Mobile Computing | Feature

Standardization Is a Driving Factor Behind Goshen College's 1:1 iPad Initiative

Halfway into the first year of Goshen College's 1:1 iPad initiative, Director of Information Technology Michael Sherer explained that standardization of devices and apps is key to innovation in the classroom.

A tiny liberal arts college in Indiana is playing in the technological big leagues with its new 1:1 iPad initiative. Last fall, Goshen College introduced its new general education curriculum, the Goshen Core, a set of required courses for all first year students, which provided the perfect launchpad for the college's new iPad program. Goshen issued iPads to all freshmen and Goshen Core instructors, and they've been putting the devices through their paces, both inside and outside the classroom.

The idea for the 1:1 initiative developed when Apple released the first iPad in 2010. Michael Sherer, director of information technology at the college, said it caught his interest and he began talking to the associate dean about the possibility of launching a 1:1 program with the device.

"It got people thinking about mobile computing in different ways, and I think there was a general understanding at the top of the institution that uptake on tablets was really quite different than previous devices and that there was an opportunity here to get in on the ground floor of something that was happening very quickly," said Sherer.

Sherer's team put together a proposal to launch the 1:1 iPad initiative. It was approved and funded "in record time," and they began moving forward with the project. The idea of providing the new Goshen Core curriculum with a technical foundation where everybody could have the same device appealed to the administration, according to Sherer.

"The day had come and gone where you could standardize on a laptop OS," said Sherer. "Some people would want a Mac and some people would want Windows, so using the iPad as the technical foundation made a lot of sense to us."

Standardization is Key
The main goal behind the 1:1 iPad initiative was to stimulate innovation in the classroom and in the broader curriculum, as well as around campus itself, and according to Sherer, standardization is key.

"If you want to use an iPad as a pedagogical device, then everybody needs to have one," he said. "If I walk into a classroom and three people have laptops and five people have iPads and four people have Android devices and three people have Nooks, you can't use those devices pedagogically."

But Goshen College didn't want to standardize on hardware alone; they also wanted to standardize on apps. The college hired a team of students to evaluate software programs over the summer. They chose Notability and Evernote for notetaking, GoodReader as a media viewer and file browser, and Quickoffice Pro HD as a productivity suite. One of the students even wrote a Goshen College iPad app that was installed on all of the freshmen's iPads.

Another standard app on the college's iPads is iBooks Author, a free app for creating interactive, multimedia books, which Sherer described as a "killer app for higher education." So far most instructors are using GoodReader to distribute content as PDFs, but Sherer noted that Goshen College was the first college in the world to have its student handbook published on the iBookstore using iBooks Author.

Goshen uses AirWatch Mobile Device Management to register and control the iPads, distribute application codes for commercial software that costs money, and direct people to free software that the college wants them to download. According to Sherer, this is a philosophical difference between Goshen and some other colleges that have implemented iPad programs. Some other colleges, he said, have the attitude that the iPad is a personal device and the college shouldn't install anything on it. Goshen, however, sees the importance of standardization, not just in devices, but in software, so instructors can plan courses knowing that all students will have specific apps on their iPad.

iPad's Flexibility Supports a Wide Variety of Education Applications
Sherer said he likes the flexibility of the iPad. "The iPad is whatever you want it to be," he said. "The really cool thing is that you can standardize on this relatively low cost device and deliver some fairly cutting edge software." Instructors and students at the college are using their iPads as emulation devices, reference devices, and communication devices.

"The iPad will emulate things like a chord classic synthesizer, and oftentimes that emulation function saves the institution and the student a ton of money," he said. "We have a nursing program and they will be equipping the nursing students with lots and lots of reference materials that they can carry around with them. And we have lots of good examples coming out of our communications department where they're using the device for field reporting or shooting and delivering content from the field using their iPads."

Instructors at the college are using iPads in the classroom to stream multimedia to projectors. The college tried using AppleTV for that purpose but encountered technical issues with it. The solution that did work for them was Splashtop, a remote desktop app that enables users to access their computers remotely through an iPad. The college has extended its implementation of Splashtop to enable instructors to control the projection computer remotely, so they can advance their PowerPoint presentations, for example, while they're walking around the room checking on student work.

One stumbling block the college has encountered, though, is with its learning management system (LMS), Moodle. Currently, students can't upload assignments directly from QuickOffice on their iPad to the Moodle LMS. Rather, they have to first upload their assignments from QuickOffice to Google Drive, and then from Google Drive to Moodle, a two-step process.

Anatomy of a 1:1 Launch
The college is using third generation iPads with Retina display and 32 GB of storage. The college distributed 180 of the devices during freshmen orientation, when the IT team walked everybody through the steps of activating their device and installing AirWatch.

"We created an expectation for ourselves that everybody was going to have their iPad up and running and able to download apps through AirWatch by the end of orientation weekend," said Sherer. Faculty members who teach Goshen Core Curriculum courses also received iPads and special training in the apps that the college distributed with the devices.

In preparation for the rollout, Sherer said he and his team worked hard to make sure the wireless infrastructure would be able to handle the increased demand and that they had the necessary management tools, such as AirWatch, in place. The preparation paid off, and the rollout went smoothly. The only hiccup involved the AirWatch server, which "decided that it didn't want to generate app codes properly," and the team didn't get the problem fixed until move-in weekend. "It was right down to the wire," said Sherer.

Sherer said he thinks the school's small size and the limited scope of the initial rollout contributed to the success of the iPad initiative. "You can't plan for everything," he said, "so you've got to be able to respond to problems pretty quickly, and with a school our size that's easier to do."

Limiting the program to first year students also reduced stress on the wireless network. "On the whole, the wireless stuff worked pretty well," said Sherer. "There's always anxiety that when you bring a bunch of devices on your campus that it will create some crushing burden and you won't be able to handle it. That's part of the reason we just did it with freshmen this year. We wanted to make sure we did it well, so this is very much a trial year for us."

But the school's small size and the limited scope of the rollout also made it easier to take risks. "We're a tiny place," he said. "That's fun because we can do things as an institution that are experimental and a bit leading edge. It would have been fun to do the whole campus together, but I'm kind of glad we didn't. The pressure would have been pretty intense."

Tweaking the Program for Year Two
Next year, the college will roll out round two of the program to a new batch of freshmen, so 100 percent of freshmen and sophomores will have iPads. The college also plans to offer a low-cost iPad rental program on a course-level basis for other students. "If a faculty member wants to incorporate the iPad into their course, then students will be able to rent them and after two semesters it will become theirs," said Sherer. "Functionally, we'll be 100 percent iPad next fall."

Sherer said he is considering some changes for round two, such as self-insuring rather than purchasing the device protection plan from Apple, which covers breakage and damage, because the college has had very little need for the program. Sherer said he thinks it will be cheaper for the school to just buy five percent extra iPads and run their own replacement program for damaged devices. As for lost or stolen iPads, students are financially responsible for those on their own, but so far it hasn't happened.

Sherer siad he's also considering switching to the entry-level 16 GB model next year, unless the 32 GB model drops in price. He said he's found that the students have very little need for more than 16 GB of storage because the apps take up very little space and most of their files are stored in the cloud or the college's file server. He said he believes that switching to the smaller-capacity model will save money without affecting usability.

Goshen is more than halfway through the inaugural year of its iPad program, and everybody on campus is learning from the experience, according to Sherer.

"This is a partnership between the young and the old and the student and the professor, and that makes it a lot of fun," said Sherer. "The iPad is still largely undefined as an educational device, a teaching and learning device, so that's the fun and the thrill. It's up to us to use it well, and we're trying to be worthy of that mantle."

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