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Early Results: UAE iPad Learning Initiative

Hargis, J., Cavanaugh, C., Kamali, T., & Soto, M. (2014). A Federal Higher Education iPad Mobile Learning Initiative: Triangulation of Data to Determine Early Effectiveness. Innovative Higher Education, 39(1), 45-57. doi:10.1007/s10755-013-9259-y

Introduction

HCT logo

Higher Colleges of Technology Google+ profile image. From the HCT Google+ page.

This article reports early results of a higher education iPad® initiative implemented in a pre-Bachelor’s Foundation English Language Learning (ELL) program designed to prepare students for instruction delivered in English at 17 campuses of the Higher College of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The objective of the study was to “identify faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of early implementation of the iPad, specifically as it related to enhancing the student-centered learning experience” (p. 46). The purpose of the federally-funded iPad initiative was to advance “active learning methods” in face-to-face classes in order to “provide students with the skills and experiences needed in flexible work environments” (p. 46).

Summary

Faculty were trained in iPad implementation by Apple World Education leaders. The training and implementation program sought to “build excitement about the iPad implementation and camaraderie among the federal universities” using faculty champions and a teaching and learning conference focused on “ways to implement the iPad and engage students in active learning” (p. 46). Faculty spent the summer prior to fall implementation “playing” with the iPads to explore ways to engage with students. iPad 3 devices were provided free of charge to every student in each class with a combination of pre-installed free and paid apps.

Using a combination of faculty case studies, faculty self-reporting survey results, and feedback from initial faculty champions, researchers organized and reported findings using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) framework. In each of the three areas (case study, survey, and feedback), researchers noted that “weaknesses and limitations were much lower in frequency and magnitude than expected for a first-of-its kind program” (p. 56). Faculty responded positively to the technology, pedagogy, and content in the first month of implementation. They reported that campus administrators and technologists “actively supported” their implementation efforts and that “the most frequent uses of iPads were for student-centered and interactive applications” (p. 56). They close the study with this endorsement: for institutions considering requiring incoming freshmen to use iPads, their results “indicate a favorable environment for success” (p. 56).

Recommendation

The UAE government’s willingness to launch and fund a large-scale technology initiative is laudable, likely made possible by the UAE’s size. The state launched the initiative with extensive faculty training and engagement, a model grounded in theory and apparently effective, at least through the early stages of the initiative.

Missing from the study was a focus on specific active learning methods implemented in classrooms. While the objective of the study focused on faculty perceptions, the goal of the iPad initiative to increase active-learning activities in the classroom begs examples and case studies of successful activities that met those goals. As a result, I recommend the study to administrators and grant funders seeking faculty buy-in for large-scale mobile device initiatives, not to teachers seeking examples of effective active learning activities.

Early Results: UAE iPad Learning Initiative

Hargis, J., Cavanaugh, C., Kamali, T., & Soto, M. (2014). A Federal Higher Education iPad Mobile Learning Initiative: Triangulation of Data to Determine Early Effectiveness. Innovative Higher Education, 39(1), 45-57. doi:10.1007/s10755-013-9259-y

Introduction

HCT logo

Higher Colleges of Technology Google+ profile image. From the HCT Google+ page.

This article reports early results of a higher education iPad® initiative implemented in a pre-Bachelor’s Foundation English Language Learning (ELL) program designed to prepare students for instruction delivered in English at 17 campuses of the Higher College of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The objective of the study was to “identify faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of early implementation of the iPad, specifically as it related to enhancing the student-centered learning experience” (p. 46). The purpose of the federally-funded iPad initiative was to advance “active learning methods” in face-to-face classes in order to “provide students with the skills and experiences needed in flexible work environments” (p. 46).

Summary

Faculty were trained in iPad implementation by Apple World Education leaders. The training and implementation program sought to “build excitement about the iPad implementation and camaraderie among the federal universities” using faculty champions and a teaching and learning conference focused on “ways to implement the iPad and engage students in active learning” (p. 46). Faculty spent the summer prior to fall implementation “playing” with the iPads to explore ways to engage with students. iPad 3 devices were provided free of charge to every student in each class with a combination of pre-installed free and paid apps.

