The iPad: nifty gadget, or fundamentally valuable teaching tool? In a recent panel discussion, Bowdoin professors from both the sciences and humanities presented their methods for harnessing the technology of iPads in their classrooms, reporting that have used these versatile, portable devices – available for their students through Bowdoin’s IT Loaning system – to transform certain aspects of their teaching.
More than one of the presenters admitted to being a technological skeptic, wary of wasting time with tools that only superficially enhance teaching, or even distract from it, but they noted that the iPad does not fall into those categories. While acknowledging certain challenges, such as dealing with technical glitches and students’ varying comfort levels with the technology, the faculty members said that they had found significant value in using iPads as pedagogical tools.
One of the iPad’s biggest advantages in the classroom is its ever-growing array of apps that provide unprecedented ways to access, navigate, organize, and present information. Rachel Beane of Earth and Oceanographic Sciences, for instance, has found that programs like Google Earth and Earth Observer allow students in her “Volcanoes” class to explore sites that are geographically difficult to visit in person. Bowdoin astronomy students have used Sky Safari to gain insight into the stars. Education students at Bowdoin are using apps to create multimedia presentations of their research for their classmates, an exercise that emphasizes the invaluable – yet too often overlooked – skill of communicating technical research in a way that engages others.
The iPad’s portability was cited as another plus. For example, Crystal Hall of Digital and Computational Studies teaches a “Rhetoric of Big Data” class during which her students can take iPads right into the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the Bowdoin Library’s Special Collections, using the devices to photograph and analyze primary source materials right on the spot. The iPad’s flat format makes it easy to pass around in a small group, noted several professors, and is conducive to keeping tabs on how students are faring as they work on projects in class. Moreover, its tactile, interactive nature makes it an effective tool for keeping students engaged and helping them retain what they’ve learned over the long term.