Dr. David Michelson–iPads in the History Classroom, Limitations and Opportunities
I put the iPads to use in three settings: as a device shared between multiple students in class, as devices for individual student use in and out of class, and as a device for my own teaching, research, and service. My overall impression was that having a tablet computer was very useful in all three settings.
The iPad allowed me to have a library of reference resources available in class at a moment’s notice. It also enabled students to consult documents collaboratively in a small group without trying to huddle around a laptop. Similarly, the iPad allowed a way for students to access the web simultaneously in class. Other benefits included having a common technology platform for the course, which allowed me to offer the first course in my department (and perhaps the college) that used only digital readings. A final benefit came through the improved productivity for me as a teacher, researcher, and colleague in having a highly mobile computer to take with me wherever I needed to be on campus.
Feedback from student usage also raised some drawbacks to the use of iPads. First, using iPads as a one-size-fits-all approach to mobile computing was not practical. The most technologically savvy students found little need for the iPad when they already had an iPhone and a netbook. As a faculty member I also see the practicality of using different devices or operating systems, depending on the needs of the course or objective. A second drawback is the financial question. While students were grateful that the cost of the pilot program placed little burden on them (other than purchasing 3G or apps), they universally worried about costs if a campuswide program were implemented. Similarly as a faculty member, I found that purchasing apps was problematic without funding and awkward within the constraints of Apple’s single-user system rather than a university site license.
These issues notwithstanding, I would strongly recommend that the college continue to promote tablet computing. I would also see advantages to the use of tablet computers both by faculty and on an individual basis by students. I would recommend that the initiative be expanded in scope to include more devices and operating systems in addition to the iPad and further policy direction given to the question of costs.
-David A. Michelson is assistant professor of history. His research focuses on the development of Christianity in the Middle East during the last centuries of the Roman Empire. In addition to ancient history, Dr. Michelson teaches courses on the new research methods of the digital humanities. His current digital research project (www.syriac.ua.edu) is an online reference work for the study of minority cultures in the Middle East.