Contextualizing Student Experiences with iPads in Academe: A Collaborative Exploration of What We Expected, and What Surprised Us So Far (proposal)

Here’s the proposal for an in-house “Teaching and Learning Seminar” I’ll be presenting October 13:

There is no scholarship on the academic use of iPads, because people like us — who have just begun teaching and advising and facilitating with iPads — haven’t published it yet. We can, of course, draw on related academic inquiry into the cultural role of smart phones in youth culture (particularly among African-Americans and Hispanics), the results of similar experiments such as Duke’s iPod initiative, and the general research on tablet computers and instructional technology. After quickly summarizing this related research, I will invite my colleagues to reflect on and share their initial observations and strategies for incorporating iPads into their work. What did we expect of our students and ourselves, and what has surprised us? How have we negotiated what we’ve observed, concerning integration and disruption; engagement and alienation; harmony and tension? What is working, and where can we do better?


Lenhart, Amanda, Rich Ling, Scott Campbell, and Kristen Purcell. “Teens
and Mobile Phones.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. 20 Apr
2010. <> 30 July 2010.

Summary: Teens associate their phones with feelings of safety,
independence, and empowerment. 4 in 5 teens sleep with phones on or near
their beds. Teen girls text more frequently and use more emoticons than
boys; teens feel “obligated” to stay connected; African-American teens
are more likely to text family members or boyfriends/girlfriends; economics of phone contracts have big impact on usage patterns.

Other Pew Internet & American Life Project reports have explored
Hispanics and digital culture, race and Wi-Fi access, and a typography
of technology users that finds mobile technology users are more likely
to create content to share with others, while those who use desktop
machines are more likely to be passive consumers of content. What
educational conclusions can we draw from such findings? How do our
initial experiences with the iPad confirm or challenge such

Luhrmann, Tanya. “What students can teach us about iPhones.” Salon. 30 May, 2010. <> 30 July 2010.

Summary: Undergrads say iPhones make them happier and more
organized. Some caress their phones, name their phones, even fall asleep
in bed with them. 42% say their iPhone is addictive, %32 worry about
addiction, and 34% call them distracting.

In a magazine essay summarizing what appears to be a class activity
(rather than a full-fledged research project), Luhrmann surveyed
students who already had their own iPhones, and found “a gadget loved
not wisely but very well.” Graduate students posted around campus
observed undergraduates interacting with their IPhones, and iPhone
owners responded to surveys and participated in interviews. 75% said
they had fallen asleep with their iPhone in bed with them. 9% admitted
to patting their iPhone, while others were observed caressing it,
cleaning it, and fretting about which pocket to carry it in order to
avoid classes. 24% said the iPhone felt like an extension of their brain
or being, and 8% admitted to formulating the thought, “My iPod is
jealous of my iPhone.” Some (the magazine article does not say how many)
expressed an awareness of an ideal level of iPhone competence, and
worried about only using it as a toy, rather than being a “power user.”

Nielsen, Jakob. “iPad and Kindle Reading Speeds.” Alertbox. 02 July 2010. <>

Summary: Experienced readers are slightly slower on the iPad, but enjoy the
experience slightly more than reading books. Users hated reading from
PCs, so iPads are improvements.

A small study asked highly literate subjects to read a Hemingway
short story in several different formats. On average, those who read on
the iPad were about 6.2% slower than those who read the printed book,
but when asked to rate their “satisfaction” with the reading, those who
read the story on the iPad’s iBook app averaged 5.8 out of 7, just
slightly higher than book readers averaged 5.6 out of 7. These findings
are not conclusive, since the results are so close; but we can conclude
that these experienced readers fond the iPad (and the Kindle) pretty
much equal the printed book in terms of reading speed and personal
satisfaction. Far more important is the fact that the study also asked
readers to look at the same story on a PC, while sitting in an office
chair. Their personal satisfaction with the experience was a 3.6 out of
7, significantly lower than the reaction to reading from the iBooks app.
So those of us who already assign long-form etexts may see a
difference in student attitudes, as students read those texts on the
iPad rather than their PCs.

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