Living in an iPad Era

How tablets are shifting the culture at one Boston school

GUEST COLUMN | by Marla Botelho

CREDIT Regis College students at RegisRegis College is a multifaceted university in Greater Boston where 2,000 students pursue undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in the arts, sciences and health professions. In fall 2012, we launched our iPad initiative, providing all undergraduate students with the tablet computers. In 2013, all graduate students will receive iPads as well.

Most importantly, we’ve provided all full and half-time faculty members with the devices and professional development in advance of students, keenly aware that the success of the initiative rests on the creative integration of new technologies by those charged with leading the learning process.

Building the foundation for the “classroom-without-walls” vision of our college’s president first required a dramatic expansion of our wireless infrastructure, which we achieved in summer 2012 with an Aruba Networks solution that created ubiquitous wireless access in all campus buildings and many outdoor areas.

We looked to a core group of faculty innovators – across all academic disciplines at Regis — for proposals for using mobile technology in their teaching. Simultaneously, our academic technology staff provided introductory training followed by weekly professional development sessions for all Regis faculty.  We also teamed with Apple to deliver multiday professional development on the iLife and iWork suites and challenge-based learning.

Faculty in our nationally acclaimed nursing program began using video chat on the iPads to provide virtual clinical meetings, and medical sites and apps to replace textbooks and to enhance student learning in diagnosing and treating health problems, and better educating their patients. Social work students use the video recording capabilities to practice mock interview skills.

In the “pre-iPad” days, our medical imaging students tackled theoretical problems within textbooks. Today, with simulation apps, students can physically see radioactive decay schemes that are used  in the treatment and diagnostic process and visually check their work to determine which radioactive material agent they were “using” would have been a correct choice for the patient.

Science and health professors use iTunes U so that students can view live dissections; a 3-D view of planets and stars enriches astronomy education. Math faculty find that iPads for graphing and solving equations are a far better tool than conventional calculators, and use math apps to provide a visual representation of abstract concepts for students.

In the liberal arts, we employ iPads for creating videos and digital sketchbooks,  accessing  databases and  art galleries, improving writing skills, teaching music and dance, and exploring communication theory.  And, in a perfect embodiment of our college’s Catholic heritage and our new pioneering role in iPad integration, a member of our Religious Studies faculty is using iBooks Author to convert his lectures and published works into interactive textbooks with embedded audio and video files.

We knew early on that we were on the right track when, just weeks after launching the iPad initiative last fall, half of all connections to our Moodle learning management system came via iPads utilizing our extensive wireless network. Our confidence and enthusiasm was further bolstered this spring by a faculty member’s research (and subsequent conference presentation) indicating an 18 percent increase in test scores when using the e-clicker app instead of traditional methods of review.

This is exactly what we hoped for — extensive use of the mobile devices both inside and outside of the classroom so that learning can take place anywhere and untethered collaboration can happen spontaneously.

Content creation is the next horizon for iPads and tablets.  Although there are a number of e-book options for K-12, the higher education offerings are limited, particularly for interactive content built for the iPad.  Our professors are using iBooks Author to create content for their classes, and  our library staff has created an interactive guide to using RefWorks, an online bibliographic management system. The RefWorks Guide iBook consists of tutorials and videos which illustrate how to import references from electronic databases, manage in-text citation, create bibliographies in different styles, and easily gather, manage, store and share research.

Students are also creating content. In a nutrition course, students were charged with creating a weekly keynote or e-book on the assigned topic. The results were varied and rich, incorporating videos and photos and providing an opportunity for students to synthesize learning.

We will continue to provide and expand professional development for our faculty, whether it’s introductory sessions for newcomers, continuing the 20-plus topic sessions we offer, or discipline- specific offerings and colloquia with other institutions of higher learning.

We recently produced a video highlighting our iPad initiative and invite you to see for yourself how we continue to stay on the leading edge, advancing with the times to meet the needs of our students and staff. 

Marla Botelho is Chief Information Officer at Regis College in Weston, Mass. Email: marla.botelho@regiscollege.edu

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