Education Tech Talk: Matthew Trevett-Smith on iPads at the University of Richmond

Matthew Trevett-SmithEducation Dive is headed to Educause 2012 in Denver, Colo., this week, where technology leaders from around higher education will be gathered to discuss the state of tech and learning. Matthew Trevett-Smith, an academic technology consultant who also teaches at the University of Richmond, will be one of the event's speakers.

His presentation, "An iPad Initiative: Adoption, Support, and Implementation," will focus on his school's use of Apple's tablets, as well as how they have been received by faculty and staff.

Education Dive caught up with Trevett-Smith ahead of the event via email to get his thoughts on iPad use in classrooms, as well as where the future of mobile devices on campuses lies and what the program's results have shown:

EDUCATION DIVE: First, could you just tell me a little about your role with the Center for Teaching , Learning and Technology and your mission there?

MATTHEW TREVETT-SMITH: My current position at the University of Richmond allows me to work with over 100 faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences. My job is not to tell the instructor my 10 ideas for how to improve her or his teaching. Rather, my job is to be a listener, to offer suggestions when asked for, but primarily, to help the instructor think, reflect, and decide for her- or himself how to improve their teaching. As a Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology liaison, I offer faculty support and advocacy of initiatives designed to enhance learning through teaching, scholarship and technology.

When not consulting with faculty, my general responsibilities are to lead about 15 academic technology workshops a semester, train and support faculty on Blackboard, and troubleshoot general technology problems. I am also the project lead for the CTLT’s WordPress installation—which means that I maintain the blogging environment and promote blogging across campus. I also work with faculty to incorporate mobile technology into a number of their courses as the CTLT’s Mobile Device Initiative leader; I maintain, and manage the mobile device inventory, which includes iPod touches, iPads, and until very recently, iPod Classics.

My third major project is the [email protected] Newsletter. [email protected] is a monthly University-wide newsletter, which explores pedagogical connections across disciplines and schools to highlight innovative and effective teaching practices. Each month, the series examines different approaches to teaching across the University with demonstrations of faculty pedagogy and discussions of its usefulness in other disciplines and schools. The newsletter is designed to provide approaches that faculty can use in their own teaching. Resource materials are provided to assist with implementation.

Outside of my CTLT responsibilities, I also teach part time as an adjunct at the University of Richmond teaching one course a semester. This is my choice and is not part of my contract; I teach because (a) I need to see what our faculty encounter in the classroom, (b) it provides credibility when talking with my faculty, and (c) I like to teach.

I’ve been reading a bit about the CTLT’s work at the University of Richmond, and I understand your mobile technology initiative dates back to 2006. Could you explain to me what your initial goals were with that and how your iPad deployments grew out of it several years later?

TREVETT-SMITHI'm unaware of the specific goals that initially launched this initiative. I joined the CTLT in May of 2011, at which point the mobile device initiative was already active for several years. What started with iPod Classics, evolved into iPod Touches, and currently features iPad 2s.

To be considered for this initiative, in their applications faculty must specifically address they ways they will use the iPads to:

  • Improve learning by providing ready, portable access to course materials for reference and review.
  • Supporting collaborative learning by facilitating storage and sharing of course-related materials among students and between students and instructors.
  • Providing richer learning experiences through the integration of audio and/or video-based resources.
  • Supporting learning and research in authentic field settings.
  • Simplifying course delivery or reducing time needed for course management.

Why did you go with iPads instead of Android-based tablets or other alternatives?

TREVETT-SMITH: That decision was made prior to my arrival at the CTLT. I do know, however, that other tablets were considered, namely an early Android tablet and the Kindle. Looking back, however, the iPad was the most widely used and stable of the early tablet devices. Looking forward, we'll be looking at Samsung's newest Galaxy tablet, Microsoft's Surface tablet, as well as the next generation of iPads. We are constantly researching (and testing) the latest mobile technologies to find devices consistent with faculty use and that match their pedagogical styles.

Do the faculty members using iPads tend to have the same reasons for wanting to integrate them into their classrooms?

TREVETT-SMITH: No, and that’s what makes my job so exciting! Since the fall of 2011, six UR faculty have used Apple’s iPad2, in their classrooms, and I have had the opportunity to work with each of them.

Dr. Ted Bunn has developed a first-year seminar titled, Space is Big, around the iPad2. A key step in the students’ learning was to gain an understanding of the apparent motions and changes in the night sky. During the semester, students performed extensive nighttime observations. These observations were extremely valuable. More importantly, the connection between students’ observations and the possible theoretical explanations is geometrically complicated and difficult to visualize. “Student access to iPads is practically the ideal solution to this problem. Perhaps the biggest advantage of using iPads in this course is that students can have access to visualization software while they are performing their own nighttime observations.”

Dr. Jan French’s 200 level Ethnographic Field Methods course was also designed around the iPad2. Students used the mobile device as an all-in-one field tool during a semester long ethnography project. The iPad2 facilitated student interviews, participant observation, as well as project analysis, and reporting.

