 2014 class allowed students to simultaneously access information on the web (follow links, view sample blogs, search Twitter hashtags, etc) and work collaboratively on writing (through commenting, chatting, and screenshots).  Because the course is focused on writing as a process and writing as learning—and both in an online environment— access to the tablets meant that we were able to workshop writing where it would ultimately be published.  In years past we have to print posts or gather around one computer screen; however, with iPads, the students sat in small groups, pulled up websites and began collaboratively revising them.  We could fix broken links or strange formatting on the spot and the students could help one another negotiate the technical aspects of building websites and posting.

Tablets evened the technology gap for students allowing all students in the class equal access to high-quality resources via the iPad.  They provided richer writing and revision experiences through the integration of multimodal writing in the peer review process and, specifically during the Fall 2014 term, we successfully used Google forms in place of peer review worksheets.

  • Were there specific applications that you found most useful?

WordPress was most important for the students as they built their own blogs and posted to our class blog.  Also, we needed to be able to read our texts and experiment with social media (Twitter specifically, but also Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, etc).  Finally, I required students to download an RSS reader—we used Feedly—and follow their classmates blogs as well as blogs in their own area of interest.  This worked well for getting students engaged in online conversations and communities as well as strengthened their on-going analytical reading skills.

  • Do you have any examples of how this technology changed the learning outcomes for your students?  And did they change the way you taught the course?  

The iPads underscored that a large goal of mine is for students to develop the ability to understand how to write for different audiences.  I want them to be able to move between kinds of conversations so that they can tailor both their content and their format to their imagined reader.  This made me focus on the idea of writing as a transportable, malleable skill that is necessary across fields.  Looking at Twitter alongside articles on Medium.com hit home how form, design, and audience radically shape the kind of writing you do, which ultimately shapes the kinds of thoughts you can express.  You cannot craft one piece of writing and expect it to work across platforms as diverse as Twitter and Medium.  Seeing the blatant differences across the platforms concretely showed students how important audience is in their revisions and re-conceptualizations of ideas.  This shifted the emphasis of our class discussions slightly (toward more conversations about process) and the shift in emphasis somewhat restructured how I taught the course (in that we had more readings and discussions about how to write instead of what they were writing about in their blogs).

  • What didn't you like about them?  Did your students like using them?

The students and I both loved using the iPads.  They were a tool that made the process of writing and editing blogs so much easier.  What frustrated me and the students was simply the learning curve of some of our applications.  This is to be expected though!  And, I think it was part of the hard work we did together.  Learning to negotiate and troubleshoot became one of our foundational class skills!

Mike Holden

Associate Professor, Dept. of Chemistry 

I used iPads in my CHEM 490 (Advanced Organic Chemistry) class during the fall  2014 semester. The major use for the tablets was a piece of software called iSpartan, which is a slimmed-down version of the Spartan molecular modeling software that our students use in a variety of classes.

What I liked: It was possible to have students use the tablets to read articles from the literature at their own pace. It was not unusual for the class to have to work through an article to understand a concept or to answer a question about the chemistry. With each student having their own iPad, this became much easier and much more efficient than copying the article and passing it out or displaying it on the projection screen and constantly asking, "Is everyone done with this page? Can I go on?" Another plus was the ability to give each student an individual molecule in iSpartan and have them each do an analysis on in instead of everyone seeing the same example -- so it became a way to have each student participate more in class.

What I didn't like: Not much, really. Sometimes students would forget to bring their iPad with them to class and so it kind of left them out if we were using them that day.

Specific applications: As mentioned above, iSpartan. It gave us a way to access orbital configurations for lots of molecules quickly. The only downside was that it is pre-loaded with data and so we were limited to the plug-and-play molecules that were already part of the package. In retrospect, I believe that I could have used the iPads effectively in another part of the course (dealing with stereochemistry) but I wasn't familiar enough with the capabilities of the software until after we were done with that section.

Students: I think that they like using them. It's always hard to tell because to a 20-year old, this is just part of a normal day. For someone like me, an iPad is a magical device.

Changes in course: Yes, as noted, the ability to have individual students deal with individual molecules and then report to the class increased the amount of student input and made the course less of a straight-ahead lecture.

Learning outcomes: Tough to say if this changed the learning outcomes. This course had not been taught before so I can't compare it to previous iterations.

