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So much of today’s public health study occurs in the field, and students require a tool adaptable to any environment. In response, the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health has provided students and faculty with personal iPads.
iPads give students a portable, efficient mechanism to access an extensive array of apps such as survey tools, polling devices and data collection, right at their fingertips. In addition, the compact size, large high-definition screen with touch capability and long-lasting battery life enable them to take the classroom into the real world. They can take notes, conduct interviews, shoot images and research findings while in the field with the swipe of a finger.
“One thing I like most about the iPad is that there are apps, such as Notability, where you can read, make marks and annotate as you read along,” said Bernard Appiah, doctoral student at the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health. “These interactive apps allow you to do so much more than what is possible using just a laptop.”
Providing the iPad option also allows for more “hybridization” of education within the classroom. Students can document findings on their laptop or on paper while viewing a PowerPoint or graphic from their iPad, all while in the field doing research or in the classroom.
“We’ve entered into a new era in teaching with the use of iPads,” said Antonio A. Rene, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate dean for academic affairs at the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health. “You’re no longer confined to the four walls of the classroom.”
The iPads allow professors to utilize a “flipped classroom instruction model,” said Dr. Rene, where students are expected to watch, read or listen to their lecture outside of class and use class time for practical application of what they’ve learned such as group work, research or even to leave the classroom for field work.
“The assumption when you walk into class is that everybody has looked at the material and can synthesize out of that what they’ve learned,” said James N. Burdine, Dr.P.H., interim dean of the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health.
“In previous years, my community assessment class would have to spend class time in the library doing background research for projects, researching the various counties,” Dr. Burdine said. “With the iPad, our students now have done all the background research in advance, allowing us to engage in group work and specific project discussion during class with the research available at hand.”
In addition to changing what is expected in and outside the classroom, the style of instruction has shifted in many ways so learning is more an exercise in collaboration. As students get comfortable with this form of teaching, they begin having conversations with their peers and engage with the material in a way whereby they don’t just absorb information from the top down but rather between one another, promoting a cooperative learning model.
“Students find they can more easily share information,” said Jennifer Griffith, Dr.P.H, M.P.H., assistant professor at TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health. “Students will find apps, share it with others and show them how to use it, effectively becoming the teacher.”
Using a tablet and other mobile devices in the classroom has enabled the public health students to access various ways of learning, experience working and learning on the move, and bridge the gap between the electronic and the more manual world.
“I’d like us to be a school that continues to be innovative around that technology,” Dr. Burdine said. “This is an instance where we are teaching students on next year’s technology and waiting on the workplace to catch up. The apps and mobile devices are the workplace of the future.”
Integration of the iPad into the classroom environment isn’t about the eradication of other forms of information gathering and processing, but rather assimilation of new technologies with successful strategies of the past to transform how we understand classrooms today.
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