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iPads in the Classroom

Rossing, J. P., Miller, W. M., Cecil, A. K., & Stamper, S. E. (2012). iLearning: The future of higher education? Student perceptions on learning with mobile tablets. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 12(2), 1-26. Retrieved from



Apple® iPad® – image from

Grounded in the assumption that “the future of the classroom, including learning activities, research, and even student-faculty communications, will rely heavily on mobile technology” (p. 1), this article presents preliminary results of an experimental study at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) on the use of Apple® iPad® mobile tablets in synchronous, collaborative, socially constructive class sessions. The authors conclude that mobile tablets offer nearly unlimited access to “information and advantages for collaborative learning” (p. 20) in a range of instructional settings and disciplines, but caution that these same devices may introduce distraction and frustration in the classroom.


The goal of the IUPUI study, ongoing since fall 2010, is to determine the effectiveness of mobile learning in classroom settings. The study involves students and teachers in several disciplines: tourism management, organizational leadership and supervision, music, communication studies, English, physical education, and library skills. The report’s conclusions draw heavily on qualitative data collected in open-ended questions, part of a mixed-methods research instrument (p. 6). Within these responses researchers identified five major themes: “1) access and availability of information, 2) sharing and collaboration, 3) novelty, 4) learning styles and preferences, and 5) convenience and functionality” (p. 10).

Survey results yielded several “amplifying advantages” of mobile technology:

  • iPads, like other new technologies, evoke “excitement and anxiety from students” (p. 14).
  • Connectivity and access to information “enhanced in-class discussion” (p. 14).
  • Benefits of information access can be harnessed to “maximize the collaborative potential of mobile tablets” (p. 15).
  • Mobile technology is flexible and adaptable “for many learning styles and preferences” (p. 16).

The results also yielded potential drawbacks to incorporating mobile technology in the classroom:

  • Students may not be prepared for new technologies, and educators should not assume preparation.
  • Tablets introduced the potential for easy distraction, requiring structured pedagogy.
  • Mobile technology requires significant investment in wireless network infrastructure.

In its conclusion, the report recommended future study in three areas: learning habits of mobile tablet owners, potential competitive advantages of mobile technology literacy, and ways mobile tablets can improve or enable faculty work.


This article offers a wealth of results on student perceptions of iPad use. However, I hoped to see additional conclusions drawn from the data. Although instructors “designed iPad activities that promoted active learning, collaboration, and/or student engagement” (p. 5), I would like to review comparative effectiveness rankings of different instructional activities.

I was surprised that the study restricted students to using iPads in class sessions, and that some classes had only a single instructional session using iPads. Given the mobility of the technology, limiting its use to in-class sessions seemed incongruous.

As a result of these concerns, I would not recommend this article to colleagues seeking input on the use of mobile technology in distance learning. I would, however, recommend that colleagues review the evaluation instrument included in the report for ideas on developing their own surveys for measuring effectiveness of mobile technology in blended and distance learning environments.