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7 Lessons from a Systemwide iPad Program

For the past year, Globe Education Network's private and career colleges, universities and training centers have been integrating iPads into every academic program. Here's what they learned along the way.

iPad lessons learned
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Globe Education Network has spent the last year integrating iPads into every program it offers. Its formal tablet program — dubbed edUX, for educational user experience — runs across the network's private and career colleges, universities and training centers, all of which report a level of faculty energy and discussion like they've never seen before.

Here, the college system shares seven lessons it has learned along the way.

1) Get Everybody Onto the Bandwagon

While all of the network's six schools have transitioned to the use of iPads in the classroom, it took six months to get there. The pilot program kicked off in July 2013 at three locations: two Globe University campuses and the Minnesota School of Business. By October, Broadview University (UT) and Broadview Entertainment Arts University (UT) had made the transition. In January 2014, the Institute of Production and Recording and the Minnesota School of Cosmetology launched their programs too.

Now, said Naomi McDonald, director of communications for the network, 100 percent of the courses across all six institutions are using iPads.

To make sure all of its students can afford to hop on the iPad bandwagon, the network allows financial aid dollars to be applied to the pricey devices. In addition, Globe U and the Minnesota School of Business created a scholarship program with a fairly low threshold. To receive the full scholarship of $600, students don't need to apply: They're automatically qualified to receive it if they enroll in a diploma or degree program; take a certain number of credits; and maintain "satisfactory" academic standing. Funds are doled out over two quarters.

So far, McDonald added, the network has handed out about $3.2 million in scholarship funding.

Elayne Hass, resident veterinarian at Globe University-La Crosse, has students in her veterinary pharmacology course take photos of medications with their iPads. Then they add the photos to Flashcards+, an app for memorization, to learn how to identify the drugs and review terminology.

2) Converting to Digital Textbooks Is Not Simple

The use of digital textbooks was a key part of the network's iPad program. Yet as the college system learned, you can't always assume that the printed textbooks in use will have electronic versions. Nor can you assume that the digital textbooks you've chosen will be available through the e-textbook platform where students will access them.

For example, Katrina Neckuty-Fodness, project director of curriculum development for the network, had a great deal of difficulty finding texts on creative writing or world literature that were available as e-books. So she'd hunt down alternatives and give the faculty time to review and vote on their choices. In other cases, especially for areas such digital video and audio production, no digital alternatives existed — ironic considering that their topics tend to cover highly technical subjects.

"There are some media software [companies] out there that just haven't given those rights up to be put out in a digital way, so they're not accessible yet. In that case, those books are only available in print," she said.

According to McDonald, 92 percent of the network's courses are currently using e-books; the rest are using printed textbooks. But this is an area that's evolving quickly. "[Publishers have] definitely been inspired by what we've done. I've had several publisher reps tell me, 'We're moving faster because of what you did.'"

Choosing an e-book platform is also a challenge, pointed out Neckuty-Fodness. "It's easy for a publisher to sell you an e-book through their publisher site. But it's more difficult for them to create a contract with e-book platforms like CourseSmart or VitalSource. [The negotiation] definitely takes more time."

Although the network could have chosen multiple platforms, it knew that would be more confusing for students, since they'd have to download software for each one and then try to figure out which service to go to for any given textbook. The network has settled on VitalSource for now because it works well with Blackboard, the system's learning management system. Courses are loaded with the appropriate e-books even before students get access to the class, and they can download them to the iPads about a week before the course starts. They're charged a learning resource fee for every course that uses a digital textbook, which also includes whatever electronic resources go with that book.

Allison Broeren, Globe University-Woodbury campus business program chair, has her business students set up Twitter accounts and follow each other — along with the top business tweeters — in order to share "current perspectives" in class.

3) More Isn't Better

Apple estimates that its App Store features 75,000 education apps designed for the iPad. And some faculty get so excited about the possibilities, they want to try a whole bunch of them in class. That's a problem, said Neckuty-Fodness. "We learned very quickly to make it really clear to [faculty], you don't [need to] worry about using everything at once. More isn't always better."

The dilemma is that faculty often identify multiple apps that would be useful in their courses — and that adds up fast. "You have to remember your students are taking maybe two, four or five classes, and every instructor is going to have an iPad," she noted. "If every instructor has four or five favorite apps, that student has to learn 20 or 30 new things." On top of that, she added, forcing the student to buy that many apps can get pricey quickly.

