The ‘iPad Class’ at University of Notre Dame

NYU professor and author, Clay Shirky, famously said, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring… It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen.”

It wasn’t that long ago we were talking about wiring classrooms and libraries with the Internet.  Next came online quizzes, gradebooks and course materials.  Now the bigger story is how technology can actually change the way students learn.

This semester, University of Notre Dame is experimenting with a totally paperless class, replacing traditional textbooks with Apple’s iPad.

This has become known as the iPad class,” Corey Angst, assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, told his students on their first day of class Aug. 24. “It’s actually not…it’s ‘Project Management.’”

The course is part of a year-long Notre Dame study of eReaders.  The broader goal, beyond equipping a few lucky students with iPads, is designing an “ePublishing ecosystem that serves faculty, students and staff by making the creation, distribution, sharing, reading and annotation of eMaterials simple and inexpensive.”

The iPads are on loan to the 40 students in the class, not a permanent gift. Nevertheless, the early reports from students are very positive.  Students use the iPad to conduct research, access Wiki discussion groups and manage real world projects.  Indeed, one of the purposes of the experiment is to see what indeed they do with it.  Will it replace paper textbooks and paper-based handout materials? Professor Angst says he:

“…expects the students will rely on the iPads to develop creative ways of collaborating with their teammates. They can share documents, timelines and to-do lists, and show sketches to their clients. The possibilities are endlessSustainability is a great fringe benefit, but my motivation has more to do with efficiency. I don’t like stacks of paper in my office.”

A similar experiment at Abilene Christian University involved with 2,100 students (about half the student body) and 97% of the faculty. This initiative leveraged iPhones and iPod Touches and reported great results. Bill Rankin, a professor of medieval studies, helped plan the initiative. Here’s what he had to say about his motivation:

“About five years ago my students stopped taking notes. I asked, ‘Why are you not taking notes?’ And they said, ‘Why would we take notes on that?…. I can go to Wikipedia or go to Google, and I can get all the information I need. For us, it isn’t primarily about the device. This is a question of, how do we live and learn in the 21st century now that we have these sorts of connections?…. I think this is the next platform for education.”

As far as my personal experience, initiatives like these make me realize I could do more to incorporate technology with my teaching.

class blog has proven to be a real hit with my MBA classes. I have also experimented with video. Here’s a video of my class reporting on an in-class exercise to create a new candy bar from Brach’s.  I was able to use the video in subsequent classes to make relevant points about leveraging trends, pricing and innovation.

In the future I hope to make even greater use of social media and class room technology for two reasons:

1. Students need to be prepared to use collaboration tools when they leave the university.

2. Schools need to keep pace with Millennial students who are often more adept at putting technology to use than professors.

To hear Professor Angst talk more about his aspirations for this class, check out this video.

Also recommend Mashable: “The Case for Social Media in School” for some great examples of technology for school kids.