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Learning goes digital with the iPad

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2013 - Spring


Since distributing iPads to all medical students almost two years ago, Yale has become one of the few medical schools that doesn’t give incoming students a single piece of paper. But the value of the iPad goes beyond going “green” and saving money on paper. The iPad, associate dean for curriculum Michael Schwartz, Ph.D., told alumni at this year’s reunion, has revealed new facets of the curriculum and allowed new forms of student and instructor interactions to emerge.

The functionality of the iPad goes far beyond being a mere paper substitute, Schwartz said. Besides PDF slides and notes, students also have access to podcasts, a virtual microscope, and a host of links to web-based medical resources. The medical school’s Teaching and Learning Center has created short interactive videos, similar to those from the Khan Academy, for the iPads. One app on the device, Quizzler, was developed by a second-year student and allows for interactive classroom responses to quiz questions, so instructors can gauge student understanding and adjust their teaching on the fly. With the iPads, when unexpected questions come up in labs, lectures, or during patient care, students can do on the spot research, creating fruitful teaching moments that might otherwise be lost, said Schwartz. Aspects of the curriculum can also be evaluated by students in real time now, with surveys that can be filled out at the end of each unit rather than later at the end of the semester.

With all these new modes of learning available, Schwartz said the effect of introducing the iPads has been transformative. Surveys of students indicate that 84 percent of students use the iPads in class, and that 68 percent say they deliver an educational benefit. Because the iPads can be used during clinical rotations, they have also led to more sharing (for example of test results and x-rays) between medical students, mentors and patients. This sharing will become even easier when the pocket-sized iPad mini is rolled out to students as part of a subsidized purchase plan for the 2013-2014 academic year. Schwartz said the iPad project had been so successful precisely because all courses and clerkships committed to using the same device for all their materials. Focus groups are now under way to evaluate how the adoption of this technology has affected learning and student performance. Ultimately, said Schwartz, the introduction of iPads isn’t about the technology itself, but about creating an innovative learning environment that attracts and engages students.

Medical students in all years received iPads in the fall of 2011 as part of a plan to make the curriculum more learner-centric. Compared with the paper curriculum, giving each student an iPad results in slight cost savings for the school, with the added benefit that it can be updated with the latest slides and notes from professors. Crucially, the iPads have been secured so that electronic protected health information can be generated, accessed, and stored on the devices. With the iPad, each student receives a wireless keyboard (essential for taking notes), a thorough orientation to the device. Curricular materials available for the iPad are updated hourly and can be can be downloaded “on-demand” to the device for use in the GoodReader app, which is the central hub for all parts of the curriculum.