Rather than linger on the expected outcomes – increased participation and collaboration, shared engagement and learning, enjoyment of interactive research with playful apps – I will talk about the unexpected findings.
Competitiveness was a factor in motivating the students to excel. No one wanted to admit being unfamiliar with a technology so similar to that of smart phones – after all, even their parents knew how to use one! – and being able to realize a state of the art presentation on Keynotes or mastering iBooks automatically made you a member of the “cool” crowd. As a result, students claimed to be doing all right in front of their classmates, but in my anonymous surveys and end of semester reports many expressed the desire to have had some kind of training at the beginning of the semester. Many went to the Help Desk for advice or assistance throughout the semester. I may be wrong, but my impression was that they mostly needed help to send their work or upload it to Dropbox from various apps, not for regular use. Some apps were not user friendly in the “sharing” department or plain did not allow it. The Help Desk staff was very patient and spent hours trying to figure out solutions – but this is no surprise! Students were very grateful. I had a “tip of the day” session at the beginning of some classes to help the less advanced ones. A very brief “Did you know how to make folders?” or “Do you know how to save pictures to your camera roll so you can use them in your final project?” seemed to be appreciated by very few quiet students.
In some instances, I wanted students to think more out of the box and be more practical. Some exercises in the book (unfortunately, no e-book version of our text) could have been quickly done in pencil to indicate true or false answers, and then students could have taken a picture of the page with the iPad and attached the photo to a file or an email. No one thought of it. I also thought students made little use of “screen shots” that are so easy with the iPad, although they said they knew how to. Next time, I will make sure to remind them regularly early on.
In other instances, students were crafty: it didn’t occur to me that students would look up words on their iPads during the lectures (Wordreference.com is a handy bi-lingual dictionary), but this was definitely a good use of the tool and they said it helped them follow better. It is a good solution to the anxiety provoking decision: do I raise my hand and risk making a fool of myself when I ask the meaning of this word, or is it better to sit quietly and miss out on a whole section of the class because of inner frustration and inability to understand one key word?
A good number of the students complained about typing on the touch screen and were deterred from using the device as much as they thought they would because they could not type as fast as they were used to. I found it surprising considering how much more awkward it is to write text messages on a cell phone, yet this does not stop them. However, other students found it very useful and used the iPad to take notes in all their classes, enjoying the possibility to conduct research and check words at the same time.
In conclusion, the whole class felt savvier at the end of the semester and felt that it had been a very positive experience. Although this was not unexpected, I was not sure it would be so unanimous.