3 Questions to Answer Before a Wide-Scale Adoption of the iPad

In a Campus Technology article this week entitled "CIO Predicament: What To Do About the iPad," Tim Chester, CIO and vice provost for academic administration at Pepperdine University, recommended a middle ground between the opposing camps of those hurrying toward wide-scale adoption of the iPad and those refusing to support the new mobile device. While Pepperdine has not moved to adopt the device across campus, the school has taken 3 initial steps:

  • Adjusting the campus network to support the device
  • Testing the iPad on each IT department's technology services to determine if those services (Web sites, portal, library resources, etc.) will function on the iPad as designed
  • Piloting the iPad in a limited number of courses

At Academic Impressions, we interviewed Tim Chester to learn more about his approach and his thinking around iPad adoption. Chester suggests that there are 3 threshold questions a campus needs to be able to answer prior to adopting the iPad on any wide scale:

  • Is there evidence that the iPad has a sustainable market share?
  • Is there evidence that integrating the iPad into your courses leads to better learning?
  • Are you prepared to provide hardware support commensurate with your level of adoption?

Sustainable Market Share

"Is this a fad? Sustainable market share over time is the sign of impact. Does the market share continue to grow, or is this device replaced by something else? Individuals eventually stop buying devices they don't find useful."
Tim Chester, Pepperdine U

Citing the need to make investments wisely given limited resources, Chester proposes a two-year timeline (while noting that "2 years" is neither fixed nor exact) for watching the mobile device market prior to investing in campus-wide or even college-wide iPad adoption. Chester bases this view on Gartner's "hype cycle," which posits that there is an average of a two-year cycle in which a new technology starts from a "peak of inflated expectations," crashes into a "trough of disillusionment" once those expectations are frustrated, and (if the technology proves to be more than a passing fad) reaches a "plateau of productivity." At this stage, we are still at that first peak, and it is too early to know whether the iPad will last.

Chester suggests that CIOs and academic leaders should be watching for key signs that will indicate that the iPad is here to stay:

  • A critical mass of published case studies (with data) on the iPad's impact on student/faculty collaboration and the learning environment
  • A growing number of products the industry makes available on the iPad. How much new e-reader content will be available on the iPad? How many apps?
  • Growth in the iPad's market share

Market share, Chester suggests, is the most reliable measure. One early indicator, cited by Fortune Tech this week, is a correlation between rising iPad sales and drops in sales of netbooks, iPod touches, other e-readers, desktop PCs, and handheld videogames. But one year from now, will the iPad's market share still be growing, or will it atrophy? "You are watching for sustainable use," Chester notes. "Sustainability over time. You want to see that 2 years from now, students are still using the device."

"I don't like to draw resources away from other efforts and make a major investment this early in the hype cycle."
Tim Chester, Pepperdine U

However, it is not too early to begin piloting on a small, targeted scale.

Piloting the iPad

Chester recommends supporting your faculty and students in testing the iPad, but doing so in a strategic and tested way. "I really encourage thinking narrowly about adoption," Chester advises.

"Don't just hand it out to everybody -- test it. See what the benefits are in certain types of programs and certain types of courses. No technology is going to be equally useful in every program or in every course."
Tim Chester, Pepperdine U

Chester recommends beginning with a small-scale experiment to pilot the use of the iPad -- or any new pedagogical tool -- in your courses. To do this, you need to find:

  • Faculty who are already adopters of mobile devices and who are enthused about the project
  • A proposal for specific ways in which the iPad can help students achieve learning objectives in a particular course or program

Chester suggests holding intensive planning sessions with faculty and IT stakeholders at the table to define learning objectives and define specific measures that will tell you whether the iPad is having an impact on those objectives. Pepperdine University has selected for its pilot a course with two identical sections. Students in one section will get the device, students in the other will not. The piloting team will measure student performance in both sections against specific learning objectives. The faculty are already habitual users of mobile devices and upload lectures to iTunes. While the pilot is still in the planning phase, some questions the team is considering include:

  • Does the device prompt students to access course content more frequently?
  • Does the device prompt students to more frequent collaboration?
  • Do either of these frequencies lead to any increase in student performance, as defined by mastery of course objectives?

This type of A/B test, carried out in a handful of courses, can go a long way toward helping your institution answer the question of how much of a positive impact on learning the investment in adopting the iPad will have. "Think about effectiveness," Chester advises, "and how you will define effectiveness, and base all your decisions on data, not instinct."

"My preference is not to be on the bleeding edge for the sake of being there, but to test and see where it makes sense to innovate."
Tim Chester, Pepperdine U

How Much Support Are You Ready to Provide?

Finally, in considering either a small or large adoption, your campus must be prepared to support hardware problems. "Even if you are adopting for one program or for a limited cohort," Chester advises, "you have to go into business like Apple does. If a device breaks, you need to be ready to hand the student a new one." This means resources in time and staff, but also the investment in insurance that will reimburse for the device beyond the normal warranty. This is one other good reason to begin by experimenting with a small cohort.

"Limit what you're doing to what you're prepared to support. Don't get into the business of adopting new technology for entering students unless you're ready to provide end user support."
Tim Chester, Pepperdine U