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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

U. of Notre Dame Reports on Experiment to Replace Textbooks With iPads

It was quieter this past fall in Corey Angst’s project-management course at the University of Notre Dame, but it wasn’t because he and his students were talking less.

Every student was given an iPad to use during the seven-week course, which meant fewer of them brought laptops to class to take notes.

“There was no clicking,” said Mr. Angst, who is an assistant professor of management at the university. Even external keyboards that some students used for their iPads were silent.

Mr. Angst’s class was the first of several at the university to replace traditional textbooks with iPads as part of a yearlong study by the university’s e-publishing working group into the use of e-readers. Many colleges and universities are in the midst of similar experiments, but Notre Dame is one of the first to report results from its effort.

The professor said students were more connected in and out of the classroom because of their use of the tablet device.

Laptop screens can create barriers between professors and students during class, Mr. Angst said: “Students think they can hide behind a laptop.”

Students were surveyed several times throughout the course and said that the iPad made it easier to collaborate and manage group projects.

Mr. Angst said he asked students in the class to download the Dropbox app, which allows material to be saved and shared online, to post class assignments. Many students used it to share documents in their group projects, as well.

Mr. Angst said he often sends out additional videos or relevant articles just hours before class. And for the first time he could incorporate these last-minute additions into class discussions because students always had their iPads with them to access the materials.

There were some downsides to the iPad, though.

Students lamented not being able to write in the margins of their assigned readings, which Mr. Angst said he hopes will be improved in the future. And some had trouble taking notes without a keyboard.

And when it came time for their computer-based final exam, 39 of the 40 students in class put away their iPads in favor of a laptop.

Work is constantly saved within iPad’s writing programs, Mr. Angst said, but there’s no actual “save” button, which unnerved some students. “When they’re working on something important, it kind of freaks them out,” he said.

The group that conducted the experiment includes members of the business school, law school, college of arts and letters, and office of information technology, among others. It hopes to look at other tablet devices—particularly Android-based models—in the future.