iPad as e-book reader: we need more data

The MSc in Security, Conflict, and International Development, was the focus of two papers I presented at the MobiLearnAsia 2012 Conference in Sentosa, Singapore, 24-26 October. This MSc course at the University of Leicester provides an iPad to each student; students are located all over the world, largely in conflict zones.

I presented Mummies, War Zones, and Pompeii: the use of tablet computers in situated and on-the-go learning, and also Embedded E-books and E-readers in  Distance Education. This second presentation is particularly interesting to our Places project, because it shows how the use of iPads in the MSc in Security programme is building on the use of e-readers in Psych and Education  Masters, which was done in the DUCKLING Project. It is great to see how research done in a previous project is being continued and developed, and taking some unexpected turns.

Information assistants carrying iPads at Changi Airport in Singapore

The e-book readers in DUCKLING were pretty basic, the Sony PRS 505, the only model available for purchase in the UK in 2009 which is when DUCKLiNG happened.  We pre-loaded the learning materials, then shipped the devices to students around the world. Because of copyright issues, we could only succeed in including one book on the e-readers, in addition to our instructor-authored learning materials. Time-poor students found the e-readers very helpful to keep up on reading in a convenient, accessible psckage, because they could make use of even 10 minutes during the day. One student felt using the e-reader helped her to focus on assigned reading and achieve better marks in assignments.

In the case of the iPads for MSc In Security, nothing is preloaded; the iPad is simply shipped to the student w instructions to download the free, custom-made app (called ‘SCID’, and it is free in the Apple store). The student downloads the app and has the course information from a single handy source. The student is also given Amazon book vouchers so as to purchase some of the recommended readings for the course.

So far students are very positive about both the app and the iPad, but less positive about e-books on the iPad. One person lives in a country in which Amazon books cannot be purchased. Another person commented thats/he had not yet gotten into the habit of using the iPad for all of the readings.

We need more data to be sure, but in our case, e-books on the iPad don’t seem to be quite as popular as the app, about which students are definitely very positive. Why is this? Is it because we did not pre-install the readings? It does seem clear that in DUCKLING, students liked having the readings pre-installed on the e-book reader. Is it because the iPad is not as easy-on -the-eyes as an e-ink e-reader? We have not asked enough questions yet to make any conclusions at all, but we hope to establish whether the iPad is a successful e-book reader for these distance students.

Finally, we have received word that another distance program at Leicesteer is considering a one-mobile-device-per-student model, but this one may feature not iPads but e-book readers. It would be good if we could get even a bit of data on that one for our Places project as well.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester