Embracing technology in a digital age

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

Many college students, or their parents, could tell you know just how expensive course texts books and materials can be. Now, a new program at the University of Notre Dame is attempting to bring the cost of education down by doing away with physical books altogether.

“First semester freshman year I paid around 550 dollars for all of my text books, total,” said Notre Dame senior Ben Noe.

The university is trying to lower that number by integrating some of the latest technology to hit the market.
For the past three years and effort has been underway experimenting the best way to replace textbooks with tablets.

Notre Dame Professor Elliot Visconsi is spearheading an iPad test class this spring on freedom of expression in a digital age. In conjunction with MobileND and the Hammes Bookstore, students in Visconsi’s class use iPads for note taking, reading, and other projects.

“We partnered with the bookstore this time and made it a lease, so they obtain the iPad just like any other course material from the bookstore,” said Jon Crutchfield, program manager of MobileND,

Even though iPads are not cheap at the retail level, the course is saving students money.

According to Visconsi, “Our goal when we started this program was to give the students the opportunity to test a new technology, that we thought would lower the cost of content and give them a better, interactive, more exciting experience.”

The rental fee for the iPad is only about $70 for the entire semester. That cost includes all of the course’s downloadable materials, a feature that many of the students find to be very convenient.

“Instead of buying expensive text books that we barely use, we have something that is actually useful and can be used in class and you can take notes and annotate in the margins and things like that” Noe added.

The digital textbook was created by Professor Visconsi and his teaching assistants. In addition to digitally highlighting the text, the iBook serves as an interactive platform complete with video clips, sound files and web links.

“You take notes in the course text book and then this app aggregates them all, so these are all your highlights if you take notes it will all aggregate it here for you to study,” said Visconsi.

Students also utilize iPad apps to stay connected outside of the classroom.

According to Visconsi, the class has integrated social media in sharing and conversing about the course material, saying “Twitter is one of the tools that we use to communicate with the class as a way of sharing links as a way of sharing comments and news articles and it creates a live public discussion.”

Instead of in-person discussion sessions, Visconsi’s class uses the online platform Google Plus to host interactive dialogues throughout the week.

“One of the nice things about the iPad, as well as these interactive tools, is that it allows the students to be constantly on,” Visconsi added.

Members of the class seem to like the flexibility of the class’ online dimension, “I think it really contributes to a different kind of learning where you are always learning,” said Noe, “rather than just sitting in class and then going home and forgetting everything that you learned.”

Just as calculators once revolutionized math classes, these tablets are leaving their mark on the subjects.

Professor Visconsi seems to believe this type of class is the first of many for universities as they continue to embrace technology, “I think it is likely in the next two to three years that most student content such as text books will be digital, it will be born digital it will be custom created. And that the path of the print text book will become increasingly narrow and more specialized.”

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