Hargis, J., Cavanaugh, C., Kamali, T., & Soto, M. (2014). A Federal Higher Education iPad Mobile Learning Initiative: Triangulation of Data to Determine Early Effectiveness. Innovative Higher Education, 39(1), 45-57. doi:10.1007/s10755-013-9259-y
This article reports early results of a higher education iPad® initiative implemented in a pre-Bachelor’s Foundation English Language Learning (ELL) program designed to prepare students for instruction delivered in English at 17 campuses of the Higher College of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The objective of the study was to “identify faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of early implementation of the iPad, specifically as it related to enhancing the student-centered learning experience” (p. 46). The purpose of the federally-funded iPad initiative was to advance “active learning methods” in face-to-face classes in order to “provide students with the skills and experiences needed in flexible work environments” (p. 46).
Faculty were trained in iPad implementation by Apple World Education leaders. The training and implementation program sought to “build excitement about the iPad implementation and camaraderie among the federal universities” using faculty champions and a teaching and learning conference focused on “ways to implement the iPad and engage students in active learning” (p. 46). Faculty spent the summer prior to fall implementation “playing” with the iPads to explore ways to engage with students. iPad 3 devices were provided free of charge to every student in each class with a combination of pre-installed free and paid apps.
Using a combination of faculty case studies, faculty self-reporting survey results, and feedback from initial faculty champions, researchers organized and reported findings using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) framework. In each of the three areas (case study, survey, and feedback), researchers noted that “weaknesses and limitations were much lower in frequency and magnitude than expected for a first-of-its kind program” (p. 56). Faculty responded positively to the technology, pedagogy, and content in the first month of implementation. They reported that campus administrators and technologists “actively supported” their implementation efforts and that “the most frequent uses of iPads were for student-centered and interactive applications” (p. 56). They close the study with this endorsement: for institutions considering requiring incoming freshmen to use iPads, their results “indicate a favorable environment for success” (p. 56).
The UAE government’s willingness to launch and fund a large-scale technology initiative is laudable, likely made possible by the UAE’s size. The state launched the initiative with extensive faculty training and engagement, a model grounded in theory and apparently effective, at least through the early stages of the initiative.
Missing from the study was a focus on specific active learning methods implemented in classrooms. While the objective of the study focused on faculty perceptions, the goal of the iPad initiative to increase active-learning activities in the classroom begs examples and case studies of successful activities that met those goals. As a result, I recommend the study to administrators and grant funders seeking faculty buy-in for large-scale mobile device initiatives, not to teachers seeking examples of effective active learning activities.