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Record Freshman Class launches new era of technology

Anderson University to use iPad in new mobile learning initiative

When a record 530 freshman arrived at Anderson University on August 13th, they received room assignments and schedules like students anywhere, but when they received brand new iPad2s early the next week, they marked the beginning of a cutting-edge initiative not to be found on this scale anywhere in the region.

“We are aware of some instances where the iPad and similar technology is used in specific disciplines, but we are not aware of other institutions in our region that are employing the new technology across the curriculum,” said Dr. Evans Whitaker, Anderson’s president.

Anderson University’s Mobile Learning Initiative (MLI) has been under development for over a year and is the result of faculty research into how the devices, combined with ubiquitous Internet access, can be leveraged to transform a college learning experience that has historically been bound by classrooms and class times into a limitless interactive event that takes the best of traditional learning and expands it to the full capabilities of today’s technology.

“This movement isn't about simply replacing sound teaching with the latest technology,” says Nathan Cox, Associate Professor of Art, and one of the faculty leaders behind the MLI. “It is about augmenting what the AU faculty already does best. Face-to-face, critical discussions in the classroom are combined with highly engaging, collaborative, interactive ways of communicating and sharing information, both within, and outside of class.”

“One of the many things I appreciate about our faculty members is that they fearlessly embrace change, especially when that change positively impacts teaching and learning,” Whitaker said.  “A small group of faculty members led out in exemplary fashion, but many more quickly joined them.”

Anderson professors have been piloting several new programs over the past year to test the capabilities of the iPad and iPad2 as a platform for instruction and learning. Simultaneously, the campus has significantly enhanced its wireless infrastructure to accommodate the technology.  This year, each and every freshman will utilize the devices over the course of their first year classes. Collaborative and interactive learning will get its start in the traditional classroom, but go beyond those limits in a variety of creative ways devised to enhance the college experience.

Cox says, “With an iPad tablet computer, students can carry all of their textbooks for the entire semester on a mobile device that weighs slightly more than a pound - far less than that of even a single printed text. My freshman Art majors will be using an e-text that allows them to takes notes, look up definitions on the internet, add their own course content, make journal entries, take quizzes, and take and shares notes over the air with other students using the same text - all within the book itself. The very definition of ‘book’ is being redefined. Student can now carry entire libraries of information with them wherever they go.”

Is MLI a fad like laptop computers were shortly after their introduction when several high profile universities distributed them to all their freshmen?

Anderson University is convinced it is not.  According to Whitaker, the laptop computer giveaways of the 1990s were for the most part a “hardware fad,” which Anderson University never embraced. 

“In contrast, the concept of mobile learning is really about harnessing the campus-wide availability of the internet with its growing academic resources and putting them in the hands of forward-thinking professors and digitally savvy students to use as a powerful ‘take-anywhere’ tool that will likely transform the way we teach and the way our students learn,” he explained.

Already, Anderson is viewed as a leader in the employment of mobile learning technology.  When Anderson’s provost, Dr. Danny Parker, led an open discussion about higher education trends at an academic conference this summer in Texas, he was pleasantly surprised to learn that many of his colleagues had heard about the initiative and were impressed by it. 

“I didn’t go to Texas to talk about the Mobile Learning Initiative,” Parker said. “But I soon learned that my colleagues were far more interested in learning what we are doing with the iPads than they were in anything else I had to say.” 

This year’s freshman class, which far exceeds the record number set last year at Anderson, will be the first to be immersed in MLI, but each succeeding freshman class will also use the latest mobile devices available at the time until the entire campus is fully leveraging mobile technology for learning.

With 530 new freshman and 85 transfer students headed to AU this fall, the institution will welcome its 6th straight record group of new students. The campus enrollment, which exceeded 2,500 for the first time in school history last year, will likely push past the 2,600 mark this year.



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