This semester 32 students in two First Year Initiative (FYI) courses, THEA 150: Plays for Performance and MUSC 125: Music and Downtown New York, 1950-1970, are gliding their fingers across brand-new iPads. The devices were given to them as part of a joint Information Technology Services (ITS) and library pilot program.
University Librarian Patricia Tully announced the program to Professor of Theater Claudia Nascimento’s Plays for Performance course after the third class. When Anika Amin ’14 heard the news, she hugged Tully and called her parents.
“It was like being on Oprah’s free give-a-way,” Amin said. “I felt like they were saying, ‘and you get a car, and you get a car.’”
After reviewing classes for the fall, Director of Academic Computing Services Jolee West and Tully approached professors to see if they would be interested in using iPads in their classrooms. Students took a survey at the beginning of the course and will take one at the end to help the University understand how eReaders are being used in the classroom, particularly with course readings. If students complete the survey, they will then have the option to purchase their iPads for half-price at the end of the course.
Tully was happy to see the excited student reaction.
“It was fabulous,” Tully said. “It rarely happens to the University librarian that people cheer her.”
John Meerts, Vice President for Finance and Administration, explained that the pilot is a one-time trial and no funding had been set aside for it.
“We split the cost between Academic Affairs and the library and ITS,” Meerts wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “The computer store will bear the cost of the hardware which is the largest chunk. We hope to sell most of the units to the students who are using them at a discounted price.”
After a difficult economic year that included six early retirements in library staff—positions that will not be replaced—some students have questioned the timing and money spent on the project.
“Because of the economy and trying to build our endowment for the future, we’ve had to make some really difficult choices,” Tully said. “But, in addition, in trying to be as efficient as possible, we also have to sometimes explore new avenues because Wesleyan as a University has to figure out ways to be innovative and use new technology, and sometimes you have to do these experiments to see if technology will show future promise or not so much.”
The University originally purchased 50 iPads because it was estimated that the two classes would enroll 20 students each. Since enrollment saw fewer students than expected, West is still uncertain about how all the extra iPads will be used. Some are being used by ITS for support and others have been given to staff members.
Professor of Music Eric Charry was interested in utilizing iPads in his course, Music and Downtown New York, 1950-1970, because he dislikes the barrier laptops create between students and professors.
“I was game for it—I like the idea of seeing what they can do.” Charry said. “This class in particular is going to be pretty good because we are going to take a trip to New York, a walking trip, and students should be able to tap into wireless networks throughout the neighborhood, enabling them to access class materials while on the trip so they don’t need to bring any books or paper.”
Both professors waited to tell students about the new technology because they did not want the iPads to influence enrollment in their courses. Nascimento received additional enrollment requests after the news spread, which she did not approve.
Students in Nascimento’s class are still learning how to use the iPads and the useful apps that allow them to highlight readings and insert sticky notes.
“So few people at the University are using them at this point,” said Leah Rosen ’14, a student enrolled in Plays for Performance. “Once it becomes more of a mainstream thing it will become a lot more useful because apps will be out there that will be helpful.
Many students were happy with the convenience of the iPad, which is portable and allows long readings to be viewed on the device rather than printed, but most are still unsure if they will purchase their iPads at the end of the semester.
“I don’t see it as more efficient at this point in time,” said Emma MacLean ’14, a student enrolled in Plays for Performance. “It is convenient to be able to sit and read off of it, but I don’t see how that’s different from reading off of my laptop and bringing my laptop to class.”
West explained that the program is experimental; the goal is to examine how students and professors will use the technology. The library has worked to secure copyrights and funding for the readings both classes will use. Nascimento’s course, for example, is reading plays that were last printed in 1936 and 1959.
“I think a lot of the ways it can be useful we still don’t know because we are just beginning to use it,” Nascimento said.
Although the future of iPads on campus in the coming years is still uncertain, West reiterated the importance of keeping the University as technologically up-to-speed as possible.
“It’s not frivolous,” West said. “I understand where some people say, ‘what’s the point?’ But it’s really popular out in the world. We get accused often by the students of not being forward-looking enough. So this is one effort to try and get ourselves over that line.”