Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

iPad Studies at Abilene Christian U. Dig Deep into Learning Outcomes

on October 4, 2011
Students at Abilene Christian University use their iPads to learn. | Photo credit: Jeremy Enlow/Abilene Christian University

While much of the research on iPads in education to date has focused on how students and faculty use the device, Abilene Christian University is shifting toward examining how the tablets affect student learning.

Through the ACU Connected initiative, the university has studied mobile devices in the classroom for the past three years. And now that the iPad has been out for more than a year, the university is studying how mobility can integrate with pedagogy, said Scott Hamm, instructional designer and director of mobile learning research for the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at the university.

"Right now a lot of what I'm seeing out there as far as what's available data-wise for the iPad is kind of usage statistics, but fortunately because we've been doing this for three years with the mobile learning piece, we've been able to dive into the deeper end of the pool with our iPad research."

The research results

In the university's first paperless classroom, associate professors Ian Shepherd and Brent Reeves compared how their section of a microeconomics class used iPads with a section that had laptops. Through their devices, the students accessed an online textbook from McGraw-Hill and Inkling, as well as their Blackboard learning management system.

With the tablets, students accessed content more frequently over a broader period of time and moved around more to collaborate on projects. The laptop section tended to use their devices around class time and on the days they had class.

This year, the associate professors are continuing their research by collecting and analyzing actual mobile device usage by user, device type, campus location, application use, content accessed and demographic information from the student information system.

In an Introductory psychology class last year, graduate student Ryan Gertner studied how eTexts on the iPad affected reading comprehension and transfer learning. Transfer learning involves understanding a general concept and applying it in different contexts.

He randomly split the 69 students who wanted to participate into two groups. One group read and annotated a section of Laura King's "Experience Psychology" textbook in hardback form. The other group did so in digital form.

In a 10-minute period, the students answered 16 multiple choice questions that tested their reading comprehension. The students who read the eText didn't score significantly higher than the students in the other group.

But they did score 25 percent higher on the transfer learning test. And that's a big deal because higher order thinking, the ability to work together and the ability to construct knowledge in different contexts, are important skills that transfer to the workplace, Hamm said.

The students answered four essay questions in 10 minutes. Based on the study, the report says the students reasoned deeper after reading an eText on the iPad but did not strengthen their general knowledge.

This year, researchers are trying to understand why students transfer knowledge better when they use eTexts and tablets instead of a physical textbook, said George Saltsman, executive director of the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning.

The digital movement

Overall, many people are interested in moving textbooks digital. California, Texas and Florida have passed legislation that incentivizes that process.

In the university's initial experimentation, it's seeing positive steps forward when instructors combine the tool with an appropriate pedagogical approach. That approach engages higher order thinking and the upper levels of the Bloom's taxonomy.

"When the tools allow for the social connections and the ability to do annotations, then we're seeing it as a step forward, we're definitely not taking a step backwards," Saltsman said.

At the Abilene Christian campus, it took a while for faculty members to really begin using the devices. But three years into the initiative, faculty members are more comfortable with using the mobile devices for learning. Eighty-six percent of faculty at the university say they regularly use their device, and half of them use it every day, according to an annual survey.

Faculty members will adopt new technology at the university when it's part of a focused initiative to drive the use of the tools. And they need someone to encourage them to try something new and help them succeed with the technology. 

"It's cheerleading and a safety net," Saltsman said. "I'll encourage you to take the jump, and then I'll make sure that you don't crash on the way." 

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Tanya Roscorla

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.



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on Oct 7, 2011
So they did a "study" involving a whooping 70 kids on a college campus and claim that iPads help kids transfer information better. I wonder how much Apple paid to have this "study" done. Does anybody really believe that if you read something on an iPad as opposed to a book you will learn beter.
on Oct 9, 2011
Mr. Schmoe, I am sorry but I couldn't resist this--Since you're questionning the hyperbole in this article, I just have to ask. Did you learn how to spell "better" from reading a real book or from an instructor seated at the head of the table in a seminar class of 15 students?, Or did you take the lecture style class from this same professor with 35 students, where the students in the first row were paying attention and everyone from the second-row back were asleep? It probably wouldn't matter since the instructor gave the same canned lecture in both settings. Look at what research has taught us about how we learn. Learning is constructed individually, relating new knowledge to what we already know. Although each student learns individually, it is best done in a social, cooperative setting raher than a competitive one. Doing something with the learning reinforces it. Confuscious didn't have the benefit the brain research of the last half of the 20th century, but he still was able to say, "What I hear I forget; what I see I remember; what I do I know." Since books were not common 2500 years ago, I believe Confuscious would be comfortable with the following paraphrase, "What i hear or read, I forget." I am sorry for bring "doing something with our learning" into the conversation, since experiential learning has no place in education, even though two of Artstotle's three modes of learning were experiential based. "Poeises" was the creation of something of value and "praxis" was the act of doing.
on Oct 9, 2011
I doubt this will get posted due to the relationship most of these sites have with Apple, but here goes. While I do agree that e-readers and mobile devices are a benefit to education, the view that most school districts have, that ONLY "iDevices" are capable of handling these uses is disgusting. There are many other devices, priced more effecively, that allow for all the same exercises in education as an "iDevice", and cost far less. ANY district or school system that doesn't fully evaluate the other players, such as the Amazon Fire at $199, should be looked into, as I'm finding that more and more, district officials (aka, Superintendent and BOE) are being "compensated" for converting their districts from Microsoft to Apple. Furthermore, the linked "study" should NEVER have even mentioned "iPads", as their premise is that "e-ink" devices are a value in classrooms, and while they might have used them in the study, the singling out of the iconic name iPad drives the reader to assume that this is the ONLY device that will value student education. Let me know if you'd like more information, I can provide plenty of it. Sincerely, Ipad's are a waste of taxpayer dollars.
on Oct 9, 2011
Just a point of fact, in the linked "study", the fact that the author stated about "E-book pricing is considerably lower than traditional textbooks" is false. Anyone that has an e-device and has purchased ebooks online, textbooks or paperbacks, has noticed that rarely are e-books "considerably" discounted versus their traditional medium, and in many cases, the pricing is identical. Now, I will presume that perhaps the author of the study is purchasing his e-books via his schools highly discounted purchasing account, but to us normal folk, buying a $600+ device only to save maybe a few dollars a textbook is insane. What I'd like to see in any of these studies are clear examples of test grade improvements when student education is enhanced with these devices, and as of yet, there haven't been any. We can all presume all we would like, and spend millions of dollars outfitting out districts with e-reader devices, but as this money is coming directly out of the taxpayer, perhaps a bit more research is needed before everyone jumps on the bandwagon. There are just as many studies saying that these devices are a distraction in the classroom, and that educator training is key to using them effectively in the classroom, maybe that's where most of these schools should have started.
on Oct 13, 2011
Hey ByBaylis Clearly you were asleep in the back row as well when the instructor explained the difference between a typo and a spelling error. Your rant about individual learning, Confuscious and "Poesises" has nothing to do with the article or my post. Next time try making a comment on the contents of the article.