iPads to be studied as learning tool for group of U of M freshmenby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Photocopies and heavy textbooks are still the mainstays of most college students' coursework, but you might see less of them next semester at the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Development.
The freshman class of 450 will be using iPads in class as part of an experiment to see whether the mobile device can be a better learning tool than books, photocopied handouts and even laptops.
The University of Minnesota already knows that while 90 percent of its students own laptops, hardly anyone brings one to class.
"You can ask just about any instructor here -- students just don't lug them around," said David Ernst, director of academic and information technology in the College of Education and Human Development. "This idea of mobile computing in higher education has been around for awhile. But I think we're seeing now the possibilities of the benefits with a device like the iPad."
Ernst has had an iPad since last spring, and he thinks the students will like them.
"This thing is like walking around with a notepad," he said.
Private donations are paying for the iPads for the students and their professors at a cost of less than $216,000, college officials said.
Other colleges and universities, mostly private ones, have given iPads to students, but the U of M hopes to do more than just give them away.
Besides requiring students to use them for coursework in and out of class, professors plan to keep track of the ways the college uses the iPads -- and how students respond.
"One [goal] is to just really look at the relationship between the use of these iPads and things that we're typically looking at in education, which is its relationship with retention, motivation and learning outcomes," Ernst said.
"We hope to not only improve teaching and learning with this, but at the same time do the research, and hopefully be able to lead the way with knowledge about what these devices are good for," he added.
Besides improving learning, iPads could also help students save money on textbooks, since the price of many electronic textbooks is less than half of what the printed versions cost.
Freshman students in the college won't receive their iPads until later this month, but the announcement fueled excitement among many of the students -- and a little jealousy from their friends outside of the program.
Sam Godfrey, a first-year elementary education student, predicted the iPad would help keep her studies on track so she could graduate in four years.
"Everything is going to be at your hands," she said.
Godfrey and Elizabeth Rahm, a first-year family social science student, said they will both use their new iPads for personal reasons too, like reading for leisure, listening to music or checking the weather.
Rahm said the device will help keep her organized and make it easier to handle assignments that require using multiple resources. But she also said she hopes the iPad won't replace the professor-to-student communication that happens in most classrooms.
"You can grasp a lot from the nonverbal cues that you get from face-to-face communication," Rahm said. "You can't get that from an online textbook or video."
(MPR reporting intern Anissa Stocks contributed to this report.)