|Prof. Barton Leads His Psychology Class to Explore Potential of Learning via iPad
November 17, 2011
|Barton holding class in the Center for Teaching and Learning in the library.
Nelson Professor and Department Chair of Psychology Cole Barton was initially led to experiment with iPad in his "Abnormal Psychology" class due to the high cost and rapid obsolescence of the course textbook. But he soon came to believe the tablet computers might have additional value. The power of the small Apple device to bring together a large number of capabilities led him to wonder whether it may help students learn better.
Barton discussed his ideas with Mur Muchane, Executive Director of Informational Technology Services [ITS], who turned out to be asking the same questions about how mobile technologies affect teaching and learning.
Muchane explained, "We always keep an eye on new technology, and the iPad strikes us as particularly interesting and promising. It represents a whole new category of technology with a raft of capabilities never put together before in one package. When Cole expressed his interest in the device, we saw the opportunity for a pilot project."
ITS purchased 17 new 16 gigabyte iPad 2s for members of Barton's class. To better gauge the effectiveness of iPad-supplemented learning, ITS gave devices to only a randomly selected half of the students in the class. Most of the other students do classwork on their personal PCs.
The course is an introduction to the treatment issues in contemporary psychology. Students were assessed with two quizzes, a term paper and final exam.
But Barton also designed the course to develop and supports students' technological literacy. He assigned students to three-person groups that researched a significant controversy in the field, and posted their findings to a class blog. Subjects they covered included alcohol abuse, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia and stress.
The experimental nature of the class made it an ideal project to locate in the new Center for Teaching and Learning in the library whose classrooms are equipped with the latest multimedia devices. The class meets in a CTL room once a week along with Barton, as well as an ITS staffer who helps with technical issues and instruction on the WordPress blogging software they use for reporting their research. A reference librarian also joins the class to help students with on-line research methodology and access to high quality scholarship in psychology databases like PsychInfo and Refworks.
The e-text book for the course, titled Abnormal Psychology in a Changing World, was available for $70. Most students elected that option, but some elected to purchase the $120 hard copy of the book. The e-text includes features and supplemental study aids that Barton likes, such as quizzes, study guides, and videos. The e-book quizzes every 20 pages or so help him assess his own teaching and students' learning. He noted, "Student scores on those quizzes give me a quick look at how well they understand the material, and I can adjust my lectures accordingly."
He also had students load into their computers a free neuroanatomy application developed by alumnus Mark Williams that provides maps of parts of the brain, and links readers to information about the neurological functions of specific regions.
Barton said class interaction is also enhanced as students find and comment on relevant material in the popular press which is quickly available on their devices.
Muchane continued, "The iPad allows students to interact with educational content in a multidimensional way that has not previously existed. That's the great promise of this technology. I think we're entering a ‘post-PC era' when we're not so much behind a keyboard, but carry technology with us all the time."
|Drew Gadaire '12 working in class with a day planner and iPad.
He continued, "Because they can interact with content in multidimensional ways, students more fully engage with the content at a higher level. Class discussions are happening at a higher level of understanding."
Barton, who used a portable computer running Windows software for years, said he's been totally seduced by the capability, portability and adaptability of the iPad. He uses it as an e-reader, and plugs it into classroom projection screens through its VGA port to project pictures and video.
He forsees a day when he will use its "face time" feature to talk to students remotely during office hours, and when students will use it to interview psychologists elsewhere for research projects.
IT plans to establish a fair market value for the $500 iPads and offer them for sale at that price to students who have been using them in Barton's class. Muchane said, "It's a good way to reward them for participating, but we also recognize they will have a lot of personal content on the machines they'd like to keep."
IT recognizes that an increasing number of students utilize smart phones, so the institution has a responsibility to respond to that trend. The department's collaboration with Barton's class and iPads is just the first venture into that new direction. Muchane said his department is exploring mobile device enhancements in other classes, and is developing Davidson apps for mobile devices.
He concluded, "We're regularly asking ‘What does education look like down the road?' Well, I think we're beginning to get a glimpse of it. In the era of easy access to information I think it will be a collaborative learning environment of librarians, technologists, students and faculty whose work is facilitated by devices like the iPad."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,900 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.