This year several faculty of the Department of History at Messiah College were awarded Innovative Technology and Learning Grants from the Information Technology Services department to experiment with the use of iPads for the purpose of student learning and faculty-student research. My colleague Dr. Jim LaGrand used iPads in his public history class (HIST 393) to communicate findings in public history. Another history colleague, Dr. Joseph Huffman, used iPads in Latin 201 to read e-texts, with the goal of determining how the devices influenced learning a foreign language (you can read about the results of his experiment here).
The main condition for getting the grant was that the project had to explore the effectiveness of these devices “for increased engagement of students in the learning process.” Another condition was that we communicate our results with the rest of the community of educators at Messiah College. Since I will be on sabbatical next year, I intend this series of posts to fulfill my assessment of the devices’ effectiveness. Some of my colleagues from PKAP may also offer some perspectives on the use of these devices in the field including Dr. Samuel Fee at Washington & Jefferson College, who will comment on the design of the app for fieldwork.
My interest in using iPads centered on my History 319 course (“History and Archaeology of Cyprus”), which involves faculty and students working for 3-4 weeks on the island of Cyprus and participating in archaeological fieldwork through the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP). I applied for the grant after successfully using an iPad in place of a laptop to collect notes during the 2011 PKAP study season (as in these photos below). The iPads were about a third the weight of my laptop, gave me instant information via 3G in remote locations, and worked well as a notetaking device (EverNote).
Below: an iPad set up for artifact analysis at the Larnaka District Archaeological Museum. I had 3G on this device, which greatly facilitated my research on specific artifacts.
I was initially uncomfortable with the iPad’s internal keyboard, and purchased a bluetooth keyboard for this reason.
I also thought iPads would work very well in our excavations at Vigla where the dust-carrying winds would quickly destroy a laptop. iPads are useful for excavation because of their long battery life and their touch screen is impermeable to the dust created by an archaeological dig. One can read about the multiple archaeological uses of the iPads at Paperless Archaeology and Archaeology and the i-Pad.
I intended to use the iPads in Cyprus to the following ends:
- E-readers for the assigned texts for the course and digital texts
- iMovie for storytelling
- Blogging with the WordPress app for a course blog
- Using the iPads for collecting data in the field (the PKAP app, or the Pkapp)
- Taking notes in the field
And so, during the week of final exams at Messiah College, Neil Weaver, our campus’s technology innovator, distributed iPads to the ten students. Every student received an iPad for the duration of the trip, and ITS threw in four additional iPads for use by the trench directors in our excavation units.
Although only a couple of the students had used iPads before, their comfort with smart phones made it a smooth transition to using these devices.
I encouraged all the students to set up the Find My iPad feature in the event that the device was lost and recommended passcodes and the like. We all downloaded iMovie for narrating stories, the free Files app for easily accessing various digital texts, and Dropbox for sharing information. Students were free to download other apps, games, etc.. for their use in travel. I only asked that they not let the devices distract them from learning about Cyprus, and that they put them away on field trips, etc…
None of the devices have 3G capability, but the wireless internet at our hotel in Larnaka has allowed us to pass documents back and forth via email and dropbox. The wireless-only setting has inhibited constant communication but also encouraged students to put the devices aside when traveling or in the field. I’m not sure I would change that in the future.
More on the particulars in subsequent posts