The year 2010 saw a major revolution in tablet technology with the introduction of the Apple iPad. Curious about the potential of this new technology for libraries, a group of librarians at Ryerson University in Toronto seized an opportunity to investigate the emerging role of the tablet in the daily academic lives of students.
Project iPad Begins
Project iPad came out of an opportunity presented by the Ryerson chief librarian to a small group of new Ryerson librarians. In early summer 2010, she presented the group with an opportunity to have access to $5,000 in funds to use at their discretion. The librarians decided that since there had just been a major release of tablet technology in Canada, they would conduct a tablet-focused project with a small group of students.
The project concept was to purchase a small number of iPads, select four students to whom the iPads would be given for the academic year, and see how the students integrated the iPads into their daily academic lives. The students would be asked to report on how the iPad enhanced or inhibited their study, research, and learning. As a project requirement, students would be asked to blog weekly about their experiences, and the librarians directing the project would meet with them monthly to track their progress. In exchange for meeting these project requirements, students would be able to keep the iPads at the completion of the project in April 2011.
We decided to select the project participants from the Ryerson University Library and Archives Student Advisory Committee (RULA-SAC), a student committee that meets regularly with librarians to advise them on various issues and activities. Students interested in participating in the project were asked to submit 250-word essays on why they would like to participate. By early December the best submissions were selected, and the iPads were distributed mid-month--just in time for students to have the holidays to get to know their new tablets. Students were asked to do their first blog entry over the winter holidays, and they started their weekly blog postings in January 2011.
The librarians had opted to purchase five 16GB Wi-Fi first generation iPads. Four iPads were handed out, and the fifth was kept as a backup in case one was lost, broken, or stolen. A total of a little more than $300 was spent on applications for the four iPads. They were preloaded with Pages, a word-processing application, and students were provided with an initial $25 iTunes gift card with which to select and purchase their own applications. In mid-February participants were each provided with an additional $50 iTunes gift card as the $25 cards ran out quickly and some pricier applications became available that we felt would be worth testing.
Organizing academic workflows with the iPads. Project iPad provided participants with the opportunity to develop new approaches for time management and organization in their personal and academic lives. Before participating in this project, no team member had previous experience working with tablet technology. As a result, early blog posts featured comparisons between the performance and functionality of the iPad and students' laptop and desktop computers.
The students agreed that the iPad offered superior performance when compared to a laptop. Aspects worthy of note included the intuitive touchscreen interface, quick startup, lightweight design, and excellent battery life (approximately 10 hours). For students lacking data plans on their smartphones, the iPad helped to improve email communication and support group work where free Wi-Fi was available. Given that Ryerson University is located in Toronto's downtown core, a large proportion of students commute to campus using public transportation. By digitizing course materials and importing them into iBooks or a comparable application, the iPad allowed for offline review while in transit. …