Using a combination of faculty case studies, faculty self-reporting survey results, and feedback from initial faculty champions, researchers organized and reported findings using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) framework. In each of the three areas (case study, survey, and feedback), researchers noted that “weaknesses and limitations were much lower in frequency and magnitude than expected for a first-of-its kind program” (p. 56). Faculty responded positively to the technology, pedagogy, and content in the first month of implementation. They reported that campus administrators and technologists “actively supported” their implementation efforts and that “the most frequent uses of iPads were for student-centered and interactive applications” (p. 56). They close the study with this endorsement: for institutions considering requiring incoming freshmen to use iPads, their results “indicate a favorable environment for success” (p. 56).

Recommendation

The UAE government’s willingness to launch and fund a large-scale technology initiative is laudable, likely made possible by the UAE’s size. The state launched the initiative with extensive faculty training and engagement, a model grounded in theory and apparently effective, at least through the early stages of the initiative.

Missing from the study was a focus on specific active learning methods implemented in classrooms. While the objective of the study focused on faculty perceptions, the goal of the iPad initiative to increase active-learning activities in the classroom begs examples and case studies of successful activities that met those goals. As a result, I recommend the study to administrators and grant funders seeking faculty buy-in for large-scale mobile device initiatives, not to teachers seeking examples of effective active learning activities.

Posthumanist Approach to Technology Tools

Bray, N. (2013). Writing with Scrivener: A hopeful tale of disappearing tools, flatulence, and word processing redemption. Computers and Composition, 30(3), 197-210. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.07.002

Introduction

In this article, Nancy Bray (2013) shares her struggle to match her own composing practices with the right technology tool — and in the process recommends a posthumanist approach to writing tools that blurs “the boundaries between machine and human” (p. 199). I seek to apply her conclusions about selecting and studying composing technologies as a posthumanist approach to adopting iPads in a WI class.

Summary

Bray narrates her rationale for choosing Scrivener as her composing technology of choice as she realized that Microsoft Word did not adequately meet her needs. Underlying the narrative is this critique of our discipline: although writing relies on technology, “writing technology is rarely discussed in our composition classrooms, despite repeated appeals from many technology and composition experts” (p. 198). Bray suggests our lack of interest relates to “deeply ingrained prejudices in the humanities” (p. 199) based on a binary view that pits technological machine against human being. Bray’s preferred attitude toward technology calls “for a posthumanist approach in which the boundaries between machine and human are blurred” (p. 199).

Scrivener logo

Scrivener Logo. From Literature & Latte’s Scrivener page.

Bray relates that her “highly recursive, nonlinear composition, and revision style” simply did not work well in Microsoft Word, although, ironically, research suggests that style could be the result of learning to write with a word processor (p. 199). After working uncomfortably in composing tools like wikis, which limit the writer’s view and access to a small section of a text, Bray realized she preferred composing with text sense, a vision and understanding of the project as a whole. Because “a lack of text sense is one of the key differences between on-screen and paper text” (p. 203), she started seeking a writing tool that more closely matched her composing style, that afforded writing at the micro level and reviewing at the macro level. She chose Scrivener.

Extrapolation

What I find applicable in Bray’s narrative is that technology is the subject, whether composing tool or mobile tablet device. In moving past a humanist approach to technology as mysterious and rigid, Bray recommends that “instead of asking how using technology likes Microsoft Office or Scrivener make us better writers, we should ask instead how they shape our writing experience and how we, in turn, can shape these tools” (p. 206). It is in studying and shaping technology tools that a posthumanist approach like Bray promotes can apply to classroom adoption of iPads. We can encourage metacognitive analysis of technologies as they to match (or don’t match) students’ learning and invention strategies. As Bray put it, we should encourage our students (and ourselves) to “try on many writing tools and to explore technology” (p. 206).

Recommendation

Bray nears her conclusion by articulating this hope, which I reiterate as my recommendation for colleagues: “By focusing on our writing tools in ways that acknowledges [sic] the interconnected nature of the writer, the writer’s individual writing processes, our software, and our computers, we can perhaps begin to chip away at our distrustful humanist assumptions about technology” (p. 207).

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 http://search.ebscohost.com/

Introduction

iPads

Apple® iPad® – image from apple.com/ipad

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.

Summary

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.

Review

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.