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​Apple iPads to be Introduced as Learning Tool in Select Fall Classes at UTB

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – JUNE 5, 2013 – Teaching and learning at The University of Texas at Brownsville will take a technology twist beginning with the fall 2013 semester. Professors across some disciplines will present coursework that engages students through the use of Apple iPads.


Senior business major Maria Cisneros from Harlingen thinks using iPads as a learning tool is a timely idea.
This initiative is being led by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“Our faculty is ready to innovate and to transform the classroom experience using technology,” said Dr. Janna Arney, Associate Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs. “We are excited to launch this new initiative and look forward to learning from the students who participate. We have approximately 20 faculty members who are participating this year, and this is just the beginning.”

Dr. Philip Samponaro, Assistant Professor of History, will have students taking U.S. History I use iPads and an iPad-supported textbook.

“The incorporation of iPads will enhance students’ critical thinking skills in reading, writing and communication by accentuating individual participation in the class and increasing contact with peers,” Samponaro said. “Each week, students will create group presentations and then lead class discussions on specific primary source materials included in the textbook chapter under consideration.”

The iPads are further intended to serve as a common device allowing students to collaborate with their peers remotely.

“The iPad will provide the academic networking on the same social networking tools they use to manage their social life,” said Betsy Price, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. “Academic networking will be as much fun and productive as social networking. Along with peers, students will have 24/7 access to faculty and other UTB support staff and programs.”

Dr. Matthew Benacquista, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, plans to use the iPad in a general education astronomy course. Using a mix of his own programming, adapting keynote documents and commercial apps, he is incorporating animations and interactive materials into the iPad curriculum, where he will also place his lecture material into an iTunes U style document.

“A great tool is a sky atlas app for the iPad that will allow students to identify astronomical objects in the sky at home or anytime the sky is clear and dark,” Benacquista said. “I think students will have an easier time translating the abstract concepts of astronomy into the real-world experience of actually observing the stars. This should help alleviate students’ frustration since they will be able to do the observations on their own, without the presence of an instructor. I hope this will engage the students and they will come to class with questions rather than being passive observers.”

Benacquista said he expects students will be familiar with most of the common features between the iPad and other smartphone-type devices. He hopes they will not become frustrated by the technology, and he said there is the possibility for students to become detached from the course itself if the iPad proves to be too much of a distraction.

Through the Center for Teaching and Learning, Apple is providing professional development and technical support to familiarize faculty with the device and its technical learning aids.

“Although we have professional development workshops led by Apple, most of the Apple support will be individual assistance,” Price said. “Each professor will tailor the iPad learning tools with the needs of their classes. Faculty members are excited about this addition, and are quick to share what they have learned with each other.”

The iPads, as property of UTB, will be on loan to each student in the target classes for their use throughout the fall semester.

“The current plan is to retrieve the iPad after the students have completed the course,” Price said. “However, our hope is to have sufficient funding in the future to allow students to keep their iPads when this program is up and fully running.”

Students interested in learning more about classes that will be using iPads should contact the Academic Advising Center at 956-882-7362.
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