iPads find role in medical school classrooms

Jan. 11, 2011, 2:01 a.m.

The School of Medicine in August distributed iPads to its 91 incoming first-year students as part of a trial to incorporate the device into the school’s academic experience.

Seeking to facilitate student learning, the program has also tried to pique faculty interest in the iPad and develop more content for it, said Jenn Stringer, director of educational technology at the School of Medicine.

“We’re very interested in studying the effects of the iPad on the teaching and learning environment,” Stringer said.

Clarence Braddock, associate dean for medical education, held an “iPad summit” last quarter that convened students, faculty and educational technologists to discuss the role of the iPad in the classroom and how it is impacting teaching and learning.

The school supplied each course with an iPad in order to help familiarize faculty with the technology their students will be using. The school also launched a website called MedApps, which allows faculty and students to find and review iPad apps for use in courses, research or clinical practice.

Even before the iPad trial, students had access to content in PDF form on Coursework, including lecture slides and syllabi, Stringer said.  The program in its first quarter has focused on annotation programs that can streamline notetaking and organize content.

“Different courses found its use was different depending on the type of material presented and how students study for that particular discipline,” Stringer said.

In surgery professor John Gosling’s human anatomy course, a requirement for all first-year M.D. students, students used iPads to annotate anatomical drawings in lectures, but did not utilize the technology much in sections, where section activities demanded students’ attention, Gosling said.

Matthew Mansh, a first-year medical student from Philadelphia, said he finds the device particularly useful for drawing on anatomical structures.

“For doing visual note taking, it’s almost better than paper,” Mansh said.

But while many students have incorporated their iPads into their classroom and study routines, “some people only use it at home to watch Netflix,” Mansh said.

“I think the decision to give it to us was a little last-minute,” Mansh said. “They just wanted to get them in our hands and see how we used it as a study tool.”

While many students find the iPad an effective notetaking and study tool, it may not be for everyone.

“In medical school there’s a lot of information,” Mansh said. “It’s hard to change your notetaking style for a new device.”

According to a survey conducted by the Office of Medical Education, a third of students prefer using old-fashioned printouts to iPads, Gosling said.

But Gosling emphasized that the learning experience in a class such as human anatomy still revolves around visual images, regardless of how they are actualized.

“You go from drawing on the chalkboard, decades ago, to drawing on a computer image,” Gosling said, “But the actual way of transmitting the image hasn’t changed.”

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