PS 4-50 - iPads and ecology education

Monday, August 8, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Cheryl A. Heinz, Biological Sciences, Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

During the 2010-2011 school year, I had the opportunity to supply one course each semester with an Apple iPad for each student to borrow for the entire semester. In the fall, an upper-level lecture class (Animal Behavior) was the first course so equipped on my campus, while in the spring, I've given students in my upper-level ecology lab the opportunity to try this new technology. In the lecture class, students were encouraged to get the eText version of the textbook, and to use the iPads for collaboration, document distribution, and even as a personal responses system (“clickers”). In the lab, students were encouraged to use Google Documents to create and share data files. In both classes, students were encouraged to explore and find ways to use the devices. Students were surveyed regularly about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings about using iPads, and sections of the courses with and without the iPads will be compared to assess the impact, if any, on learning.


Students have mixed reactions to the iPad. One clear pattern is that students who know that they will be returning the device at the end of the semester are less likely to explore ways of using the device than those who think they might be able to purchase one at semesters’ end. In the ecology lab, common uses for the device were mobile data collection and data entry, preliminary data analysis, and library research. Students have mixed responses to using the iPad to replace print textbooks—some students immediately find every text for the semester as an eText, while others insist on print materials. Most students (over 90%) find it to be an easy way to access online library materials. One of the most common uses was communication, such as email, with the instructor and with lab partners. The instant-on nature of the iPad made it much more accessible than campus lab computers.

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