UT Tyler Expands iPad Learning Program
By EMILY GUEVARA
An iPad pilot program will expand to a full research project this fall at The University of Texas at Tyler.
The university will loan iPads to students in certain lower-division courses in an effort to study how the mobile-learning device affects teaching and student engagement.
The iPad, made by Apple, is a tablet computer that offers users access to audio and visual media including books, periodicals, movies, music, games, apps and more.
Dr. Catherine Ross, UT Tyler associate professor of English and research project coordinator, said anecdotal evidence and research show that mobile devices improve students' engagement and learning, according to a news release about the program.
However, the university wants to collect its own data and find out more specifically how iPads could work to the students' benefits.
"We will also be looking for specific 'best practices' that are highlighted by the students' achievements, so we may implement them in as many teaching situations as possible," Dr. Ross said, according to a news release.
As part of the project, the university in August will loan iPads to 350 students in lower-division courses. The courses will fall in the disciplines of math, biology, political science, economics, literature and rhetoric and composition.
One randomly selected section in each of the disciplines will receive the university-owned iPads while the other sections won't. Students in the iPad section will be asked to use different learning-related apps and eBooks, according to the news release.
Students in the sections without the iPads will serve as the "control group" and will have a traditional learning experience with hard copies of books, blackboards, paper and pen or pencil, according to the news release.
Participating students and faculty will complete surveys about their learning and teaching experiences.
Faculty also will be asked to assess student engagement, comparing the academic results and attitudes between students with iPads and those without.
Dr. Ross said this project is an outgrowth of an earlier pilot program. In 2010, Dr. Robert Sterken, a political science professor, and Dr. Ann Beebe, an associate professor of English, incorporated the iPad into one undergraduate course each with a combined 50-plus students receiving the device for the semester.
In 2011, UT Tyler expanded the program to all entry-level English courses and literary survey courses.
"The best feature is the engagement factor with the students," Cindy Smith, UT Tyler's director of instructional design, said at the time. "Because there are so many collaborative features (that are) built in with all of the (applications) especially with English."
Dr. Beebee, Sterken and Dr. Hui Wu, chairwoman of the Department of Literature and Languages, continue to be involved with implementing iPads at UT Tyler as are other faculty members.
In spring 2013, the iPads will be reissued to another group of students for the project's second phase and to provide a larger data set, according to the news release. Dr. Ross said the plan is for this to be an ongoing project.
She said once the instructors get comfortable with the device, they can develop their own research projects.
In addition to contributing to the academic literature on the subject, the UT Tyler study will help the university determine which disciplines most benefit from the use of mobile learning devices, Dr. Ross said.
"We want to make sure that the students' learning is always emphasized," she said. "And we're not trying to play with toys we're trying to be good teachers and researchers."