Assessment of Tablet Use in an Environmental Science Course

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1 Assessment of Tablet Use in an Environmental Science Course Stephen A. Lewandowski This paper was completed and submitted in partial fulfillment of the Master Teacher Program, a 2-year faculty professional development program conducted by the Center for Faculty Excellence, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of ipad use on student learning and instructor effectiveness in an undergraduate environmental science course. The study examined whether students would benefit from the ipad through two primary functions: the use of environmentally-oriented Apps to visualize environmental systems and allow interactive exploration of data, and general-purpose use in classroom activities (e.g. as a clicker) and notetaking applications. The results of this study did not indicate improved performance in the experimental section. However, the potential for mobile technology use in the environmental science classroom appears promising as limitations are overcome. INTRODUCTION The popularity of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones continues to increase, and developers are rapidly adding to their capabilities and applications. It is no surprise that course directors and instructors are interested in these devices for their potential value as educational tools to reach a technologically-savvy audience. West Point, through its Center for Faculty Excellence, is in the second year of a pilot study to identify the benefits of using the Apple ipad to improve student learning and classroom management. The first year study participants applied a wide variety of applications, but the data showed a mixed review of the devices educational value (Finn, 04 June 2012) Other universities are also in the process of evaluating how to integrate mobile devices into curricula. Reed College published findings from a comparison between the Kindle DX ereader and the first generation ipad (Marmarelli & Ringle, 2011). The Reed study found the ipad more versatile, with multi-functional features such as web-browsing, , and video, but noted these features could also serve as a distraction to students in lecture halls. Reed found that students were enthusiastic about their paper savings from using the ipad, but the authors expressed concern about digital rights barriers from ebook stores using different formats. Sweet Briar College ran a pilot program in and expressed multiple technical frustrations with the ipad including the lack of ability to connect wirelessly with overheard projectors, difficulty providing pre-paid applications to students, not being able to print from the device, and insufficient bandwidth over its wireless network (Marcais & Stinnette, 2011, pp ). Finally, a paper from Norway described the pedagogical potential of the ipad with the ability to 1

2 use multimedia to enhance student learning (Henrik, 2010). This author detailed specific apps that could be used for multiple subjects, and expressed excitement about the opportunities for collaborative and game-based learning (Henrik, 2010, p. 81). This study contributes to West Point s ongoing assessment by testing the ipad s impact on student learning in an environmental science course. The subject of environmental science should be ideal for this type of technology due to its interdisciplinary nature (involving many scientific as well as nonscientific fields). The ipad tools may help students to examine complex problems linking ecology, health, energy and pollution. This study seeks to take advantage of ipad applications for two types of purposes. The first includes environmental-specific applications that allow students to access data sets, review current events, and view maps, figures, animations and videos in more interactive and stimulating ways. The second includes course management applications that may increase instructor effectiveness by improving organization and adding variety to classroom learning activities. This assessment will add to the institutional understanding of how emerging mobile device technology may best support the educational mission and may be used to influence future technology implementation decisions. METHODS ipad2 devices were issued to one of three Environmental Science (EV300) sections taught by the investigator in the fall term of 2013 (15 students and 1 instructor). Students were encouraged, but not required to bring the ipads to class and to take advantage of the tools they provided. The course objectives, requirements, and grading were the same for all sections, with small changes to classroom activities in the experimental section to incorporate the ipads. Control groups consisted of 32 students in the instructor s other two sections and 158 additional students course-wide. The outcomes measured included comprehension of course objectives, student preparation, and interest in environmental issues. The data sources used to asses these outcomes included performance on graded events, a course-wide time survey, and student surveys administered through Blackboard and the West Point Academy Management System (AMS). Statistical analysis and graphics was performed using R (R Foundation for Statistical Computing). The Apps used or demonstrated in class included Student Clicker-Socrative, Leafsnap for ipad (Columbia, of Maryland, and Smithsonian Institution), itunesu, ibooks, ShowMe (whiteboard), Prezi (presentations), news readers including Flipboard and Pulse, and Safari for internet access to websites such as epa.gov. Additionally, the instructor used Evernote and the camera function as a management tool to compile term project documents and feedback. 2

