UI officials say iPads and smart phone will surpass student laptop use


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University of Iowa technology officials say they expect smartphones and tablets to soon surpass laptop use on campus.

Steve Fleagle, the UI associate vice president for Information Technology Services, said almost 25,000 students used campus wireless services from a tablet or smartphone last semester — an increase of almost 10,000 over the fall of 2008.

And UI officials are taking notice.

"I think the tablet-type use, along with laptops, has really changed how we think about wireless coverage here on campus," wrote Lance Bolton, the senior IT director for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in an email. "The Information Technology Services group has done a great job trying to keep up with demand and even covering some green spaces where students like to congregate and study during nicer months."

UI Registrar Larry Lockwood said he agreed.

"The campus is built for wireless technology," he said. "Most students are now using their computers or iPads to do their work. The university is going to support that."

Lockwood said he expects online textbooks to become increasingly used over the next several years.

Earlier this year, Apple announced a series of developments centered on electronic textbooks.

"Education is deep in Apple's DNA, and iPad may be our most exciting education product yet. With 1.5 million iPads already in use in education institutions … iPad is rapidly being adopted by schools across the U.S. and around the world," an Apple official said in a statement issued by the company in January.

Lockwood said innovators are always looking for ways to simplify educational technology.

"You can't get anything smaller than that," he said. "Constant innovation is what technology is all about. [The UI] will change wherever the students take us."

But, Fleagle said, online textbooks are currently only used by a few professors on campus.

One student said she uses her iPad in class.

"My main use [for the iPad] is to take down assignments," UI freshman Hillary Richards said. But she said she is hesitant to use it for taking notes because she's afraid she wouldn't keep up with the professor.

In a 2011 Nielsen report , 12 percent of the more than 25,000 survey respondents said they own a tablet, while 19 percent said they intend to purchase one within the year.

Some UI instructors said they're aware of both the resources and distractions provided by increasingly portable devices such as tablets.

"You have to be aware of the digital divide," said journalism teaching assistant Shawn Harmsen. "[From the student perspective], if we're in the middle of the discussion, [students] can do a quick Google search if they don't remember something. It can enhance the discussion."

Even though the technology can enhance research in the classroom, he admitted it can also be a distraction.

"There are times that I sit there, and it takes a force of will not to check the Facebook account or the Twitter account," he said. "[From the teaching perspective], it can be troubling when a student is not paying attention. But on the other hand, students have a choice to make. They're choosing to have the laptops, to have the iPad."

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