The lead professor gathered the students together for one of the planning meetings for the trip. On a table next to him, he piled all of the books, laptops, writing supplies, cameras etc. that would be needed for the students’ course work. As he talked in detail about the weight limitations for international travel, the students cringed at how this mountain of supplies would leave them with very little extra space for much more than a tooth brush and an extra pair of socks. He then “brought the house down” as he pulled an iPad mini tablet from his back pocket and said, “But wait … what if instead … you only brought this device in place of this mountain of supplies?” Cheers, great sighs of relief and even dancing broke out as the students realized that their world had just been rocked.
Beginning in Rome and winding their way though Europe, this trip was focused on Political Science, Art and Philosophy course work along with a clear sense of being “in country”. The technology, that in the past was viewed with suspicion as a distraction to students immersion in culture, in most cases enhanced the student foreign travel experience. Sometimes the pure novelty of the tools became a conversation starter with fellow travelers and shop keepers. The apps used for writing and navigation helped the students to reflect on the experience in a rich way with pictures and video that they said brought a depth to their learning experience. In the middle of the adventure, students went off by themselves on a three day pilgrimage. Their reflections on this journey showed how these small pieces of Apple branded technology were invaluable in helping them document, reflect on and most important, not get lost. They came one by one to meet together for an evening worship service at an old cathedral in London at sunset. There would be much time to share their experiences when traveling alone but here, in this centuries old building, with their tech tools stowed away, the students and professors were once again a family.
The logistics to pull off a pilot project like this required close work together with the professors, students and of course testing the technology. The main focus of any of these pilot projects in faculty innovation is the impact on the professor pedagogical goals and not the “cool” factor of the devices or tech solution. In this case, we were all pleasantly surprised at how strategic the students were in their use of these tools. It is a finding of my research on the impacts of mobile media technologies that when used strategically, the distraction effect of technology is greatly diminished. You can read the full report of this academic technology adventure in the global village. Winston Churchill may not have had an iPad but if he did, he probably would have used it in the very same way that this traveling group of students and professors did.