Technology takes a seat in the classroom

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iPads and tablets make their way into lectures and labs at this college and other institutions.

By V.G Garlisi

Imagine a classroom where students use iPads to participate with lectures, answer test questions and collect data pertaining to their subject of interest.

Sounds like a scene straight out of a science fiction movie. At this college, Usha Venkat, director of technology services, is making the idea a reality.

When tablets first hit the market, industry experts said “they could be a great viable device for students to learn and teachers to teach,” Venkat said.

After reviewing other tablets on the market, Venkat and her team settled on the iPad for its low-maintenance and easy-to-use interface.

“We wanted to make sure everyone in the classrooms were comfortable using these devices,” Venkat said.

Venkat proposed the idea to President Robert Vela in 2013, and said he was extremely supportive of the project. That year, 125 iPads were purchased at $500 per unit for a total of $62,500.

Coordinator of college technologies Usha Venkat poses Wednesday, March 3, in the College Technologies Building, 218 Ashby. File photo

Coordinator of college technologies Usha Venkat poses March 3 in the College Technologies Building, 218 Ashby. File

Venkat began a pilot program with the following classes:

  • INRW 0304 and 0305, Integrated Reading and Writing 1
  • CRIJ 1301, Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • GOVT 2305 and 2306, Federal Government and Texas Government
  • SPCH 1311, Introduction to Speech Communication
  • ASTR 1403 (now 1303), Stars and Galaxies

Venkat and her team in the technology services department selected each of the seven classes. They based their choices on whether the class would benefit from the technology.

Students did not have a say in which classes could be selected for the program. However, the students’ opinions on the benefit of the iPads in class were taken into consideration.

“We’ve been using the pilot program for nearly three semesters now,” she said. “We have been collecting the survey results from teachers and students on its effectiveness.”

The surveys prove iPad use in the classrooms has been an effective tool for both learning and teaching, she said.

There are two types of iPads designed for the classrooms, Venkat said: a shared model that students can only use inside a classroom, and a loan model, which students borrow for the semester.

Since its genesis, several of these departments, such as astronomy and speech communication, have received federal funding that has allowed them to purchase more iPads for learning. Venkat estimates approximately 400 iPads in use across this campus.

“They prove to be a very effective tool in the classrooms,” Venkat said. “It may not be an option for all classes, but it works well for specific types of classes.”

According to a 2014 study done by Educase, “Technology Research in the Academic Community,” the number of iPads and mobile devices used in the classroom increased from 10 percent in 2012 to 47 percent in 2014. According to the study, nearly half of students found tablet use in the classroom extremely important to academic success. Based in Louisville, Colo., and Washington, D.C., Educase is a nonprofit association that focuses on information technology and higher education.

Astronomy Professor Alfred Alaniz was selected to participate in the pilot. He currently uses the iPads in his ASTR 1104, Solar System Laboratory.

“I’m using it as their lab journal for now,” Alaniz said. “I’m developing some instruments to connect to the iPads so my class can collect data for our lab.”

With the help of Aaron Ellis, media services and a 3-D technician, Alaniz is developing a modern cross-staff that helps determine angles between stars and planetary movement.

The two are also creating a small sight that will attach to the magnetic strip on the iPad and act as an altimeter, which is designed to measure altitude.

“The iPad provides the student with everything they need in one device,” Alaniz said. “They are going to put astronomy apps on there as well as the planetarium software that I use in class.”

Alaniz commends the convenience the iPads provide and said soon they will be able to control telescopes on top of the observation deck at Scobee Planetarium.

Alaniz does not fear iPads becoming a distraction to students learning in the classroom.

“I think they are an asset and should have been done a lot sooner,” Alaniz said. “Students are more tech savvy now and that’s what they want in the classroom.”

Venkat sees a growth in the use of mobile devices on this campus as well as an increase in the accessibility this campus offers students in terms of wireless and bandwidth use.

“Students are going to invest in their own mobile devices,” Venkat said. “I think we need to prepare ourselves for the future by offering students technical support with their device and network connectivity.”

As this college races head on into the technological era, it is trying its best to keep up with the digital minds of its students, Venkat and Alaniz agree.

“I think we are implementing technology well,” Alaniz said. “It’s just fun that I’ve been chosen to help initiate it.”


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