3 RESULTS The use of ipads in the experimental section did not result in improved grades (Appendix II, Table 2) or in more time spent preparing for each lesson (Appendix III, Table 3) when compared with the instructor s other two sections or course-wide. Students in the ipad section did report higher values when surveyed for whether effective techniques were used in class, motivation to continue learning increased, and critical thinking ability increased, compared to the control sections (Table 4). Student attitudes were varied, with some appreciative of the opportunity to use the ipad in class and others less enthusiastic and discouraged by some of the limitations. Example write-in comments: Ipads would be a huge resource if made accessible everywhere The ipad was a great thing for me to have, and I enjoyed using it. But it was not an effective tool as far as scholastics are concerned. This would change if the barracks, all classrooms, and the cadet area in general were outfitted with functional wireless for the ipad. It was just an expensive way to play games and take the occasional note otherwise. I appreciated having the ipads, it help my academics overall with other classes as well I don't think that the expense of the Ipads is worth the marginal benefit that they offer. All of the things that they do can be done more cheaply on a normal laptop. DISCUSSION The students mixed opinions and the lack of measurable improvements in course objective comprehension and preparation time are not surprising given connectivity challenges and the adjustment period needed for familiarization with a new device. None of the students in the experimental section had owned an ipad prior to the study. Furthermore, the time available to demonstrate ipad applications in class was very limited in order to avoid disadvantaging the experimental section by not covering material in the lesson plan. This study period was also the instructor s first time using an ipad. Therefore, many of the potential features were discovered as the study progressed. Strengths. There is a wealth of freely available content on itunesu and ibooks to supplement environmental science coursework. As the semester progressed, I developed a matrix of selected lectures and specific times that relate to our lessons (Table 1). This material provides an excellent resource for students who want to further explore topics of interest or examine other points of view. The videos provide a look into lectures given at universities such as MIT, Stanford and California, Berkley. It is possible to access itunesu content from a personal 3

4 computer; however, the ipad provides a more user-friendly platform for downloading and viewing. The videos and ebooks can be downloaded and viewed and viewed off-line at a later time. The Socrative student and teacher Apps allowed our class to use the ipads as clickers. This function was useful for assessing comprehension at the start of classes, and the students showed a positive response to seeing real-time results. However, I did not find the execution of this feature to be as seamless as a stand-alone clicker system. Students first needed to log-in to the App and a specific room. The program only allowed the instructor to assess one question at a time and required changing screens to reset the voting. Additionally, the projector input had to be changes to display results and the instructor s freedom to move around the classroom was limited by having the ipad tethered to the computer station. The built-in camera feature proved to be very practical as it allowed me to use the ipad as a scanner and to capture board notes. Coupled with the Evernote App, this feature improved file management for group term projects. I could easily scan my comments on milestone submissions before handing them back and keep everything organized. An added benefit is that these files can then be accessed from any location in the cloud, although this type of file sharing program is not currently authorized for download on some work computers. Limitations. The availability of internet connectivity presented the biggest limitation with this study. A network connection is needed just to configure the device and is essential for many of its primary functions. We did not have a wireless access point was established in the classroom until lesson 24, after many of the ecological and environmental health lessons where the ipad would have been applicable had passed. Additionally, students did not have a wireless connection in their dormitory rooms (barracks), which restricted their ability to explore applications without going to the library. These issues contributed to a slow start and reduced acceptance of the device. File transfer and compatibility between the ipad and work computers presented some difficulties. Although the device comes with a USB cable, there are compatibility issues between Apple and PC software. The device lacks the ability to work directly with Microsoft Office files without additional purchases. Password management became a further hassle. Passwords are required to unlock the device each time it is used, to download and update Apps from the itunes store (even free Apps), and to log-in to many of the individual Apps. It becomes easy to mix up which user name, address, and password is associated with each function. Finally, the ipads are expensive and vulnerable to being lost or stolen due their size and value. A student in this study lost his ipad and a financial liability investigation had to be initiated. 4

5 CONCLUSION This study did not demonstrate improved performance in the experimental group. However, the potential for mobile technology use in the environmental science classroom appears promising as limitations are overcome. Future studies that better address technical obstacles and provide enough time for students and instructors to become comfortable with the device may show an effect on student engagement and measured outcomes. Recommendations and Considerations for Further Study. Continue to expand and improve the wireless network available to students. The use of an ipad is very limited without an active network connection. Consider evaluation other tablets and portable laptops in addition to the ipad. The ipad is user-friendly and has a nice display and features, but a device with a Windows- or Android-based operating system may improve compatibility with student computers. Assess the security implications of allowing file-sharing or cloud storage programs such as Dropbox or Evernote on networked computer systems. Identify methods to wirelessly connect the ipad to classroom projectors. I used a very short adaptor for this purpose and could not move away from the computer podium while demonstrating an application. As a property accountability measure, label each device clearly with instructions on where to return if found. Evaluate peripherals such as keyboards and stands that may improve functionality. 5

6 LITERATURE CITED Finn, S. J. (04 June 2012). Center for Faculty Excellence ipad Studies. MADN-CFE. West Point, NY: United States Military Academy. Henrik, V. (2010). ipad as a pedagogical device. Trondheim, Norway: Norwegian of Science and Technology. Marcais, T., & Stinnette, M. (2011). SBC's ipad Pilot Program. Proceedings of the 2011 ASCUE Summer Conference (pp ). North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Association of Small Computer Users in Education. Marmarelli, T., & Ringle, M. (2011). The Reed College ipad Study. Portland, Oregon: The Reed Institute. 6

