Northwest College uses iPod touch as instructional tool

Posted 9/17/09

The other is Craig Satterlee, associate professor of photography and coordinator of the college's photography program.

“It's a new project,” Satterlee said. “We're proud of it and excited about it, and I think it's going to be …

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Northwest College uses iPod touch as instructional tool


Students aren't asked to put away their iPods during Micah Humphreys' agroecology class at Northwest College — they're required to have them handy. Humphreys, NWC assistant professor of agroecology and range management, is one of two instructors at the college who are using iPod touch technology in a pilot program to enhance students' learning.

The other is Craig Satterlee, associate professor of photography and coordinator of the college's photography program.

“It's a new project,” Satterlee said. “We're proud of it and excited about it, and I think it's going to be successful.”

Humphreys said he believes Northwest College is the first college in Wyoming to try the technology in the classroom.

Humphreys said he and Satterlee made a presentation to the NWC Academic Computing Committee, which agreed to let them use the new devices to explore possibilities provided by iPod touch technology.

“We had them come in and demonstrate,” said Committee Chairman Floyd Young. “One of the fun things we did was give us each an iPod touch so we could have fun with it and play with it for a little while. We each got one checked out to us ... and they showed us how it would work. It was just an amazing tool, so we gave the go-ahead, and now they're doing it.”

Humphreys and Satterlee purchased 24 iPod touches with money from a Title III grant, and two companies donated protective cases for them.

Students in Humphreys' agroecology class and Satterlee's Portfolio I class each received one of the devices and signed an agreement saying they would pay to replace them if they were lost or were unusable when returned.

Humphreys said the iPod touch, along with the college's recently-improved and expanded wireless network, provides much of the computing ability of a laptop computer in a hand-held, pocket-sized device.

“These things ... are so much more powerful than computers were, even five years ago, and can do things those computers couldn't. Technology is advancing rapidly, and Northwest College wants to keep up with that and see how it can be used for educational purposes as well.

“We can run applications on these devices. We can access the Internet through a Web browser that's really functional and looks like a Web page on a computer.”

He said he plans to use them in his agroecology class “to give them access to almost all their material for classes: Lectures, news, videos I want them to watch. They can access all their course material.

“In the lab portion, we memorize a set of plants. Instead of having them come in and look at old, dead plants in the lab, I made a YouTube video of the plants when they were living.”

Students then can access that video on their iPod touches.

Both instructors said one of the devices' most useful functions during class is a student-response system, through which they can ask questions about the day's lesson and get immediate feedback from students.

“I can put that question overhead on the board and see the results instantly on the board,” Humphreys said. “All students are required to answer. It's not like when some students just nod their heads. Everybody in class can see how many people voted answer A, B, C or D.”

If most of the students chose the correct answer, “I can say, ‘Most of you are getting this concept.' But if greater than half get the wrong answer, I can say, ‘We need to back up and cover this again.'”

Satterlee said he can put photo images on the smart board during his portfolio class and have all the students rate them from from one to 10.

“The software will accumulate all the information and drop it in a pie chart right way. It's easier to talk about when people don't take it personal; they don't really know how each person responded.”

The technology also has other advantages for photography students.

By loading their best images onto the devices, students can have photo portfolios with them, and can show them to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The iPod touch also can be used out of class to show videos or podcasts, coordinate schedules and to retrieve camera manuals. It can serve as a remote-control device to trigger electronically-controlled camera shutters.

In addition, “They're coming out with compact flash cards that are wireless,” Satterlee said. “I could probably take pictures on my camera with my Wifi flash card, and they would instantly download to my iPod.”

The iPod then could be set to instantly transfer the images to a home or office computer.

“Then you wouldn't have to worry about it. You could check them on the spot, then upload them without having to have a laptop.”

Humphreys said he and Satterlee plan to keep people updated on the project.

“Craig and I are excited, and other faculty and staff are interested in it,” he said.

But, he added, “We're not 100-percent sure iPod touch is going to be the device that's going to rule education for the next 10 years. It could be something from Google or a netbook computer.”

He noted that Scott Horton, NWC instructional technology coordinator, is doing a project with netbook computers.

Satterlee added, “The future is bright. We just don't know where it's going yet.”