Students at Penn State are test-driving iPads in a technical writing course. Last summer the school’s Education Technology Services (ETS) bought 40 Apple tablet computers for faculty and student projects. Michael Faris, an instructor in the Department of English, planned a technical writing course for fall 2010 featuring the iPad in its curriculum.
“Students in my class were juniors and seniors who had already developed their reading, writing and research habits,” Faris says. “The iPad forced them to adapt to different strategies and change the way they think about their work.”
Each student in the class received the touch-screen-only iPad and an accessory keyboard for the semester. Apple donated iTunes gift cards to cover the cost of applications students may have needed to download for the class — like a word processing program — as well as a gift card from publishing company Bedford/St. Martin’s, to cover the expense of the digital textbook they needed to download.
Faris said that his students found the iPad’s light weight convenient and told him it’s a great tool for reading and doing simple writing tasks. However, they also reported having trouble writing more extensive papers and creating multimedia projects with it.
“I think right now it’s best to view tablet devices as supplements: they don’t replace anything, but they fill needs and gaps in work activities,” Faris said. “For instance, a tablet can’t replace the writing and heavy research capabilities of a laptop, but it can provide for a second screen, supporting some research that might have been open in a browser or printed off or in a book.”
Penn State’s University Park campus, the largest of 24 campuses across the state, lies within the Borough of State College and College Township, Pennsylvania. For more info on the iPad program go to http://live.psu.edu/story/50757 .