So today was my first day at the Medical School of University of California Irvine. I don’t know if it was the weather but everyone was so friendly. I finally got to meet in person my contact at UCI, Mary Frances, and have a quick tour of their teaching spaces and be introduced to her team. We then chatted about the program they are running, my trip and the my proposed research outcomes. It was really great to get that level of insight from their actual experiences through the implementation of the iMedEd program. Then it was time to chat to some students.
For me this was a really fantastic experience. Finding out how the students are using these devices – their experiences, thoughts and feelings – is key to the understanding of the motivations behind any mobile learning project. In my opinion this is a project that is student centred, because the physical technology is so user centred. Sure the funding, leadership and implementation may have an academic or teaching motivation, but it’s success completely depends on how the students respond. In terms of the iMedEd program it seems overwhelmingly positive. In less than a year the iPad has established itself as a key tool for the vast majority of students, fully integrated into their classroom, study and practical components. In many instances it has replaced notebooks, textbooks and desktop machines and augmented study patterns and behaviours. In a problem based learning class I sat in on students used the iPad to bring up the task, research options on the web, read case notes, find journal articles as well as write notes and email their responses back to the lecturer.
The issues that arose from my discussions with Mary Frances and the students really extend from the immaturity of the product. When the iMedEd program was implemented the iPad had been on the market for only a couple of days. There was no guide book on how to implement this kind of technology, there was no training or initial support. The team behind the program and the students themselves were learning it all on the fly – adapting to change and problem solving as they went. To this end those that were more tech savvy were able to get more out of the iPad and integrate it more fully into their studies and routines (using Evernote and Dropbox for example) – those that weren’t as knowledgable were still able to use many features but lacked a clear understanding of how to take it to another level. In these cases many students resorted back to their laptops – technology they were comfortable with. It has to be added that as one student pointed out – the medical program isn’t a walk in the park – and many students just couldn’t risk their studies to try out the new technology – so fell back to things that they were comfortable and used to working with. Spending more time on induction for students on the iPad is planned for the next session and there is an expectation that perhaps the iPad will actually attract a different type of student that is willing to experiment and is not as daunted by the technology.
A general opinion is that the iPad isn’t a ‘saviour’ piece of technology – it will not ‘save’ curriculum or rescue bad teaching. It won’t replace the laptop or desktop in many key areas… but there are cases where the iPad does provide an improved, functional and featured experience than print or other available technology.
For some students the experience truly has been worthwhile because out of their own pocket they have already upgraded to the iPad2. To me, when the students are willing to go to that kind of effort (to actually get one of the devices as well as the financial commitment) then there is obviously something to it. It is early days and it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but the path that UCI has laid down really demonstrate the potential of the tablet and mobile computing in general to revolutionise the way we educate and how our students learn.