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Personal devices promote student engagement

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Students at Houston Community College's Southwest College use iPads in class.​​​​​​

Community colleges that have adopted personal electronic devices for classroom use are finding they enhance the instructional process and improve student engagement in learning.

But before jumping aboard the iPad or smart phone wagon, college leaders need to resolve a number of issues, such as ensuring all students have access, faculty are trained to use the devices effectively in class and that there are assurances that the devices will be use for the intended purpose, said Stella Perez, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the League for Innovation in the Community College
 
Educational apps are going to “reshape the curriculum landscape,” Perez said. And if done right, the use of personal devices will support the concept of “any time/any place learning,” she said.
 
“This has the potential for significant developments on access and opportunities,”  Perez added.

Mandated iPads

Dodge City Community College (DCCC) in Kansas implemented a new policy this fall requiring all full-time students (except those in online or hybrid programs) to purchase an iPad. Part-time students can rent iPads from the college.
 
“We felt our students needed to be comfortable with technology and needed a more collaborative experience in the classroom so they will be better prepared” as they begin a career or continue their education, said Thad Russell, dean of technology and distance education.

DCCC rejected the BYOD (bring your own device) approach because “we wanted the faculty to prepare to teach knowing exactly what students have,” Russell said.

There are lots of limitations to BYOD, Russell said. For example, a laptop is limited to the number of apps it can use. Also, if the college required every student to bring a laptop to class, it would have needed to hire two or three IT people to provide technical supportsomething the college didn't have the budget for. 

DCCC selected the iPad over the Android because Apple has a good support structure for education and sent higher education specialists to the college for three days of faculty training, Russell said. The iPad “is about changing the classroom experience,” Russell said. “We were very adamant about the classroom experience, not about providing an e-reader.”

The expense for students was a concern, Russell said. The vast majority of students—96 percent—are eligible for financial aid and can use those funds to purchase the devices. For the remaining students, including some non-citizens, the college’s endowment association and other groups pitched in, he said, so “we were able to accommodate everybody.” 

The iPad initiative has been “phenomenal,” said DCCC President Don Woodburn. “What I like best about it is we have a lot of students from different backgrounds—athletes from all over the country, disadvantaged students and rural students—and this puts them all on the same level.”

Teachers and studenrts are exploring new ways of teaching and learning, Woodburn said. He observed a sociology teacher using iPads to take students on a virtual tour of a foreign county and automotive students using the devices as they work on cars.  

The initiative hasn’t been going on long enough to have solid data on results, but Woodburn said there are early indications that it’s speeding up the learning process. 

The iPads also level the playing field for students with different learning styles who aren’t as well suited to listening to a lecture, Russell said. And for students who are underperforming academically, the iPad allows them to “explore the material deeper, get more repetitions and ask questions privately outside class immediately when it pops into their mind.”

Education apps

Some instructors at DCCC are doing more with the devices than others. Classes taught by “early adapters” are using a variety of apps to transform the way they teach, Russell said. For example, some math teachers are using the Educreations app, which Russell describes a “a white board on your iPad.” A teacher can draw a math problem while recording an explanation of how it is done. Students can see and hear the lesson on their devices or projected on a wall. Student can also use the app to work out a problem and submit their solution to the teacher, who can respond individually or to the whole class.

Another app, Nearpod, not only allows an instructor to send a classroom presentation to every student’s iPad, but also lets the teacher know whether individual students are logged into the app and paying attention, Russell said.

DCCC teachers are also using productivity apps, like Teacherkit, a learning management system for organizing handouts, presentations, videos and other material for each class.

To help faculty adapt, DCCC bought iPads for teachers last spring, set up user groups for them and invited them to share their experiences. Teachers who are “technology averse” are getting extra help. The college also hired a full-time iPad instructional support specialist to evaluate and recommend apps and  help faculty change the way they teach. 

“We’re helping instructors step away from lecturing and have more class discussions, collaboration and student-driven learning,” Russell said.

Enhanced learning

Mid-State Technical College (MSTC) in Wisconsin used grants from the Wisconsin Technical College System to fund two pilot projects using personal electronic devices this fall.

Fourth-semester nursing students have been issued iPods loaded with reference materials so they don’t have to cart around “suitcases full of books” as they meet with hospital patients during clinical rounds, said Lea Ann Turner, learning technology manager.

The nursing faculty were given iPads with learning and medical information apps, including Unbound Medicine. They use the Poll Everywhere app to display questions on a screen in class while students use their iPods as a response tool.

The devices have become “almost indispensible now after only a semester,” said Turner. “The dean saw the value in it, and now the faculty in first- and second-semester nursing have gotten iPads, too.”

The nursing students were given limited access to just a few apps, but with MSTC’s experiment with its marketing department, students were given iPads for a semester with no restrictions on what they could download. Faculty provided a list of apps, and students could decide which ones to use. Among their favorites were Fancy Pages and Publisher Star.

At the end of the semester, the college will compare the results from that section with another marketing section where students  only had textbooks. Anecdotal evidence already indicates the devices are helpful. 
 
“Students love them,” Turner said. “They’ve found it less frustrating and easier to create and edit videos and design marketing materials on an iPad than a computer.” 
And they don’t have to bring their own laptop or spend time in the computer lab.

“Being able to be flexible with the program was huge,” Turner said, noting that computers have more limitations because they are tied to a network. “That’s been a huge advantage.”

The BYOD approach

Houston Community College (HCC) went in a different direction; the college adopted the BYOD approach for students but provided iPads to all faculty members.
 
“We have 75,000 students. There’s no way we can put a Kindle or iPad in every student’s hand,” said Doug Rowlett, director of educational technology services at HCC’s Southwest College. 

Students are coming to class with their own devices anyway. 

“Our students are not in the upper ends of the income spectrum,” Rowlett said. “But they all have a phone and 70 to 85 percent have smart phones.”

HCC’s goal was to develop instructional materials that are "device-agnostic, that can run on any device,” such as a smart phone or tablet, that students can access at any time, Rowlett said.

Students who can’t afford the technology have access to the college’s computer labs, Rowlett said, and HCC is developing a program to allow students to rent, lease or lease/purchase tablets or smart phones.

The technology is also reducing infrastructure costs. For example, Rowlett said, hybrid classes, where students spend half their class time off site, frees up classroom space, which means a collage might not have to build a new building or could increase enrollment.
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