June 11th, 2012

Be Not Afraid: Embracing the iPad and the Wonderful World of Apps in the Classroom


As a faculty member within a School of Health and Medical Sciences at a liberal arts university, I was fortunate to participate in an initiative to increase faculty awareness and utility of the iPad as a teaching and learning tool. Each department chairperson, two faculty and two students from every graduate health science program was provided an iPad and a general tutorial on the basics tenets of the iPad from our institution’s ITV department. Each recipient was then encouraged to use the iPad and share their thoughts on its utility and applications with the larger group. While this initiative was directed over 18 months ago it was not until recently that I had an “aha” moment which helped me to embrace my fear of the unknown and challenge myself to explore the utility of the iPad.

As a faculty member teaching doctoral level students, I readily embraced the iPad for email communications and article retrieval and storage. I convinced myself that the teaching and learning strategies I currently employed were effectively meeting the needs of my students and thus dismissed what the iPad and its numerous applications (apps) could offer. Interestingly, it wasn’t until one of my students explained how he used the MindMeister app for reflecting upon the integration amongst subtopics associated with his research area that I began to truly appreciate the possibilities these new technologies provide.

This student helped me to realize that my use of the iPad and the many apps available was limited only by my willingness to think outside the box and try something new. So each week since then I have explored a new app. I read the information provided about the app by the developers and user reviewers, and then reflect upon and evaluate the possibilities that could emerge from using this app as a teaching and learning tool. Through this self evaluative process, I have begun to assess if and how many apps might be useful as a way to support and enhance my teaching. While not every app has supported or enhanced the active learning environment that I try to create, many have proven to be extremely beneficial as teaching and learning tools, and have helped me to meet the diverse needs of my students.

As I reflect on this journey, I believe that it was not until I acknowledged that I was fearful of the unknown, in this case the iPad and the world of apps, that I able to fully embrace this initiative. For those of you facing this same dilemma or feeling that technology is moving way too fast for you to jump on board, challenge your teaching and learning strategies by framing your fear into mini teaching and learning case studies. Take one class, one lesson, or one assignment and explore how a specific app can be used to enhance the learning environment and engage student active learning options. As you explore these apps and their utilities, write about them as a teaching and learning strategy so that we can all benefit from our colleagues explorations.

Supporting active learning
One of the ways I have used the iPad in class to support an active learning environment in which students engage in critical reflection is by having students use a drawing app such as Drawing World, Whiteboard, or SketchPad to create mind maps of their research topic of interest. This mind map serves as an outline that will direct their literature searches and guide their writing on the topic. The mind map, which is a non-linear approach to learning, seeks to engage the learner in thinking and exploring concepts using visuospatial relationships and pictorial depictions. In mind mapping, these relationships emerge from a central theme via peripheral branches which can be further inter-related.

Frequently students feel uncomfortable in creating these mind maps using colored pens and paper, which has been the traditional mode of development, but prefer to use these iPad drawing tools as a way to express their thoughts. For many students, using apps is perceived as a more age appropriate manner in which to learn. As an educator, providing students the opportunity to choose a method that meets their preferred learning style, whether it be a traditional pen and paper or a technologically advanced drawing app does not matter. What matters is that the underlying tenets associated with the assignment fosters their ability to learn and that I, as an educator, explore the options available to meet the teaching and learning needs of my students.

So be not afraid of change, embrace it and enjoy the possibilities that emerge!

Genevieve Pinto Zipp, PT, EdD, is an associate professor in the Department of Graduate Programs in Health Sciences at Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences.

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