Innovative iPad Pilot Study Aids Teaching and Learning at UW-Madison

By DoIT Communications Department
September 21, 2012

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Technology innovation is bringing change to the university classroom and helping to extend learning to new, non-traditional spaces. The results of a recent pilot program at UW-Madison show that instructors employing iPad mobile devices can rethink and transform class activities, explore new and engaging possibilities with their students, and make efficient use of class time.

Instructors participating in the pilot, called the LSS Mobile Initiative, were able to use a kit made up of six iPads in about 15 classes during the 2011-12 academic year through the 2012 summer term.

Instructors also received training to help themselves and students use the devices and, in workshops, explored ways to integrate mobile technology with their curriculum. The pilot was conducted by Learning Support Services (LSS) in the College of Letters and Science and funded in part by an Impact Award from the Engage Program in UW-Madison's Division of Information Technology (DoIT).


The use of iPads in higher education and at UW is not new, but the LSS Mobile Initiative expanded on previous trials of the technology. "We've found that most mobile learning use cases involve one device per student," says David Macasaet, an Instructional Technology Consultant at LSS who specializes in multimedia audio and video production. "We took a different approach by narrowing our focus to how mobile devices can help to facilitate group collaboration at the activity level. We wanted to provide an opportunity for more instructors to innovate at that level with mobile devices in their classrooms."

Using the iPad kit in their classes, instructors could transform their teaching approach. "For example, there is a shift that takes place in going from the one large screen at the front of a classroom to six small screens distributed around the room," explains Macasaet. "It multiplies the opportunity for participation and active learning."

The use of iPads sparked collaboration among students in part because they regarded the devices as instructional tools. "It's easy see iPads as essentially personal devices, but we wanted to explore how they can best be used for learning," says Macasaet. "The ease of use, the size of the screen, and the ability to quickly share information and create media led to the creation of innovative assignments and effective collaboration."

The LSS Mobile Initiative explored how the portability of iPads and other mobile devices can help to take learning beyond the classroom. "Tablet devices such as iPads make it possible to shift where teaching and learning take place," says Macasaet. "Union South can be a learning space, for example; students can do field research in the time and space of an activity while moving the boundaries of the traditional classroom."

iPads were particularly apt for assignments involving the use of multimedia. "Mobile multimedia creation on the iPad is fundamentally different, because its integrated hardware and software allow students to create digital media assignments within a class period," says Macasaet. "At the same time, using a mobile device like the iPad frees instructors to think about assignments taking place outside of the classroom."

The LSS Mobile Initiative also addressed the issue of equity. "Students had the opportunity to use this emerging technology without having to buy an iPad," Macasaet adds. "That led to improved literacy with multimedia tools."

Next steps include fine-tuning the iPad deployment process and sharing project results. "We want to be less device-specific and generalize to other mobile and tablet devices," says Macasaet. "We hope to provide more case scenarios that instructors can riff off of and expand our outlook to other disciplines."

"We knew that LSS would come out with something really interesting," says Christine Lupton of the Engage Program at DoIT. "They have been great partners for us, committed to educational innovation and exploring new ways to improve teaching and learning."

Learning Support Services assists instructors in the College of Letters and Science by promoting and supporting the thoughtful use of technology for teaching and learning. The Mobile Initiative team includes Macasaet and LSS colleagues Jonathan Klein and Theresa Pesavento.

For more information, see the project web site or contact David Macasaet.