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University Education Researcher Trying iPad in K-8 Classrooms

Through a partnership with a large urban school district in Utah, a research project at the University of Cincinnati will experiment with the use of Apple iPads in K-8 classrooms. The initiative will test the use of 35 Apple iPads to collect educational research in a federally funded partnership to improve teacher quality in elementary math and science education. 

An overarching purpose for the project, however, is to help schools to become greener and reduce the amount of paper shuttled among researchers and stored for archival purposes.

The research project originated with Carla Johnson, an associate professor of science education in the university's College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. Johnson also previously served as director of the Furthering Urban STEMM Innovation, Outreach and New Research (FUSION) Center in the college. (In this case, STEMM refers to science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine.)

Johnson said she'll be providing the 16 GB WiFi iPads to elementary and middle school students in science class to complete pre- and post-science knowledge assessments. The iPads will also be used in her university coursework with future science teachers.

She added that the research project is also intended to show districts how to use technology to have greener classrooms "that no longer rely on worksheets and dated textbooks." In the course of earlier research projects she saw how e-books and online methods of completing and assessing student work have grown exponentially. "And especially in science, students have access to real-time, up to date scientific discoveries," she said.

That in turn inspired her to "take my own advice" and transform the task of collecting educational research data into a streamlined electronic process. "We go through tens of thousands of sheets of paper that are shipped back and forth for this kind of research each year--paper that also has to be stored for five years." A side benefit, she noted, is that the technology will also cut back on the time for scanning all the paper used to collect the surveys and evaluations. Entering the data and analyzing it can take as long as three months. "With the iPads, the data is entered immediately and could be analyzed that same day," she said.

Along with those endeavors, Johnson said she wants to provide her own students--science teachers in the making--an opportunity to be exposed to the iPad. So she'll be taking their "most influential course"--science methods--and deploying the iPads to teach students how to use them in an instructional manner.

"There are many great science apps that are available that students can learn about the night sky, the periodic table, etc. and technology access and utilization still persists to reinforce the opportunity gap for many children of poverty," Johnson said. "I hope that the future teachers who experience my course will learn how to engage students in experiences that will enable them to be more successful in the 21st century and beyond."

The projects will use iForm from iFormBuilder for the forms development and administration. Data will be exported into Microsoft Excel and then analyzed in IBM's SPSS software.

Johnson's work with the iPads will begin in early September 2010.

The three-year partnership with the Utah school district started in 2009 and is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the United States Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

Eventually, the instructor said she expects to mobilize iPads as part of research projects in formation with school districts closer to home. Recently, Johnson worked with the Princeton City Schools to write a grant to create a whole elementary school of students using iPads starting in first grade. She said she expects to hear about that grant in about a month.

Editor's note: This article has been updated since its original publication to correct an inaccuracy. Specifically, Carla Johnson no longer serves as director of the Furthering Urban STEMM Innovation, Outreach and New Research (FUSION) Center, as was previously the case. [Last updated Aug. 5, 2010 at 1:35 p.m.]--David Nagel

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.