Engaging with students using an iPad
Summary Project lead
The complex and sometimes dry nature of biochemistry meant that a new, fresh and engaging delivery mechanism was required to simplify concepts and engage with students. After experimenting with traditional methods, Graham Basten decided to trial the use of a tablet to enrich the student experience and to help him support and engage with the learners outside of class. This was over 18 months ago using the original iPad. Graham uses the tablet, in situ, in class, as an interactive white board, traditional slide show and allows leaners now to play games to affirm their learning. Outside the classroom it is a one stop shop for engaging with student’s tweets, blogs, emails and grades.
Graham Basten – Allied Health Sciences.
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.
Graham is a De Montfort University Teacher Fellow.
Note: Graham is no longer teaching at DMU.
Objectives and Approach
The primary objective of the project was to use tablets to explain complex and abstract biochemical processes in a more engaging and understandable way. Students were already making extensive use of Twitter and blogs, using the module code as a hashtag, Graham and the students could discuss the course and support each other. Graham also felt that some of his lectures could benefit from being more engaging, as the traditional slide show was sterile and difficult to convey concepts which are dynamic, a typical solution is to use a whiteboard (or chalk and talk), but this has capture limitations. Therefore, a technology related solution was sought that would not only help Graham to contribute to the social media discussions but also help to make his lectures more engaging than using a pc and conventional slide show software.

The technology trialed was an Apple iPad2 tablet computer. This type of device offered a flexible platform with appropriate connectivity for use in class and around the university, thus helping to enrich the learning and ensuring that Graham is able to be in communication whenever and wherever he wants. In class, Graham uses the iPad2 to simplify complex subjects. For example, one lecture focuses on the biochemistry of biological enzymes and the game ‘Pacman’ is an apt analogy for the subject. Graham will encourage students to come to the front of the lecture room and play the game whilst explaining the concept.

Graham will also use the iPad2 as an electronic whiteboard. Using the ‘Penultimate’ application, he makes notes on the iPad2 as he delivers lectures – these are displayed in real-time using a data projector via an Apple to serial connector. Graham then saves the ‘book’ in Penultimate and uploads this in PDF format to Blackboard. The books are saved using the module code and over time, students have access to all of Graham’s electronic notes and diagrams; in a clear and structured manner, via BlackBoard. Should the student also have access to penultimate on their own devices they can annotate the actual lecture notes away from class.

‘Mightymeeting’ and ‘Keynote’ are applications that allow Graham to access all of his electronic learning resources (such as PowerPoint slides) on the iPad2 via the cloud. He will create presentations and content using either the iPad2 or his PC and upload them for use via these apps in delivery. The ‘Peek’ application, along with its accompanying screen cover is used to create quizzes that Graham uses in his delivery. Peek allows the iPad2’s screen to be fully or partially covered by fitting a special cover to the iPad2. By manually folding the cover back, Graham can reveal parts of the screen at a time, facilitating the use of reveal quizzes and also ensuring that students see different parts of diagrams as Graham is talking rather than being overwhelmed by complex diagrams.

Away from the classroom, the iPad2’s connectivity allows Graham to use applications such as ‘Speedgrade’ to access student information regardless of his location or the time. Graham also uses the iPad2 to contribute to Twitter discussions and to read student blogs.

The outcomes of using the iPad2 in class and away from the learning environment are:

  • The students receive a more varied and engaging experience in what could be considered a dry and complex subject.
  • Graham’s time is more efficiently utilised as he has a piece of technology that allows him to keep in touch with his students, access his electronic teaching resources and enhance his teaching in one.
  • The students get to access all of the notes or diagrams that Graham might generate during his lectures in a format that crosses multiple platforms and this saves them having to copy content during the lecture.
  • Graham now runs formal and informal training and dissemination events on the use of tablets within DMU.
  • Results from this study allowed the successful bid of the SAPPHIRE research project, looking at the use of iPad in primary school education.

Student views and feedback:

Two lectures were delivered using PowerPoint, and two lectures were delivered using the iPad2 as described. A questionnaire was used to collect student feedback and views.

The graph shows student satisfaction scores for lectures done using conventional PC “slide based” software (in red) and lectures given with the iPad (in blue) scored out of 10.


Future Developments
In future, it would worth experimenting with different types of tablets and applications. The Apple iPad2 is an expensive piece of technology and all of the applications that Graham uses are paid for. There may be a more reasonably priced Android tablet on the market or there may be other, free applications that could be used.
Links to Graham’s blog entries and presentations about the use of the iPad2:

The iPad was purchased from a successful, pump-priming, pedagogy research grant from De Montfort University.
Thank you to Nick Allsop and his team in APDU.
Thank you to Richard Hall and his team in CELT.
CELT Case Studies
If you would like to have your eLearning practices captured and disseminated in a similar case study, please contact your faculty ELT Project Officer This case study was prepared by:
Ian Pettit
ELT Project Officer – Faculty of Technology