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Evaluating the iPad in Higher Education

There are opportunities here in Higher Ed with the iPad so let’s review some of the research so far:

Re-Post: Evaluating the iPad in Higher Education


Last week’s Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) Annual Conference on Online Learningpresented a number of interesting trends in the session topics, including the use of iPads in college courses. The projects presented covered a wide range of perspectives and data collection.

  • Student Use and Feedback: At Memorial University of Newfoundland iPads, pre-loaded with class texts and required applications, were loaned to students in a blended English Directing course. Interviews with students revealed their thoughts about using these devices in a structured learning environment. While students reported both benefits and challenges, the project was well received overall.  
  • Instructor SupportResearchers from the College of Central Florida and Illinois State University explored the many possible uses of an iPad for instruction-related tasks such as planning, classroom management, communication with students, and online delivery of materials. 
  • First-year Student Experience: A multi-faceted, college-wide project at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development provided first-year experience/seminar students, as well as their instructors and advisors, with iPads. The goals included encouraging student engagement, the exploration of new teaching methods, and innovative advising processes.
  • Integration of Specific Applications:  Researchers from Valencia College presented possible uses of Wolfram Alpha course assistant apps as a source of supplemental materials focused on math and science topics.

What are students saying?

According to the event’s presenters, students are using their iPads (both owned and borrowed devices) for course-related activities as well as personal use. Students use the iPad primarily for reading and taking notes, but prefer it for shorter, briefer tasks, and use laptops for larger projects. The iPad received high marks from students for its portability.

Students also found drawbacks in using iPads for course-related activities. Some of the features, such as autocorrect, were seen as inconvenient. Students also identified the potential for distraction and a need to develop self-monitoring skills – especially regarding games, social networking sites, and exploring the wide variety of apps available, all of which can take away from time spent on schoolwork.

Conference session attendees also offered their observations on student use of iPads at their institutions. These devices are gaining popularity in lab courses as tools for collecting and recording data, as well as conducting analysis. Available apps also offer opportunities for remedial work.

Apps and More Apps

Implementing the iPad in higher education means investigating and selecting the apps that might help you, as an instructor or student, to increase your productivity in course-related activities. Apple is currently advertising “over 140,000 apps for iPad. For work, play, and everything in between.” Fortunately, the Sloan-C presenters recommended a few for use in education settings. The list below is not comprehensive, but all of the apps featured here are free to download and use:


  • Quick Voice Recorder allows you to record audio memos, take dictation, and record presentations or meetings.


  • Kindle‘s app provides iPad access to the books and materials available through Amazon’s Kindle Store. If you also have a Kindle eReader, this app will sync your reading across both devices.
  • Pearson eText app works with the Pearson eText web-based text service so that subscribers can view their titles on both computers and iPads.


  • Dropbox is a free service that allows you to store files in the cloud so that you can access them from multiple locations and devices.
  • Evernote is a widely praised service for note taking – via text, audio, and image – that is also synced across devices and platforms.
  • Team Viewer is used to remotely access your computer via your iPad. If you need to view a file, presentation, or application while away from your main computer, this app can help you do that.
  • nue.Notes allows you to take handwritten notes with the iPad. Possible uses include mind mapping and paperless sign-in rosters for face-to-face class sessions.

Discipline Specific

The applications listed above are all good for general use, but there are also apps available for more specific use. Look for apps that meet the needs of your subject area and content. As an example, Memorial University of Newfoundland uses several filmmaking apps, such as Celtx (not free) for script writing, with their students.

Two apps that were recommended at the conference, but are not free, are GoodReader and OfficeHD. GoodReader is used to both read and annotate PDF files. The App Store also offers OfficeHD, which may be worth paying for if you need to “open, view, create, and edit Word, Excel, and PPT files” with your iPad.

Getting Started

If you are interested in implementing an iPad program in your courses, or just want to add to your personal collection of technology tools, the Sloan-C sessions provided several tips for getting started:

  • Plan for technical support. Especially important for large-scale implementation and when use is a requirement for students and/or instructors.
  • Start small and build. Select just a few relevant apps, get to know them well, and then add new items as they make sense and provide value in your context. There is a learning curve to mobile technology, so allow time for you and other users you may be working with to get comfortable with the devices and basic functions before moving to more complex tasks.
  • Get user feedback. If you are coordinating a larger initiative, plan to evaluate how it’s going at multiple points along the way. Ask all user groups to reflect on how they are using the iPads, detail what they like and don’t like, and provide suggestions for improved practices. If you are trying the iPad out on your own, look for reviews from other educators and college students about how they use the devices and which apps they recommend.

Take a closer look at the materials provided by all of these presenters (linked above) as well as by other educational technology researchers who are conducting iPad projects and reporting on results. Are you using the iPad in your courses? Consider writing about your experiences and provide lessons learned from your perspective for those who may be just getting started.”



Posted on: November 29, 2011, 7:00 am Category: Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hi Stephen – Thanks so much for reposting this article on your blog. I thought the conference offered a good range of perspectives on iPad use, and I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more. So many new devices and applications, so little time… Thanks again! – Melissa