iPads simplify access to information in schools

JOHNSTOWN – Students at Fulton-Montgomery Community College no longer have to go to the computer lab. Now it comes to them.

The college has started a mobile iPad classroom. Instructors who need to work with students on the computer can have iPads brought into the classroom, eliminating the need to go to a computer lab.

“The use of iPads is growing exponentially across the country, not only for personal use, which is what I think Apple originally intended, but also in the professional world,” FMCC President Dustin Swanger said. “You are seeing people use this mobile technology every day, and us having a lab to show students how to better use them for research purposes is definitely the way libraries and colleges will go in the future.”

“One of the practical reasons this came about was we were running out of space,” Public Services Librarian Michael Daly said. “We were having more and more instructors request librarians’ presence in the class to talk about finding, evaluating and organizing information [for project research]. We had one traditional classroom in the library where that generally occurred, but since 2008, we have seen a pretty big increase in requests, so we would have to turn people away or shuffle things around. So we definitely noticed the need for more access.”

In the fall, the college purchased 30 iPads for the mobile classroom and five others for loan to students at the Evans Library.

Daly said the iPad mobile classroom is an option for instructors.

“The teachers will use these iPads for a week or three weeks, and sometimes it is even 15 or 20 minutes,” Daly said. “But that 15 or 20 minutes is really important because that means the instructor can now do things in their everyday classroom without having to reserve a computer classroom or moving their schedule around.”

Daly said iPad apps allow the device to be associated with any subject the college offers a degree in.

“This changes the classroom because it takes the traditional lecture-style instruction and transforms it into a hands-on, informative learning experience that the students really seem to enjoy,” Daly said. “The students are generally thankful for the opportunity to use the iPad because they don’t have one or don’t have Internet at home, so it extends that opportunity to a lot of people.”

“Most Apple devices are really easy to use because most are intuitive by design, and we noticed that right away. The learning curve is really shallow and the students are able to take to them right away,” Daly said.

Evans Library Director Mary Donohue said many of the faculty members don’t use actual textbooks anymore. Instead, they have the students read texts online and use websites where they can access slides and other resources. The iPads allow students to have access to the resources in the classroom.

Sherry Warner, an associate professor in nursing, said she has been using the mobile classroom to teach students how to do citations in class.

“This allowed me to teach them citations without losing a lot of them during the trip to the library and also allowed me to go around and help them individually,” Warner said. “By the second class, the students were all using them just fine and really enjoyed having them available. It allows me to teach in a way that they enjoy, too, because a lot of my students are visual learners and the iPads are ideal for that.”

Mike Youngs, an English professor, used the devices on the first day of spring classes to explore the differences in the way text can be provided. He said he had his students read a short story and listen to an audio file on the device.

“Often, the first day is wasted, so I was happy to have something engaging for the students,” Youngs said. “The main goal for me was the content. The iPad was merely a delivery system, but what we learned is there is no difference between traditional paper text or [text on] a tablet like the iPad.”

He said the students were comfortable with the mobile devices. Using the devices served as an engaging way to get them to read the short stories, he said.

“They were able to read and research at the same time with the same device as well, which I thought was good,” Youngs said.

FM Media Communications Professor James Hinkle said he’s been using the iPads, which can serve as a camera and digital recorder. He said students no longer have to come back to the studio to manually upload material.

“Since the iPad has become prominent in many different business fields, it naturally lends itself for reporting because of its ability to take pictures, record video and audio, and edit movies,” Hinkle said. “It really has become the full-service notebook/camera bag for the reporter.”

Use in public schools

Some local school districts also are using iPads and other tablet devices in the classroom.

Kindergarten and seventh-grade students in the Gloversville Enlarged School District have been using mobile learning devices over the last two years. In 2011, six Apple iPad 2 tablet computers were made available in each kindergarten classroom as part of the classes’ learning stations.

At Meco Elementary School, Principal Jim Crawford said the students are able to practice basic letter recognition, math problems, phonics and letter-sound instruction on iPads. Students also do reading, writing and math activities on the devices.

Crawford said the iPad can be tailored to programs for each child based on his or her level.

“The teachers and students really love it because it re-enforces the concepts and fundamentals that the students are taught on a regular basis with interactive games and apps,” Boulevard Elementary School Principal Thomas Komp said. “It really motivates the kids to practice, and a lot of times, they don’t even realize how much they are learning because they are having fun doing it.”

The Broadalbin-Perth Central School District uses iPads to upload monthly meeting material without spending money on paper.

District Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said the board of education used to receive a packet that averaged 200 sheets of paper per month. By the end of this school year, the district will have saved more than the $3,500 cost of the mobile devices, he said.

He said the paperless transition saved the district additional money because the hours necessary to put together the packets are eliminated.

“We need to start using instructional technology in the classrooms and in the administrative work that we do,” Tomlinson said. “It makes us more efficient and makes documents more readily available.”

Tomlinson said his district has been using iPads in the elementary schools, and may buy more iPads to establish a mobile classroom similar to FMCC’s.

“We will have 30 iPads on several mobile carts that can be brought to any classroom and turn that classroom into a virtual classroom immediately,” Tomlinson said.