In the final analysis, I think that if I knew that all of my students had access to tablets (or even large-screen smartphones) I would formulate my courses in order to take advantage of that. I would encourage instant feedback in ways that are more useful than the "polling" that our clicker system can do, I would create (and have them edit/create) three-dimensional models of molecules, and I would have electronic submission of in-class problems.

Eva Copeland

Associate Professor, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese 

I used iPads in my Fall Span 330 class.  This class is a comprehensive look at eighteenth and nineteenth Spanish literature.  We read essays, short stories, plays, and novels.  I also assign supplementary journal articles and book chapters about the history, politics, culture and society of this period.  I usually assign these in the form of .pdf files that I post on Moodle under each week.  The iPads worked well in this instance.  It allowed students to access these files conveniently and quickly.  Most of the students brought their iPads to class and would consult those files in class as we would discuss them.  They also used the iAnnotate app to mark up files.  The feedback I got back from students in this regard was very positive (one student mentioned that this was the first semester he had not gone over his printing budget – and he’s a senior).  I think this is a particularly useful way to utilize the iPads, while minimizing our impact on the environment and student budgets.

I had not assigned any primary readings in the form of electronic files as I like to do close analysis in class and for this type of activity it is important for everyone to be on the same page – literally.  However, some students chose not to buy the hardcopy of the story, play, or novel that we were reading and found free versions online.  Aside from the problems of editions – which can be an issue with older texts — it was a bit difficult for those students to be always on the same page as the students that had the paper book.  We partially solved the problem of referring to the same line/paragraph by always making sure we talked about the chapter it was in, but it was at best a partial solution.  In the future, and particularly since students are bringing their laptops/iPads into the class more, I will probably make sure that I have an alternative electronic version of the text so that students who don’t want to buy the paper copy can use an electronic edition that I am familiar with.

I also used the iAnnotate App to grade student essays.  I assigned several short papers, a midterm essay and a longer, final essay in this class.  The midterm and the final essay required the students to turn in several drafts.  I created a color-coded chart (green is for errors with verb tenses, yellow for misspelled words, etc) and had students send me a .pdf of their draft.  I would then go over the draft and highlight in the appropriate color errors I would see in their drafts (on paper I usually circle errors and write what kind of error it is).  This color-coded system allowed me to be more efficient in grading drafts, and it made the student really think about the error I had highlighted (because I didn’t write down exactly what had been done wrong – they had to figure it out).  The color coded chart worked well with language errors; I did give written feedback on the ideas and structure of the essay. This was the first semester I had required an upper level class to turn in electronic files instead of paper.  I used Dropbox as well to manage files and to be able to access files from my computer and iPad.  In the future I am going to continue requiring electronic files, especially for drafts – it was efficient, and it allowed me to focus more on the writing rather than on the grammatical errors.

In terms of student distraction, I did sense at times that students got distracted from what was going on in class by the screen in front of them – iPad or laptop.  This is the one aspect of using iPads that I did not like.  Most students were good about not using the iPad in class except if we were discussing a reading that was assigned in the form of a .pdf or if they had an electronic version of a text instead of a paper copy.  However, there were some students who were distracted at times.  I usually solve this problem by requiring them to do something other than sit and listen – group work, discussion with classmates, write schemas on the board, etc.  I think, however, that this isn’t just an iPad problem, it is a technology distraction problem

Sherry Harper-McCombs

Associate Professor, Theatre and Dance 

First I want to say that I LOVED using the iPad in my class and I believe that the iPad has eliminated the need for me to have the full version of Photoshop supported on the computers in the design lab. The students in my class did everything that they might need Photoshop for on the Adobe Collage app and the SketchBook app on the iPad.

The iPad also allowed me to not take up class time with videos — I sent the students links to videos knowing that they all had the very same viewer I did. They could be expected to watch the videos without undue hardship and be expected to talk about the videos in the next class period. This was actually a much more efficient way to manage this portion of the course and we could easily refer back to videos on the pad during the course discussion if we needed.

The iPad also allowed me to require photo documentation of the students’ projects since, again, I knew that everyone had a basic camera that was easily accessible to them. If I am approved to use the iPad again (and I hope I will be!), I will probably require blogging as a component of the course so that they can look at each other’s project documentation more easily and comment on others work in ways other than just during in class discussions.

