Melbourne University’s Trinity College has launched a 50 student pilot program to foster creativity and critical thinking, with each participant receiving an iPad to be used with their studies.
Trinity College Foundation Studies (TCFS) this week launched Step Forward, an academic pilot program aimed at realising the potential of students and teachers.
Under the trial, the August entry students of 2010 will pursue their education with iPads being used as tool in their formal studies.
According to the college, the iPad is a “relatively cheap, highly mobile, sturdy and user-friendly device for use both in the classroom and beyond”.
TCFS associate dean for academic operations, Glen Jennings, said the iPad is being trialled because it has an intuitive interface for students, and those who have never used an iPhone can “work out the iPad quickly”.
“We are confident students will get to the core without any mucking around,” Jennings said, adding the whole touch screen interface is good.
“In the future, notebooks might have the same technology, but iPads are ideal for education as the system is very stable.”
Trinity has not decided whether to go beyond the pilot phase at this stage, but if it works out well and the budget suits, iPads could be rolled out to all 700 to 800 students every year. If a full deployment proceeds it will be staged through to 2012.
The iPads are being trialled by students in Trinity’s foundation studies program, a 12-month program for international students looking to gain entry into a local university.
Before the pilot commenced some 20 teaching staff were given the device last month to prepare lessons.
“Some staff are not so technology adept so for teaching staff to use an iPad will transform what will go on in the classroom,” Jennings said. “It’s a very good way of having cross disciplines. Some universities can fall into a silo effect, but we have found with the iPad people are willing to share ideas.”
The college has a history of varied technology adoption and previously deployed Debian GNU/Linux on student workstations later replacing these with Mac OS X desktops in 2005. Linux is still run on the servers.
Trinity’s education technology manager, Mark Dorset said an advantage of the iPad is the operating environment is easier to maintain than a full-blown operating system.
“The iPad is easier to maintain than Windows or Mac OS X and the users have full control over the device knowing they won’t get strange pop-up errors and we can restore them easily,” Dorset said.
“You turn the power button and it’s on. And the battery lasts longer than a lot of notebooks and netbooks. We didn’t want to waste time asking students if they were online.”
The college has in-house server applications that are being accessed with the iPad and existing applications will be used where possible. Developing customised iPad apps, however, is a consideration.
“We have linked iPad icons to Web maps and the online learning environment,” Dorset said. “We have a start list for all students to have and there are other apps for chemistry, maths and science.”
Dorset said the college’s infrastructure to support the iPad is “up to date” as it “beefed up” the wireless network for the pilot. About 80 per cent of the college is covered with Wi-Fi in an ongoing deployment.
“We want to assess the device in a fair manner,” he said. “It might not be appropriate, but at this stage it is going well. In February next year will have a final assessment.”