7 APPENDIX I Table 1. EV300 itunesu Supporting Lessons EV300 Lesson Institution Course Lesson Earth Systems OU-ITU-095: Ecosystems What is an ecosystem? (2:57) UC Berkeley Biology 1B, 001, Spring Lesson 38: Ecosystem processes 2012 (4:08-23:25) Biogeochemical Cycles Food Webs and Energy Biodiversity Endangered Species Wetlands Human Population and Food Environmental Toxicology 1 Environmental Toxicology 2 Fossil Fuels Nuclear Energy Alternative Energy MIT UC Berkeley MIT Harvard Center for the Environment of Alabama Columbia UC Berkeley Cambridge Cambridge Stanford UC Berkeley Princeton Stanford Introductory Biology OU-ITU-095: Ecosystems Biology 1B, 001, Spring 2012 Introductory Biology Biodiversity, Ecology, and Global Change Biodiversity and the Future Biodiversity - Frontiers of Science Biology 1B, 001, Spring 2012 Environment OU-ITU-095: Ecosystems OU-ITU-010B: Genetic modified foods- the issues Lecture 20: Limiting Factors and Biogeochemical Cycles (12:15-44:00) Following the Food Web in Wicken Fen (5:20-7:10) Lecture 36: Food webs (2:25-8:45) Lecture 18: Productivity and Food Webs (41:52) Food Webs in River Networks: Algal Mediated Linkages... (4:20-10:10) E.O. Wilson on "Biodiversity and the Future" (29:15) Lecture 2- Review of Lecture 1 (5:40) Lecture 37: Biodiversity science (3:10-48:59) Biodiversity and Poverty, The Challenge for Conservation (5:00-41:49) The Wetlands of Wicken Fen (4:57) GM Crops (audio, 4:41) Environment Fighting for Food Security (4:07) School of Earth Sciences Economics C3, 001, Environmental Economics Princeton Podcasts OU-ITU-047: Future energy OU-ITU-048: Introduction to nuclear energy School of Earth Sciences Ozone Harvard The Forum at HSPH Connecting the Dots: The Food, Energy, Water, and Climate Nexus (4:37-32:40) Lecture 27: Toxic Substances (10:50-21:00) What's Gotten Into Us? Staying Healthy in a Toxic World (7:30-42:20) Declining Oil and Gas Reserves (4:25) France's nuclear future (12:05) The End of Oil? Moving Towards Alternatives (50:50-1:14:15) SMOG OR JOBS? The Impact of Tighter Ozone Pollution Control on Health (8:55) 7

8 APPENDIX II Table 2. Final Grade and TEE score comparison between experimental and control sections. The TEE score is out of 250 possible points. The ipad section (B1) fell in between the two control sections on both measures. The differences were not statistically significant when tested in a linear model, even after adjusting for the students cumulative academic grade point average (APSC). The APSC was a strong indicator of performance, as expected, accounting for 65.3% of the variation in final grades course-wide. Section A1 B1 I1 N Final mean (%) Grade Std.Dev TEE Score mean (points) Std.Dev Figure 1. Boxplots of final grades and TEE scores for experimental section B1 and control sections A1 and I1. 8

9 Figure 2. Enhanced scatterplot for three EV300 sections (A1, B1, I1) comparing course end averages with student APSC, with boxplots in the margins, a lowess smooth nonparametric regression curve, smoothed conditional spread, outlier identification, and a regression line. Figure 3. Enhanced scatterplot matrix for three EV300 sections (A1, B1, I1) comparing course end averages with student APSC and College Entrance Exam Rating (CEER, based on high school rank and SAT or ACT scores). Incoming APSC was a better predictor of EV300 grades (upper-right square) than CEER (middle-top square). 9

10 APPENDIX III Table 3. Time Survey. Student reported time spent out of class per lesson. The ipad section reported the lowest preparation times. ANOVA analysis indicates that the sections do not have a statistically significant difference at α=0.05; however, at least one section is different at α=0.1. All section and lesson averages are well below instructor expectations for out-of-class reading and assignments. The numbers do not appear to fully account for time spent on term project studies and other course requirements. Section A1 B1 I1 Total time, 40 lessons [min] 15,090 10,975 16,340 Student * lessons Average time per lesson Table 4. Student Semester End Survey Results (Likert scale). Section B1 received ipads. Section A1 B1 I1 Course Question A A B E A2. This instructor used effective techniques for learning, both in class and for out-of-class assignments. A6. My motivation to learn and to continue learning has increased because of this course. B2. In this course, my critical thinking ability increased. E4. I can identify social, political, economic, and technological effects of human actions on natural systems. 10

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