There were only a couple of times that I felt the iPads were a distraction but the class is very active, hands-on, and manageably sized so it was easy to nip that kind of thing in the bud before it became a real problem. I don’t think that in my class there is ever really an opportunity for the students to seriously start accessing social media or the internet in a way that carries them too far out of the conversation because peer pressure to pay attention and work is pretty great as well — my class is mostly majors and they are mostly interested, even if just peripherally, in the topic I teach. My class also requires a lot of participation, so there isn’t a lot of down time when they can just play around on the internet when they think I am not looking.

The students seemed to really enjoy the iPads. Students who had my class previously and were enrolled in another course in the department with the iPad bought the apps I was using and played around with them, too. Some students got so in to the collage app that the department is now covered in collages about various topics! As I said, the apps I found most useful were Adobe Collage and SketchBook. I am going to investigate the iPad version of Photoshop and see what that is like — it might be that it would be useful for the course, but those 2 apps did most everything I could have wanted. The one thing that would be nice would be to have styluses for the students — some bought them and some didn’t and the stylus really helps with image manipulation.

Karen Kirkham

Associate Professor, Theatre Theatre and Dance

I’d say the best indicator that Ipads worked is that over break all my students bought one!

What did you like about using the iPads in your class? I found it very useful that we could all easily access sites for class discussion and presentations. This worked since the class was small.

What didn’t you like? The temptation of having an Ipad in front of them. Sometimes they were surfing/checking email- multi-tasking…

Did they change the way you taught the course? Not yet fundamentally. I think with more practice on my end, I’d get better about how to integrate them. The app for stage directing is not very user friendly and too expensive. But basic programs aided with some of the assignments they had to do- for groundplans, etc. I had hoped they would do more recording in rehearsal- but that didn’t happen as much as I’d like. I might need to make this a “requirement”.

Did the iPads work well with your course materials? Yes on the whole.

Did your students like using the iPads? oh yes.

Which applications (apps) did you found most useful? I used stagewrite somewhat- students used basic sketch book
Did you sense that the iPads caused students to be distracted? not in a major way– again a small class I could keep them focused or catch them when they were not.

Helen Takacs

Associate Professor, International Business & Management

In Spring 2014, I taught “Best Practices in Business Sustainability” (INBM 300), which was part of the Eco-E Path Mosaic.  I was thrilled to have this course selected to be part of Dickinson’s Tablet Initiative. The tablets – some students used iPads and some used the Nexus – enhanced the students’ ability to work collaboratively and improved the learning environment in and out of the classroom. Additionally, participating in the Tablet Initiative has boosted my own technology IQ.

The students worked throughout the semester in both small teams and as an entire class on one large written project. Research for this project included interviews and site visits. Students were able to use the tablets to record their interviews, which were later transcribed, and to take notes and photos at site visits. Some of these interviews and site visits occurred during our study trip to Arizona during spring break, and it was much easier for the students to pack, carry, and use a small tablet than a laptop on this trip. Students uploaded their notes and drafts to google drive, which could easily be accessed at any time on the tablets. Thus, using tablets truly facilitated the collaboration and research in this course.

In class, the students were encouraged to use the tablets to take notes. They could easily share notes, edit notes, refer back to notes, and snap photos of diagrams and charts that we created on the whiteboard to include in their notes. Students recorded the lectures provided by guest speakers, with the speakers’ permission, and these recording allowed students to more accurately capture the speakers’ comments than if the students had only taken notes. I chose an ebook for the main text book in the course, and students were quite comfortable with this option. Thus, all the students – and me – had to bring to class was our tablet, which held our text book, all our notes, and provided access to our shared documents on google drive. I found the latter to be extremely valuable because I could easily move the students into small groups to work on the course project if we had a couple of extra minutes of class time.

For me, being involved in the Tablet Initiative forced me to become familiar and comfortable with this device. I’ll admit that I often asked the students for tips on how to use my tablet and the many apps we accessed throughout the semester. But, the students were happy to help me. And, by the end of the semester, I felt fairly proficient. I now use my tablet constantly throughout the day to check email, snap photos, take and refer to notes, and record meetings and discussions.

Looking back, I cannot imagine teaching this course in the Eco-E Path Mosaic without the tablets. Everything would have been so much more cumbersome and, well, clunky. The tablets facilitated our research and collaborative writing project and added some fun and novelty to the classroom.  I would be happy to talk with any other faculty members about the benefits of getting involved with the Tablet Initiative and using tablets in the classroom. 

Sarah McGaughey

Associate Professor, German

  • What did you like about using the tablets for your class?  

It allowed for collaborative work without having to schedule computer laboratories and with the ability to make changes to documents immediately.

