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News . Feature Stories . CIA's iPad Curriculum Turns Two

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May 02, 2013

CIA's iPad Curriculum Turns Two

Although it has been less than two years since the initiative's inception, instructors and students alike have already experienced an array of positive outcomes.

CIA's iPad Curriculum Turns Two

By Natalie R. Schrimpf

When the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) incorporated iPads into classrooms of first-year Foundation students during the 2011 fall semester as part of its Digital Canvas Initiative (DCI), it was one of the first art and design schools in the country to utilize this technology as a creative tool in the classroom.

Use of tablet computers is one key component of the progressive curriculum redesign of CIA’s Foundation program, which fosters group-based learning, creative exploration and enhanced classroom problem-solving projects within portable technology environments.

After considerable research, it selected the iPad based upon the myriad ways it is able to support the curriculum – allowing students to sketch, research, word process and collaborate – using more than 100,000 available iPad-specific apps.

And although it has been less than two years since the initiative’s inception, instructors and students alike have already experienced an array of positive outcomes.

In fact, the school has been measuring the success of its usage and documenting ways in which it is being employed by students and faculty. The results are promoted via a weekly newsletter, video documentation, a blog site, and even a YouTube channel.

One of the most notable aspects of the iPad is that it gives instructors freedom to move their classrooms beyond four walls and into the real world.

“Because of its mobility, technology is no longer limited to crowded dark labs
where students are pressing control/alt/delete”, says Scott Ligon, associate professor and coordinator for the Foundation first-year digital classes, “Instead, the iPad has become integrated with everyday life.”

Last September, Ligon and students in various classes attended the IngenuityFest – a local festival that blends art with technology – at which they produced one movie each hour that documented an aspect of the event. Using the iPads they filmed in high definition, edited their work on location and posted their movies to YouTube in real time.

“The sheer flexibility of iPads promotes spontaneity, enabling students to create things they would not have done otherwise”, he adds.

“I see the adoption of iPads as part of a larger paradigm shift in education,” Ligon says.

“These devices are not only portable and integrate digital technology within the real world, but are operated with intuitive gestures and movements, the way that you’d interact with a physical object. This takes away the learning curve, and I see this happening more and more.”

Other instructors have also used it to extend their classrooms beyond school.

Last year, Diana Chou, scholar-in-residence, ventured with her art history students -- iPads in tow -- to the Cleveland Museum of Art. They had an opportunity to observe numerous pieces of art and recreate them on the devices. The experience offered a unique forum for engagement and collaboration.

In fact, increased collaboration among students has become very apparent since iPads were introduced, notes Jimmy Kuehnle, assistant professor of Foundation and DCI coordinator. His Charette class (a project-based design course) often collaborates on presentations using Keynote for iPad, an Apple software application similar to Microsoft’s PowerPoint.

“What’s surprising is that the actual arrangement of many classrooms has changed,” he explains. “Sometimes lectures are the best way to deliver content, but other times there’s a much more collaborative way. The iPad allows students to collect information – sound, video, photography and text – and edit it within the class. And because the screen is large enough so it can be seen from about five to 10 feet, we are often in circles. Before, we would have been limited to whatever we drew on a sketch book page.”

This technology also facilitates students’ class presentations. Instead of having to plug a flash drive into an instructor’s laptop, they can simply plug their iPads directly into the projector.

And the devices are a valuable organizational tool for students.

Ligon immediately noticed an improvement in his students’ responsiveness to e-mails, as the tablets make an audible “ding” sound when they receive them. They also feature a calendar that students use to establish alerts when assignments are due.

“Last year in my digital color class, every student handed in their project on time,” he says. “This never happened to me before in the ten years that I’ve been teaching.”

Freshman Debbie Weidrick appreciates how the iPad allows her to keep track of assignments. It’s especially helpful in preparing for exams.

“Before midterms, everybody always freaks out because the teacher normally won’t give us the preparation materials until a week and a half before,” she says. “But because we have the iPad, we can look at presentations that teachers put on line two or three weeks in advance, and get a head start on studying.”

And the days of paper syllabi are a distant memory. Kuehnle has stopped using a copy machine and hasn’t distributed papers since fall, 2011.

“I know other faculty as well that don’t hand out paper anymore,” he adds. “And the content that I distribute to my students is much richer because it includes color photography, videos and links that I know they’re getting in an easy-to-digest format.”

“The iPads are like having the internet in your pocket”, says Jack Subsinsky, sophomore. As a painting major, this is especially convenient to grow ideas and amplify creativity. “I think the marriage between digital and analog is going to make some really strong future artists,” he says.

“All artists have their interests and influences, and what the iPad does for me is make the whole internet available with photos, stories, history and videos. I would be immersed in my interests on this screen, and then go to the Brushes app and start to doodle. Because the iPad is pixel-based and lets you zoom, you are able to get so much more detail. I started making these really interesting drawings that I was making before, but the iPad brought them onto a new level.”

A versatile technology that is always with the students, iPads can be just about whatever the user wants them to be.

“They are indicative of a larger cultural shift towards integrating digital technology as sort of a superpower for the real world, rather than a separate thing that you use in a dark isolated room,” explains Ligon. “CIA is a thought leader on this cultural shift in education, and one indication of that is the Digital Canvas Initiative.”

Natalie R. Schrimpf is a freelance writer based in Cleveland, Ohio.

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