Now Globe's faculty training emphasizes keeping app choices to a minimum — perhaps two or three at most — to use consistently throughout a course. Then, as instructors get comfortable teaching with the iPad, Neckuty-Fodness said, they might consider adding another app to their repertoire.

Erica Healey, business and legal studies program chair at Globe University, uses quiz app Socrative in class to survey students on what they understand, so she knows when it's time to move onto the next subject.

4) Let Faculty Teach Faculty

Although the schools hold service training focused on integrating iPads into the classroom, one of the most effective ways Globe has found to educate its faculty is by allowing instructors to teach each other about the apps they're using. The network calls these kinds of training "Appy Hour." As Neckuty-Fodness explained, Appy Hours are hour-long presentations in which a faculty member — full-time, part-time or adjunct — shares what he has learned about a given app or multiple apps through use in his classes.

"It's always helpful when somebody can present it and say, 'This is how you use it. This is how you can use it in your classrooms. This is what you can ask students to do with it. These are some of the pitfalls,'" she noted.

That kind of detailed peer-to-peer sharing is especially useful for faculty who want to understand the differences between free versions and paid editions. "We really encourage free apps use," Neckuty-Fodness said, "unless we can find an app that we think is so amazing we can [designate] it as almost a required app for a program or a course."

Staff and faculty have also formed iPad advisory committees to help the teaching staff "navigate" the plethora of apps and to help troubleshoot problems.

The combined approach has been fairly effective. According to a survey done by the network's director of institutional quality and effectiveness, six out of 10 instructors have reported that they "were able to effectively integrate the technology into their courses within the first quarter of implementation." More than three-quarters indicated that "their proficiency in using the iPad in the classroom improved over the course of the quarter."

New instructors ramp up quickly with an online course that runs eight to 10 hours and covers iPad setup, basic usage and various apps that might be useful overall. That training course also provides a forum for getting questions answered, posting screenshots and doing self-reflection on faculty implementation.

Dana Wallace, Globe librarian, recommends EasyBib for automatically generating citations for books in research projects.

5) Remember Equity

Since there's no guarantee a student will have broadband Internet access at home, an important aspect of choosing an e-textbook platform was identifying one that would allow students to download their books onto their iPads for offline reading.

Faculty have helped out by providing extended schedules for some students or, at the very least, notifying them ahead of time that some of their projects will require access to the Internet. If they're unable to come to campus outside of scheduled class hours to use WiFi there, that alert gives them a heads-up to come up with their own accommodations. "Not surprising the student is always important, I think," said Neckuty-Fodness.

Tom Hakko, a member of the business faculty at Globe University-Woodbury, gave students a choice to write a final paper or use the iPad to create a movie as a final project. Half went with one and half with the other. Then they reflected on what they'd learned in the process.

6) Embrace Flipping

As Globe faculty become more comfortable with their integration of technology in the classroom, they're also beginning to flip courses. Starting this fall, for instance, the network will have a systemwide subscription to online training service Lynda.com. So if an instructor is teaching a course on Photoshop, explained Neckuty-Fodness, he can tell students to watch a basics video and come to class ready to "play around" with features shown in the video.

Math and science instructors are adopting the use of Khan Academy videos along with digital textbook assets such as simulations and video lectures from publishers. Faculty have begun telling classes to do something over the weekend and come back in ready to go "right into the lab."

The next step is to put more structured faculty training around it, including offering weekly "lunch and learns." "Having these digital assets really helps create more of a sense of urgency of trying it," added Neckuty-Fodness.

7) Let Faculty Enthusiasm Work Its Magic

Neckuty-Fodness spends a lot of time with faculty members, and nobody can miss the "level of excitement" they're showing as the iPad program grows. "It's brought energy and discussion and faculty saying, 'Oh, can we spend the next half-hour talking about this in our classroom? Oh, you're doing that? How are you doing that? Can you share that with me?'"

That exhilaration has a positive outcome in another area too. Previously, getting people to participate on committees "was like pulling teeth." Now they're happy to participate when the focus is coming up with new ways to make the schools better.

She expects that faculty enthusiasm to infuse students' classroom experience as well. It's too soon for definitive data on student learning outcomes. But Neckuty-Fodness calculated the probable impact this way: "The potential has grown in terms of what [faculty] can add to their pedagogical toolkit. I like to think that's increased the student engagement."

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