By Michael Schwartz, Ph.D
We started an iPad pilot program at the Yale School of Medicine a year ago to provide a greener solution to the large amounts of paper we distribute. As the program launched its first official full year in August 2011, all of our medical students received an iPad 2. A project that began as a way to save energy and reduce paper waste is now giving students innovative, hands-on ways to immerse themselves in their curriculum.
The acceptance of the iPad has been compelling. In a recent survey of students, 84 percent said they use the device in the classroom; 68 percent felt that it benefited their learning of the material and educational experience.
Students have told us that they focus more on the iPad lecture materials than they did on their laptops. In the past, if you sat in a classroom you’d notice that many of the students with laptops would have the PowerPoint of the lecture open, but might also have their email open, and be browsing the Web. Now, if you sat in the back of the lecture hall, you’d notice that the great majority of students are looking at and annotating the lecture slides. This greater focus is related to one of the more interesting restrictions of the iPad: Although it’s a great multitasking device that can run several applications at one time, only one app is visible on the screen. If students are taking notes or annotating the PowerPoint slides, they have only those on the screen.
Students use the iPads to examine, challenge, and extend the curriculum. For example, our first-years are starting to look at Epocrates as they expand their knowledge of drug use, drug doses, and drug selection. When they’re in a course on pathology or cell biology and a drug name is mentioned, they can access information immediately. Prior to the iPad, our students would not have had access to these mobile device resources until the third year.
The iPad also has the potential of increasing interaction and exploration in our small group sessions by allowing discussions to move to where the interest level is, or where the curiosity levels are. These sessions are no longer tied to a PowerPoint presentation or static handouts. With the iPad, students and teachers have more flexibility to move the discussion to different areas.
Our “going green” initiative has had a positive impact on our budget. On average, we spent about $100,000 each year for printed course materials, not including the administrative staff time required to collate and distribute the materials. Our initial outlay to provide iPads to students in all years of our curriculum was around $600,000. However, in the long run, we expect to save money on printing expenses; it will cost less than $100,000 per year to outfit each incoming class with iPads. As an added benefit, we anticipate that students, administrators, and faculty will be able to use their time more efficiently.
The iPads are a wonderful innovation, and as more faculty members incorporate them into their courses, their potential will grow dramatically. The great thing about the iPad is that it allows us to have greater flexibility in our curriculum for meeting our students’ questions and needs, and it provides a source of immediate access to knowledge that will aid them in the building of their clinical skills and decision-making.
Michael Schwartz is the Assistant Dean for Curriculum at the Yale School of Medicine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org