Lessons Learned from Piloting the iPad: Part 2

August 2011.

A growing number of colleges and universities have launched pilot projects to test how the iPad might be used to produce a positive impact on student learning and engagement. Pepperdine University has just completed the first two terms of its three-term iPad Research Initiative (consisting of classroom observations, surveys, and focus groups), looking at how students are actually using the iPad in class when given the opportunity, and what opportunities exist for faculty to use the tool to improve teaching and learning. For the preliminary findings from the first term, check Part 1 of this article (January 2011).

To gather their lessons learned from the second term of the research study, we returned this week for a second interview with Dana Hoover, assistant CIO for communications and planning for IT, and Hong Kha, project manager for pedagogy development and special projects.

Hoover and Kha offer their advice for:

  • Selecting the right faculty for piloting iPad adoption
  • Providing instructional design and guidance
  • Inviting faculty to bring a vision to the table
  • Incentivizing student usage of the tool

Selecting Faculty

Hoover suggests that the most important criterion in selecting faculty for your pilot project is the faculty members' willingness to change. "Don't introduce any new technology if you have a faculty member who is unwilling to change the way they teach," she advises.

Note that the faculty most willing to change may not just be the early adopters of the hottest new emerging learning technologies. Some early adopters are simply interested in the fad. You want to look for faculty who have a documented history of adjusting the way they teach and adjusting their lesson plans to improve student learning outcomes. These are the faculty who, in adopting a new learning tool, are the most likely to identify specific and targeted ways to harness the tool's potential for improving learning.

Provide Guidance and Instructional Design

Left without guidance, some faculty involved in a pilot project may find the new technology overwhelming; Hoover cites the case of one instructor who identified 12 apps that the instructor found exciting and potentially useful for students in the class. The instructor listed the apps for the students and left their use optional, without any further integration into the design of the course.

"Any time you invite faculty to innovate with learning technologies," Kha warns, "you need to provide some structure. Don't leave faculty to struggle with it; that doesn't set them up for success. Offer practical guidance on how to use the technology and how to integrate it into course design."

Most importantly, however, Kha emphasizes the importance of starting with the instructional design, not with the potential of the new tool. In other words, assist your faculty in brainstorming around how they can structure their lesson plans differently to help students reflect more on their learning and retain more of their knowledge.

"Focus on helping instructors identify opportunities to improve their teaching, then find opportunities for embedding the new technology in ways that will facilitate this improvement."
Hong Kha, Pepperdine U

For more practical tips on assisting faculty with instructional design, read Part 1 of our article "Lessons Learned from Piloting the iPad."

Invite Faculty to Bring a Vision to the Table

Kha suggests that one critical step is inviting faculty to submit proposals about how they would use the tool to improve the teaching and learning in their classroom. Rather than have an instructional designer impose a framework for the class on the faculty, invite the faculty to bring their vision to the table; the instructional designer can then collaborate with them to support that vision.

Hoover offers this example to illustrate the point. One faculty member teaching an MBA course at Pepperdine University approached the staff with a vision for integrating a game-like environment into the classroom. In the past, the MBA course had taught finance, marketing, and operations in distinct modules. The instructor wanted an app that would help in moving students beyond studying concepts separately toward brainstorming about the holistic impact of decisions. The instructor wanted to foster rapid learning and problem-solving, with students debating possible action plans and their likely outcomes.

This vision prompted the adoption of the Hotel Tycoon app as a learning simulation for students studying marketing, finance, and operations. The Hotel Tycoon game addressed all three modules, so that students could examine how changes in one area affected the others. The app also allowed students to speed up or slow down time to take a closer look at the impact of a decision. If a student didn't spend enough money on marketing, what happened with the hotel's revenues? If not enough was spent on operations -- leading to poor service and negative customer feedback -- then no matter how much was spent on marketing, the hotel might still flounder. This use of the app gave students the ability to experiment, take risks, and see and assess the consequences immediately.

Finding the app that would be the perfect fit for the course could be done because the faculty member brought a vision to the table of how student learning could be improved.

Incentivize Student Usage

Finally, Kha notes the risk of encouraging that students use iPad apps without expressing a clear learning objective for their use. "Your faculty will need to both incentivize usage and provide guidance for how they hope students will use the apps," she suggests. "Without that guidance, students aren't necessarily going to know immediately how to use the app to improve their learning."

Kha suggests that faculty set clear and specific assignments around using the app. One first assignment can be simply to learn how to use the app. If actual points are assigned for mastering the learning tool, this will incentivize its class-wide adoption.

However, an assignment may not be enough. Kha also suggests that faculty who are in earnest about integrating the iPad into the class as a learning tool set aside class time for teaching how to use the tool and what they expect of their students, and for answering student questions.