More details please!


According to a story in Palo Alto Online, the Stanford Medical school will be rolling out iPads to its incoming class. Apparently, the devices will be used to hold electronic versions of medical textbooks. The article quotes Dr. Prober, an associate dean with the Stanford medical school. It’s interesting to note that this program doesn’t appear to be based on any real insight into how medical students learn; instead, the standard enumeration of putative advantages of multimedia are trotted out, including “virtual cadavers for dissection labs.” Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear from the article whether the iPads will do anything but display textbooks (no specific app for doing that is mentioned, however).

Research hypotheses?

It seems odd to me that another associate dean is quoted as saying

“We really don’t know yet how the incoming medical students will use them,” said Dr. Henry Lowe, the school’s senior associate dean for information resources and technology.

While it’s undoubtedly true that all uses of these devices cannot be anticipated, and that un-anticipated uses of the device often offer considerable insight into what actually works and what doesn’t, it seems naive to launch such an experiment without having some understanding of the students’ work practices.

Improving reporting

As the number of such experiments and their coverage in the press increases, it would be good to see more thorough discussion of the applications the students are expected to be using for the coursework, rather than just mentioning the devices and the fact that textbooks are somehow involved. It would be more informative to report on whether students would be using an integrated application, or a suite of applications, whether these are commercial (and if so, which ones) or custom software developed for or by the university.

Journalists interested in this topic should also try to report on the outcomes of such experiments which often seem to have much less fanfare than the distribution of the devices. As documented on this blog (e.g., here and here), these kinds of deployments have often failed to meet students’ needs, but it is not clear that cumulative learning is actually taking place among university administrators enamored with shiny new devices.

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  4. Mark Taormino says:

    Hi Gene:

    It’s one thing for journalists to speculate, but I’m a little stunned that academic professionals proceed without any evidence! It’s also ironic that a medical school that is so dependent on the scientific method of research would deploy a technology without any idea of the expected benefits. Now surely, no one here will get hurt, but to me, this is not a responsible expenditure. If this was to be a true piece of empirical research that would be one thing, but this does not seem like a very organized and thoughtful approach. Perhaps they need to read some of your earlier XLibris research articles to understand some of the pertinent issues! Just understanding more about annotations and cross document referencing would be a good start. One would think that active reading practices are essential to the success of medical students. I expect more from educational leaders to resist technolust, and continue to be surprised how educators are sometimes the worst examples of using technology responsibly.

  5. It would be great if some school of education actually ran a series of studies that systematically explored these issues to counter the technological utopianism that seems to have such a significant influence on academic decision-makers.

  6. Mark Taormino says:

    Sign me up for that job!!! There are actually many important voices out there from schools of education. Part of the problem seems to be that marketing muscle more often than not drowns out the voices of reason. Also, as we are witnessing at Stanford, educators are too quick to adopt innovations without evidence of learning value. I would wonder if Stanford spoke with any instructional technology experts on their faculty at all. I would also have to wonder if Apple influenced the key stakeholders as well. The proximity to Cupertino is interesting. In the end though, I think lessons will be learned, albeit perhaps circuitous and unnecessarily inefficient. At the very least, I hope that Stanford is reading your FXPAL blog! This is a treasure trove of information.

  7. […] little while ago I wrote about the lack of details in reports of iPad/eBook use for education; I am happy to point to an article that gets it right. […]

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