SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Be honest: When you first saw an iPad, did you immediately think, "Oh, a textbook delivery system?" Probably not, but a Slippery Rock University assistant professor of secondary education/foundations of education and a 2009 SRU education graduate are using the electronic devices in just that way.
Jason Hilton, who joined SRU in 2012, and Joseph Canciello, a high school literature teacher at New Castle's Union High School, are combining their skills and their research to help students be better prepared for digital learning by using the popular electronic devices as textbooks and learning tools.
The pair was the recent focus of a feature story in the New Castle News for their work in the school's classroom.
"We are researching the idea of using the mobile computing platform, the iPad, as a new means of increasing learning," Hilton said. "It is a great opportunity to collaborate with an SRU graduate."
"We specifically want students to increase their digital literacy skills," he said. "We want them to learn to better question what they are reading on the Internet, and we want them to learn to create things online," he said. The pair is working to encourage students to use the electronic devices to both improve their reading skills and expand those skills into new areas.
Canciello told the newspaper his class is focused on promoting the improvement of digital literacy and the educational method called "hyper reading."
In "hyper reading" students learn to more readily and easily access tools necessary to improve their reading comprehension and learning experience, he said.
The school district equipped his classroom as an iPad lab, with each student having access to an iPad for classroom work.
"We know that today's students are consumed by media, mostly television, but also from the Internet and all sorts of websites. Of course, the sites vary by degree of quantity and quality, and we want students to be well-informed consumers," Hilton said.
"Overall what we have is a curriculum that is Apple iPad-based - and we use no paper. We have iBook textbooks that are linked to various sources for background information or follow-up study," he said.
"We are working to teach students that where there is some controversy, they should learn to analyze and question external sources and look for the missing opinion or bias from those sources," Hilton said. "Ultimately we want them to synthesize the information they gather into something - that could be creating a movie, some writing, a reader's theater or creating their own kind of play."
The project currently involves some 50 of Canciello's high school students, but could be expanded.
Some of the work involves Twitter. Another portion involves Vine, a mobile service that allows the creating and sharing of short - six-second -videos within Twitter or Facebook.
"That is a chance to see what sort of ability the students at Union High have," Hilton said.
The pair has also already helped others begin use of similar systems in their schools.
"The work also plays to my 'Educational Methods" course here at SRU," Hilton said, "as I work with student teachers so that we can take what is going on in the actual school classroom, I can show them hands-on and research actually forming the practice in the classroom."
"The research is partly based on the student perception of electronic media. They are telling us they appreciate the enhanced tools such as being able to look up a word they might not know. Of course they could have used a dictionary or a thesaurus - but we know they really don't, or won't, do that, but with their devices they can quickly do it, and may then get in the habit."
"It is also a more creative outlet for students. I am seeing them more engaged in their schoolwork. I am also seeing that females are seeing a greater benefit from the technology than males. We believe that males are more into technology and that guys just like technology in general, but we are seeing that the girls are better users of the technology-provided tools. They seem to be more likely to use the tools to find alternative information and that sort of thing is resulting in real growth for females in the class," Hilton said.
"Joe really took the lead on this project by convincing his administration that the iPad lab was useful, and actually better than purchasing textbooks. It is clearly putting his class on the cutting edge," Hilton said.
"The program and curriculum he created is on the Web and available on both a home computer and on smart phones," Hilton said. "We see some students using their smart phones to take notes and then transferring the information to their iPads."
Canciello told the newspaper, "My goal is to continue to empower our students to use technology in creative ways - ways that are conducive to the learning process, which also allows them to create meaningful content."
"Union students are being exposed to technology that will empower them to be future innovators, all while learning in an exciting, fact-paced and collaborative digital environment," he said.
The pair has presented their research, which included looking at how students adapt to learning through technology or digitally-based as opposed to traditional textbooks, at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference and at the Pennsylvania Middle Level Education Conference. In July they will present on digital literacy and hyper reading at the International Society of Technology Education Conference in Atlanta. Their work will be published in the International Journal of Digital Literacy and Digital Competence among others.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.