Students in Dr. Tom Shields’ Citizenship & Education FYS used the iPad2 as a research tool during visits to local schools. The ubiquity of the iPad2 was an integral part of the FYS. The student was able to separate traditional methods such as pen and paper, camera, or audio recorder to go into the field and acquire the rich data that is present in a K-12 school using the iPad2.

In Jeremy Drummond’s Art and Art History course, students explored how information is displayed and how people interpret what they see. He worked with students to understand “how to organize information for display, how to use an artistic perspective to make displays more effective, and how to recognize misleading presentations.”

In Carol Wharton’s Sociology of Work class, the instructor was able to create an interactive class, in which the students and professor worked together on finding material on work in the “new” economy. She was also able to send the students out to work places of various types and have them conduct interviews.

In John Zinn’s Principles of Economics course, students were able to design, conduct, and analyze the results of an intensive community-based learning survey using the mobile technology.

Using this technology, learning becomes a knowledge creation process not only a knowledge consumption process. Each of these projects aimed to teach students how to build their learning network and take advantage of the learning opportunities presented by the iPad2. With my help, the instructors became more than bearers of knowledge, they became a learning architect, modeler, learning concierge, change agent, synthesizer, connected learning incubator, and a network guru. I was able to work with each faculty member to develop a course, which used technology and teaching styles that were relevant to their daily lives. When students perceive a concept or assignment as relevant, they see it as valuable. It has importance.

Working with faculty and my fellow liaisons, I will continue to incorporate mobile technologies across the disciplines and at different levels within the curriculum at the University of Richmond.

You have some interesting survey results on the poster you’re sharing on Wednesday. Did any of these student reactions surprise you? What did you learn from them?

TREVETT-SMITH: A few things surprised me:

eReading. Personally, I don’t enjoy reading on the iPad. I much prefer the eInk displays found on the Kindle Reader or Sony eReader. To me, the iPad “reads” too much like a traditional laptop (or monitor) display and strains my eyes too quickly. Students, however, didn’t seem to share my opinion. Well over half of students use the iPad to read at least 60% of the course material, with nearly a third of all students reading 100% of their course material on their iPad. But, just because the course reading material is provided in an electronic format does not necessarily mean students will read the material electronically. However, 65% of students responded that they never, or almost never, printed course materials.

The responses from the previous two questions could have deep implications on campus printing policies, and printer (and printer supplies) purchasing plans. This information is also useful for green initiatives, paperless courses, and e-reader initiatives.

I think the positive affects of creating an iPad enhanced course surprised many participating faculty. Nearly half of the students involved in an iPad-enhanced course believed that they were learning more than would otherwise have been possible without the iPad. Meanwhile, only 12% of students disagreed.

Over 66% of students felt that iPad utilization encouraged exploration of additional course topics, while only about 10% of students disagreed. This means that by the instructors’ choice to use the technology to explore predefined course goals, they were also providing their students with a learning tool (and the impetuses to use it) to explore additional course topics not covered in the syllabus or lecture without the professors’ explicit instruction to do so.

About 70% of students felt that the iPad helped them organize their schedules, priorities, and responsibilities. The iPad has a demonstrated advantage when it comes to helping students more effectively manage/conduct class projects by using calendar, email, tasks, etc. applications.

Although students received the iPad to be explicitly used in one course, there was nothing stopping (or encouraging) the students to use the devices in their other courses. In fact, over 70% of students not only used the iPad for their other courses, they found that using the iPad contributed to their learning experiences in these courses (which were not specifically designed for iPad integration).

However, when it came time to collect the students’ iPads, most of them said they did not plan to buy their own. Instead, 80% of the said they would prefer to loan another iPad from the CTLT. I wonder how students would react to a policy similar to that of Shenandoah University, where all students pay a tech fee as part of their tuition, and are given an iPad and a laptop to use during their academic careers.

What problems have you solved so far with this program, and what are the big issues you are currently looking to work through?

TREVETT-SMITH: My response is considered from multiple perspectives. As more students start to bring with them (or loan from the CTLT) multiple wifi devices, Networking will need to continually re-access our wifi network capabilities. Faculty worry about retaining student attention in a technologically hyper saturated Internet connected classroom. And we at the CTLT will need to consider if we should continue to grow this initiative, by purchasing more iPads to support more faculty and students (which increases our role in device management, tech support, purchasing plans, upgrading policies, etc.), or work with faculty and student groups to encourage them to bring/purchase their own devices while working with them to develop the skills needed to use the device as a pedagogical tool.

More generally, do you see mobile device integration growing at universities over the next few years? Why or or why not?

TREVETT-SMITH: According to a recent study from comScore, mobile phones and tablets now account for 1 in 8 U.S. Internet page views. That’s astounding to me! Whether we like it or not, the first generation of “tech-savvy millennials” are coming of age and entering the University of Richmond. Our world will be reshaped in their image. Our education system will be forever transformed by their arrival. The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology Liaisons are ready and able to help faculty, staff, and administration better understand these changes, and to develop an individualized teaching pedagogy consistent with the UR mission.

You can read more about Matthew Trevett-Smith's work and insights on his blog. You can also find out more about his Educause presentation and his school's iPad initiative at Educause.edu.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed Technology