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Touchy Subjects

Do iPads in the classroom help or hinder education? By Zachary Snowdon Smith


n the first week of Mass Communication Law class, Brittany Belli was handed, along with her syllabus and course schedule, a new, jet-black iPad Mini. It seemed too good to be true. Belli, along with 112 other journalism students, received the device as part of an ambitious new program put together by tech-savvy

Gaylord professors. Each 16GB iPad came with a crimson swivel-case stamped with the Gaylord College name. iPads help students learn in interactive new ways that paper-and-ink textbooks couldn’t—that was the idea.

Like most of the other students, Belli had never owned an iPad before. And, like most of the other students, she immediately immersed herself, and can often be seen wandering Gaylord Hall with her face buried in its 7.9-inch screen. But, like most of the other students, she uses her iPad as much for sending notes on Facebook as she does for taking notes in class. For educators, the opportunity offered by the iPad has come hand-in-hand with a challenge: stopping students from being distracted by the technology meant to help them learn. ​The seed of the iPad program was planted in 2011, when Joe Foote, the famously technology-loving dean of Gaylord College, attended an Apple electronics demonstration in Cupertino, Calif., at the heart of Silicon Valley. There, Foote saw a new product he’d never heard of before: an iBook. “All they had was a little five-page booklet on insects, but I was smitten by it,” said Foote, who returned to Norman and immediately began work on an iBook of his own. To bring these new inventions into Gaylord College classrooms, Foote chose professors David Tarpenning and Robert Kerr. Kerr, energetic with the jokey manner of a TED Talks speaker, has experimented with multimedia in his Mass Communication Law classroom for years. His lectures are interwoven with elaborate sequences of video clips that he cuts together himself. Saturday Night Live is used to illustrate intellectual property law, and late-night comedian Craig Ferguson explains the difference between libel and slander. Kerr says it takes about a week’s worth of editing to produce a single class period’s worth of multimedia. For Kerr, each semester is a process of trial-and-error, an evolutionary step toward a better curriculum. For the 2013 spring semester, the iPad was his biggest in-class experiment. “The question is, how do we actually make it work?” Kerr asks. “If the student feedback shows me that they’re successful, I build upon that. If students felt that the iPad added something to their educational experience – something more than just being happy about getting an iPad – if they felt it added something positive, that would be the bottom-line objective for success.” ​Kerr’s approach has been informed by a similar program conducted by the OU College of Education. The College of Education distributed 396 iPads to students, though not as part of any specific in-classroom endeavor, says Erin 30

Yarbrough, a 2005 advertising alumna and director of OU Web Communications. A smaller-scale iPad program also is being conducted in Tarpenning’s Advertising Copy and Layout classroom. Kerr’s program, however, is the first one at OU in which such a large number of iPads have been integrated into the curriculum of a specific class. ​Even with a bulk-purchase discount from Apple, the program has not been cheap. The iPads were not purchased with student tuition or fees, but with private funding, Yarbrough said. The college provided red-and-white swivel-cases sporting the Gaylord College logo. ​Electronic books are not only potentially cheaper than the bank-breaking tomes sold at the OU bookstore, they also offer the possibility of interactive and multimedia content. Both Foote and Kerr include audio in their iBooks so that students can listen to lecture material outside of class. ​This “flipped classroom” approach, in which students discuss course material in class and listen to lectures outside of class, is what makes the iPad uniquely useful, says Yarbrough. “Let’s use classroom time to allow the student to really connect more with faculty members,” Yarbrough says. “Let’s give students more face time with faculty members and more

Dean Foote interacts with students during the iPad program launch in January.

Pulse 2013  

Alumni magazine of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

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