students work with iPads and Apple TVs

Students in Stone’s class collaborate on programming challenges using iPads and Apple TVs.

One Penn State Schuylkill instructor, Jeff Stone, recently wrote a research study that found that students perceive increased engagement and collaborative skills when they work with iPads in a collaborative classroom environment.

To perform this research, Stone received a Faculty Engagement Award from Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) last May. The award was for his idea of leveraging iPads together with Apple TVs in order to create a team-based environment for his computer science and information sciences and technology (IST) students to solve programming challenges. Stone was one of four recipients awarded for an idea revolving around the annual theme: “Active Classroom Technologies.”

“Jeff shared a fantastic idea with us that we were then able to support for a year with both equipment and staff support,” said Bart Pursel, TLT research project manager.

With the grant for his idea, Stone’s classroom was provided with an Apple TV, six iPad Air tablets, and five Bluetooth keyboards, according to his research article. From a prior Penn State Schuylkill ITS purchase, his classroom also had a second Apple TV. His technology-focused classroom was made complete with two collaboration stations that had power outlets, connectivity for the computing devices, and seating for five students.

For the study, Stone said his goal was to use mobile computing to develop students’ problem-solving and collaborative skills. He said these skills are critical to success in the computer science and IST career fields.

“Given that students often feel more at home with mobile devices than regular computers, I felt that using tablets would help meet students ‘where they are’ and provide an engaging means by which the material could be delivered and consumed,” said Stone.

According to Stone’s research study, which he worked on during the second semester of the grant, students in his classes during both the fall and spring semesters said the use of the Apple technology had them engaged in the course and they perceived a positive impact from the iPads on their problem-solving and collaborative skills. The majority of students reported that they felt the course helped them work collaboratively with small groups.

Another key finding from the study was that the majority of students felt that the collaborative work had helped them understand the ideas and concepts that were being taught in the course.

According to Stone, a key takeaway from his study for instructors who are looking to use tablets in their classrooms is that they must be prepared to adapt and recognize that the content development will take time, testing, and patience.

“While the use of tablets in introductory computing courses has great possibilities, the implementation must be carefully managed – not just the use of the technology itself, but student expectations,” Stone said.

During the first semester of the grant, Pursel said that the iPads were rolled out in the classroom and Stone was able to identify and resolve several issues that arose, such as inadequate student knowledge of the technology and some student resistance to doing group learning with the tablets. Stone’s study reports that over time all of his students became proficient in using the iPads for the programming activities.

Each year, the Faculty Engagement Awards program invites faculty to submit proposals revolving around a specific theme that involves teaching with technology. Several faculty will be awarded the financial and instructional support to further explore their idea for multiple semesters.

The topic area for the next call for proposals for the Faculty Engagement Awards will be announced in late February or early March of 2017. Further information about the program is available online.

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