Spanish department integrates iPads into Downtown courses

IPAD ACADEMICS: A student navigates the Blackboard application on an Apple iPad, one of the many educational tools available for mobile learning. The Downtown ASU Spanish Department has begun integrating the new technology into its classrooms, a move that is being met with mixed feelings. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

Some ASU students now have the opportunity to use iPads in class on the Downtown Phoenix campus, but not all are seeing the immediate benefits.

The Spanish department on the Downtown campus purchased 12 Apple iPads for students to use in lower-level classes. Students use iPad applications to help them explore countries they are talking about and give them a multimedia approach to learning.

“It’s a good step forward, but it’s so limited because it’s an iPad and not a real computer,” said Brett Cowett, a freshman who uses the iPad in Spanish 102 this semester. “It seems like just a novelty [rather] than something that can really be used.”

Last spring, Peter Lafford, director of the Language Computing Laboratory at the School of International Letters and Cultures, first suggested using the iPad in lower-level Spanish classes. They were first introduced in the fall.

Instructors use the tablets in the first hour of each class. The 100-level classes use Google Maps and Google Earth to virtually tour Spanish-speaking countries.

At the 200 level, students are assigned a group semester-long project in which they choose a country to focus on and then virtually visit to create a video journal.

Lecturer Michelle Petersen, who also coordinates all lower-division Spanish classes on the Downtown campus, said it’s hard to measure students’ progress with the iPads since they’re very new.

“We have not had a lot of time to incorporate them,” she said. “However, student feedback has been positive.”

Gabrielle Castillo, a freshman taking Spanish 102, said the department is progressing by using the new technology.

“It opens doors for students, allowing them to become familiar with newer technologies,” she said.

Junior Johnny Gutierrez, who used the iPads last semester, said he didn’t benefit from the new technology.

“Everything you could do on it you could do on a Mac, so I didn’t see the point in us using them,” he said. “They weren’t for our best interest. I don’t really think that they are beneficial because just about every student has a laptop already.”

Sophomore Justin Beatty said he didn’t agree with the decision to purchase the iPads.

“If they were our lab fees then I think that they were a waste of money,” he said.

If the iPads were used in different ways, they could have led to more student success, Beatty said.

“The professors seemed as though they were just kind of given them without any specific plan or anything,” he said.

Since the introduction of the iPads, the Spanish department has been trying to find innovative ways to incorporate them.

“We’ve been investigating what are the best ways to use them,” Petersen said. “Our investigation is still on-going … We are always investigating programs and how to use them in class.”

Reach the reporter at ctetreau@asu.edu