Two Pilots Are Better Than One

26/08/2011

Getting ready to study

TCFS students receive their iPads, 22 August 2011

On 22 August 2011 we moved to the next stage of our iPad trial at Trinity College Foundation Studies by welcoming students into the August Extended and September Extended programs. Each student was allocated an iPad to be used throughout their studies in Melbourne.

Use of iPads with the August and September cohorts of students is the final preparation before using iPads with every new student in every subject for all TCFS intakes commencing in 2012.

We ran our original trial of iPads in the classroom from August 2010 until February 2011, and this trial was very successful, leading to a recommendation from staff and students to expand the program in 2011 and beyond. Earlier this year Trinity rolled out iPads to all academic staff, with associated professional development led by Jennifer Mitchell and educational discussions held within academic departments. This preparation enabled plenty of time for skills training and curriculum development before the full implementation in 2012. At the same time we had ongoing improvements to our classroom AV equipment and close collaboration with staff in Information Technology Services, especially Martin Steers and Trent Anderson, to make sure that iPads were well integrated in teaching spaces and well supported.

Anyone familiar with the state of international education in Australia knows that 2011 has been a particularly challenging year. Factors including the strength of the Australian dollar, heightened international competition, student visa costs or restrictions, and perceived difficulties in attaining permanent residence after graduation have combined to halt or reduce the historic trend of increasing enrolments in Australia. Many education providers across the nation have experienced significant drops in their student numbers. Trinity College Foundation Studies has not been immune from the pressures facing the education sector, but the good news from our August Extended and September Extended programs for 2011 is that enrolments have actually increased significantly since the successful introduction of our iPad program.

Growth can bring its own challenges. Our deployment of iPads to the larger group on 22 August 2011 was progressing well, much as the original trial in August 2010 proceeded seamlessly, but our Wi-Fi network did experience some strain on Monday when everyone logged on at the one time. Unfortunately some students did lose connection. This was frustrating, but a valuable lesson for us as we plan the deployment to much larger groups of students in 2012.

Nonetheless, by later in the week Orientation activities were complete, formal classes had begun, and everyone was fully connected, having set up Australian iTunes accounts, having downloaded required applications for their studies (and a few other games for their entertainment), having synced calendars and connected to the Trinity email system, and having created their first work documents in a range of academic subjects.

One example of a required purchase which seems a step forward from the old booklist is the dictionary application required for our compulsory English course. (All our students are international students – and English is not their first language – and in our August and September programs the majority of classes are English.) The new application we are using on the iPad is Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, costing $22.99. This version is audio, allowing students to hear the words in both UK and US accents. By comparison the book version of the dictionary, with CD, is $55.95. We see benefits in the iPad version over the traditional book not only in cost, but in weight, usability, and functionality.

Another new thing for Trinity is the parallel developments in Library technology. Trinity has just recently become a subscriber to the Ebook Library and our students will be borrowing some Ebooks to use in their classes, including a great selection of illustrated short stories by the Australian author Shaun Tan. His Tales from Outer Suburbia can be borrowed through our Ebook Library and read on Bluefire Reader.

While our experiences of loan books on Bluefire Reader have been generally positive, with useful and necessary features allowing notes to be taken and then kept after the loan period expires, it is true to say that ePub loan books seem generally easier to navigate than PDF loan books, and that the PDF loan books can freeze on occasion or be slow in responding to typical swipes, taps, or other attempts to use the navigation tools. Nonetheless, the list of books on Ebook Library is growing all the time, and Trinity is keen to increase our use of Ebooks not only in English but in our other subjects, including History of Ideas, Psychology, Environment & Development, Media & Communication, Accounting, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Literature. More and more publishers are making their works available through Ebook Library, including key academic institutions such as Oxford University Press, and we envisage a significant growth in our use of Ebooks through the library in coming months and years.

We will also require our students to purchase some Ebooks, with literature as an obvious example, and it is interesting to note that the existing textbooks required for Accounting, Economics and Physics in our Main Programs have all come out with Ebook versions in recent months. When we began our iPad journey this time last year, iBooks for purchasing texts was not yet available in Australia, and none of Trinity’s required texts were available as Ebooks. Now many of our books have Ebook versions – and some options are highly dynamic and interactive – but in addition we have also made our own Ebooks using Pages and ePub. We consider it an important educational journey to be producers and not just consumers of content, and the creative process of producing Ebooks is both exciting and stimulating.

Things have developed rapidly since our first iPad pilot in August 2010, and the students joining us in August 2011 have iPad2 which allows many things that could not be done last year. The camera and editing functions will enhance our Drama course, and our Physics lecturer Fun Lai is very inspired by the inbuilt gyroscope. Stay tuned perhaps for some wild videos of head-spinning experiments.

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