When the Commission on Presidential Debates selected Lynn University  as the site for the third presidential debate, it probably didn’t realize that hosting the debate would force Lynn to upgrade its wireless infrastructure to accommodate the thousands of reporters who would swarm the campus – and that those upgrades would be significantly discounted because of the debate. This turned out to be just the push the university needed to launch a program it had been discussing for a while: moving its new core curriculum to the iPad.
“We thought we were a few years out, but realized after the debate that we could throw that switch. We’re set up now for a mobile environment in a way we never were before,” said Lynn President Kevin Ross.
University administrators had been eyeing a move toward the iPad for some time. Since revamping its core curriculum , an 18-month process that started in 2006, Lynn has been looking for ways to integrate technology. The core curriculum, called the Dialogues of Learning, is highly prescriptive, ensuring similar experiences for all students, and is grounded in the liberal arts.
“We began to think, what if we could take the liberal arts and make them really come alive through some rich media, and a platform that would allow students to engage in and outside of the classroom, and allow them to engage in a variety of ways based on learning style?” Ross said.
After meeting with Apple representatives and learning more about iTunes U and the iPad, Lynn officials became convinced iPads were the way to go. They tested the technology in a course offered during the university’s January term. One section of the course was taught through "challenge-based learning ," a method developed by Apple that focuses on using technology to apply course content to real-world problems, and used iPads, while the other section covered the same content through more traditional methods. At the end of the term, the students from both sections were surveyed about their experiences and assessed on the subject matter. Turns out, students using challenge-based learning and the iPad were happier with the class – and had learned more.
Beginning in fall 2013, all incoming students will be required to purchase an iPad mini, which will come loaded with the student’s summer reading and core curriculum texts, created by Lynn faculty. Priced at $475, the iPad mini will cost half as much as students were paying for print versions of their course readers, and they will get to keep the device.
Lynn is not the first university to experiment with the iPad or with Apple’s other educational offerings. Seton Hill University generated a lot of buzz in 2010 when it announced  it would be giving all new students an iPad. Other universities use iPads for certain programs: Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine is currently testing  the iPad with its first-year students, Ohio State University experimented with iPads  in a biology class, and undergraduate teacher education  students at the University of Oklahoma all receive iPads. According to Apple, between January and July of 2012, 125 colleges and universities enrolled in iTunes U, a platform that acts as both a mobile delivery method and a learning management system, allowing instructors to create public or private courses, post content, and communicate with students.
Lynn’s initiative, however, appears to be unique in that it draws on a custom-designed curriculum. And like the curriculum, iPad use at Lynn will be standardized across classes.
“This started with our core curriculum development,” said Chris Boniforti, the chief information officer. “[The iPad] is just another evolution, another step.”
Specifically, Boniforti hopes the iPad initiative will be a step toward a “flipped classroom.”
The idea of flipping the classroom might be a bit overplayed in higher education right now, admits Gregg Cox, the vice president for academic affairs. But he believes the idea of focusing class time on discussion, rather than instruction, is a good one. He thinks the iPad can help.
“We have faculty who can achieve the flipped classroom simply by giving students, through technology, ways they can get together outside of the classroom, so when they come into class they can have a discussion,” he said.
The benefit of the iPad, Lynn administrators said, is that it streamlines the process and allows officials to standardize the experience for all students. Instead of preparing content that can be viewed on any mobile device, faculty only have to learn to work with iTunes U. And there won’t be concerns about one student having an app another doesn’t, because they’ll all have access to the same technology.
Josh Kim, director of learning and technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth and a blogger on instructional technology for Inside Higher Ed, echoed the value of introducing a common mobile delivery method across a campus or program. “There are so many advantages when you get everyone on a common platform,” he said. “It allows you to do a lot of innovation, because you know that the innovation you do can be spread to everyone. You can focus on what you want to do and not worry about importing to different devices.”
Lynn officials also intend to ensure students have a common experience by asking the faculty to use the technology in similar ways.
“It will work much like our current curriculum works, and that is there will be some apps required across the board, and then every faculty member has a certain amount of freedom,” Cox said. “What we tell them is in each of their courses, about 50 percent of the content comes from faculty, so we will do the exact same thing with the iPad initiative.”
Lynn gave each of its faculty members iPads before the holiday break, and is currently in the process of training them on how they can effectively use the technology in their classroom. Officials are also working on digitizing the core texts, adding links, videos, and other material where appropriate. Administrators couldn’t say exactly what an iPad- and iTunes U-based class might look like; they’re hoping they’ll learn that as faculty and students put forth ideas and suggest useful apps.
Faculty have been receptive to the idea so far, according to Ross, and some have already started suggesting apps that could be useful for teaching.
“One of the things I like about Lynn is that we’re very nimble,” said Mike Petroski, an associate professor of computer management systems. “We’re constantly adjusting and reinventing ourselves, so it’s the latest, greatest thing and I’m glad we’re on the front end of it.”
Petroski, who is helping train other faculty members on how to use the iPads, piloted the technology in one of his classes last year. At first, he said, he used the iPad the same way he would have used a laptop, but as he became more familiar with the device he found his methods started to change. “I can use it as an interactive tablet, where I can go through all the steps necessary, making sort of a video that can animate all the steps to various procedures or techniques. Then I can upload it so whenever students need it, they have a demonstration right in front of them,” he said.
Petroski has begun experimenting with recording his lectures and creating dynamic presentations, as opposed to static PowerPoints. He also has students use iPads to create presentations and to communicate.
“It’s changed the way I would teach classes,” Petroski said. “I like to think it just brings my classroom work more alive.”
Bringing more life to the classroom certainly falls in line with Lynn’s ultimate goal, which is to increase student engagement. Cox described student engagement as a “major problem,” but said he hopes by “meeting students where they are,” using the technology they’re familiar with, that can change.
“The truth is, students are on their phone, they’re on their laptop, they’re on devices during our classes, but many times they’re not engaged in the course because you’ve got a professor up front talking and they’ve got the notes posted on blackboard and the students feels like, ‘Well, I don’t have to pay attention,’ ” he said. “What I’m hoping to do is take advantage of that. We can say, ‘O.K., I want you to have your iPads out, I want you to be on there looking for this information or this link.’ ”
Ross hopes the program will help students engage outside of the classroom, too. “Why do you have to read on your own and not connect with anyone until you’re back in the classroom?” he said. “What if you could have a robust environment inside and outside so you’re still pinging around the content, even when you’re not in class?”
If all goes well, Cox said he expects a substantial increase once the project gets off the ground.
As different universities have launched iPad programs, a number of educators and technology administrators have voiced concerns  about relying on iPads for course delivery. Specifically, some say iPads are too expensive -- the network and software upgrades cost Lynn just more than $1 million -- that they’re simply a fad, or that they’re not actually adding any value.
But Kim said he admires Lynn’s decision to take a risk, and he believes more universities should start experimenting with available technology. There’s no real way to assess if iPads are too expensive or don’t add enough value if no one ever tries it, he said.
“For Lynn to be doing this, it takes some guts because some people are going to push back, but I think it’s great that they’re really going to try,” he said. “It doesn’t mean everyone should do it, but I think really as a community we should support those that are willing to stick their neck out and try it.”
So far, at Seton Hill, the results have been positive. According to Provost Mary Ann Gawelek, professors have become more comfortable with the technology and now find it helpful, and in some classes, she said in an Inside Higher Ed podcast , the classroom is "almost flipped."