  • What didn't you like about them?  

It is hard to get students to focus on the task at hand. At the start of class they would be playing around and I found them often doing just that in class as well. Wifi was also not always consistent in The Quarry and in the Biblio Café.

  • Were there specific applications that you found most useful?

Google Drive was very helpful. I also used Notability and Paperless a lot. We all used the dictionary app for dict.cc, since it was available offline as well.

  • Did your students like using them?

I believe so, but in the end two of the three used their own laptops more.

  • Did they change the way you taught the course?

Yes, particularly with peer review and peer editing. Also, I found it much more mobile to comment on students’ first and final drafts. So it worked well in terms of getting us to communicate better about excellent writing.

  • Do you have any examples of how this technology changed the learning outcomes for your students?

I think the students learned how to assess and use technology more effectively in an academic context. I also think that the process of peer review was much more efficient. I also really thought it was effective for quick and substantive sharing of grammar and writing style practice. I could have a task and everyone could add their contribution to the same page for immediate discussion and for easy reference later. 

Alex Bates

Associate Professor, East Asian Studies

I thought the ipads worked well, but there were a few kinks that would need to be worked out for use in later classes. I liked the ability for students to do readings on the fly (useful for our mobile classroom) and to look things up for class projects. For an example of the latter: One day I had students come up with a disaster preparedness plan for themselves depending on where they might be in Nagoya. They were able to look up designated places of refuge and various maps showing areas that were at higher risk for certain disasters. They also worked well for students to take pictures and then annotate them with diagrams showing the movement of the earth. (We used educreations I think.) Some examples can be seen on the class blog. We also used google earth, quake feed, drop box and notability.

Some things didn't work so well. We had hoped that we would be able to do powerpoint presentations via ideaflight, but despite testing it over and over, we never got it to work very well. If it really worked as advertised then it would have been ideal. We tried other ways to do presentations too. Slide shark worked, but students needed to download large files and it was unwieldy for our purposes and slow connection speeds.  

I think students liked having the ipads, and I don't think they were too distracted by them. I didn't notice that much in the way of Angry Birds. I did find that they were hard to transport to and from Japan, mostly because we met there and couldn't really have students bring them back. 

I may try using them again, but I would like to do more testing of something like ideaflight.

Sarah Bair

Associate Professor, Education

  • What did you like about using the tablets for your class?

This class was almost exclusively discussion oriented so I liked that the students could easily have multiple tabs and documents open at once while still being able to look up new information as needed during the discussion. The links to all of our readings outside of the texts were posted on Moodle so it was easy to have everything in one spot. Most Fridays we discussed a variety of education blog posts from the week and the iPads were great for this purpose as well. We could easily go back and forth between blogs. If a claim was made in a blog, we could easily fact check it as well.

  • What didn't you like about them?

I find that the iPads don't hold a charge as long as I would like. On at least two occasions I discovered at the start of class that my iPad's battery was dead. This was totally my fault for not being sure that it was fully charged, but I always expected the battery to last longer than it did. Some of my students had the same challenge. The other issue would be how it is difficult for profs to be sure that the students are only attending to course-related materials on their iPads. I had an absolutely wonderful class and I never sensed that this was too much of a problem, but we sat in a circle so I would guess that some students probably had additional non-course related tabs open.

  • Were there specific applications that you found most useful?

This semester I decided to use the quiz function on Moodle to give 4 short reading quizzes at the start of classes spaced out over the course of the semester. This worked perfectly with the iPads. I set the quizzes to open for 15 minutes at the start of the designated class and then I could monitor the students on my iPad as they completed the quiz on theirs. Although Moodle is a little clunky, I was really pleased with how well this worked out using the iPads.

  • Did your students like using them?

Some more than others, but I got the sense that most of them really did enjoy having the iPads throughout the semester. Several didn't want to give them up on Friday so that's a good sign!

  • Did they change the way you taught the course?

It definitely changed the way that I did the quizzes and was also a factor in my decision to focus on Education blogs because I knew we would have easy access. I also found that I would put up directions for class activities or specific short passages for the day on Moodle rather than print them because I knew that students could just access them on their iPads. That was both handy and sustainability oriented.

  • Do you have any examples of how this technology changed the learning outcomes for your students?

Less so in this class because we weren't working on any skills that were iPad dependent, but I do think that they were a great tool in helping my students to really understand the landscape of contemporary American education because they allowed us to look at issues from multiple perspectives in efficient and engaging ways.