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Free ‘trinkets’ while courses cut: union condemns UWS iPads plan

The academics union has condemned a plan by the University of Western Sydney to give away 11,000 iPads as part of a $35 million…

All new UWS students will be given an iPad next year as part of a plan to boost learning innovation. AAP

The academics union has condemned a plan by the University of Western Sydney to give away 11,000 iPads as part of a $35 million bid to keep its content and teaching relevant to students.

All new students who enrol to study at UWS in 2013 will receive an iPad, and some 1500 academic staff will also receive a tablet device for use in teaching. Existing students will receive a subsidy of $50 to go towards textbook purchases.

The investment is part of a broader initiative that will include more flexible study options and interactive learning.

“It’s just common sense to make sure the programs we offer our students are current, and really importantly that we’re using all the strategies we can to prepare our students to live and work in a wireless world,” said Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, UWS pro vice-chancellor of education.

Professor Krause said the materials developed for use on tablet devices would be as platform agnostic as possible so that students and staff with alternative devices could still access learning materials. However she said a recent survey conducted for the university found only 5% of students owned a tablet device.

However, NTEU NSW Division Secretary, Genevieve Kelly said that the University of Western Sydney should reverse plans to cut Arabic, Italian and Spanish courses instead of offering free iPads.

“Giving every student and staff member a fourth-generation iPad comes at an unacceptable price,” she said in a media release issued by the union.

“Technology, however trendy, is nothing without content.”

Dr Rosemary Suliman, who taught Arabic, was quoted in the union press release as saying the iPad plan showed contempt.

“Do they think we can be bought off with a few trinkets while important community languages like Arabic, Italian and Spanish are being cast into the dustbin of history?” she said.

However, Dr Phillip Dawson, lecturer in learning and teaching at Monash University said providing iPads to students is an easy, albeit expensive way for UWS to help level the digital divide.

“If I were a potential student choosing between UWS and its competitors, would an iPad change my mind? It’s more than a bribe, it’s a message to students that this sort of technology will be an integral part of the learning experience at UWS,” Dr Dawson said.

However he cautioned that an improvement in learning outcomes could only be expected if a technology introduction was accompanied by a change in the ways academics taught.

“To be successful this will require a positive attitude on the part of teachers, as well as substantial time investment in the curriculum and pedagogy changes necessary to make the most of the iPads. UWS has announced substantial support for teachers, so hopefully this will lead to positive teacher attitudes.”

Professor Krause said the university’s aim was still to offer the best face-to-face learning, with investment in IT infrastructure designed to complement on-campus learning.

“We’re not going fully online. We won’t be a fully distance provider, that’s not the goal… But whenever students are off campus they will have access to online materials,” Professor Krause said.

UWS also expects to participate in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement in future.

“We’ve got staff developing their own MOOCs within the curriculum, so it features well and truly on our radar,” Professor Krause said.

“Certainly we want to look in-house first to see what we can do…but where relevant and appropriate we’ll partner.”

For now, Professor Krause said the university would focus on measuring the impact of its current initiative on student learning experiences and outcomes, including measuring the impact on grades.

Join the conversation

40 Comments sorted by

  1. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Why iPad?

    They are almost double the price of other tablets now available, and someone is basically paying for the name by buying an iPad.

    Android now has almost 300,000 apps available and Android requires less proprietary programming than iPad.

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    1. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Something like the Asus Transformer would have been a better device as it gives the best of both worlds with its detachable keyboard. There would probably be a few issues with alternatives.

      *Volumes: Asus moved less than a million worldwide, Samsung 2.5 million 2nd quarter. Anecdotally, I noticed there were constant supply issues - I spent ages ringing around for one for myself. Samsung is probably the only one with a decent supply chain to manage it confidently. It'd be a struggle to recommend their offering over the iPad other than not being locked into the apple ecosystem.

      *Integration: Single device, single manufacturer to deal with, less tech support. Being a fully integrated platform (and a walled garden) I can see it would be more attractive from a support point of view.

      *Apple has always had a cozy relationship with education in australia. I wouldn't mind betting they got some subsidies to use iPads.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Ben Neill
      “Apple has always had a cozy relationship with education in australia. I wouldn't mind betting they got some subsidies to use iPads.”

      I would agree with that, and similar with Microsoft.

      Apple will get their money back, as does Microsoft

      I believe any software developed for the iPad has to be bought from an Apple store where Apple takes a cut as commission, while software can be developed to produce an app for Android, and it does not have to be sold through the Google play store.

      If the tablet is fully imported, and the software is also imported, then there is no input from Australia, and that was seen with the laptops for high school students in many Australian states.

      All laptop hardware was imported, and all software was imported, with nothing at all from Australia, while the Australian taxpayer paid for the lot of it.

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    3. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      @Dale Bloom As far as software goes, I suspect that anything written specifically for the university would be supplied as a 'free app' and funded via uni fees.

      Third party paid apps would certainly be subject to Apple taking their cut as it does increase eyes on the app, provides a unified payment and is probably going to result in *far* more sales than just advertising via the net.
      As an Android app dev myself, I have no real issue with paying for my spot in the play store although 30% seems a tad steep.

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  2. Chloe Adams

    writer

    To me this just reeks of marketing.
    No one really needs an iPad to excel academically.
    But if they're handing out iPads, then they should hand out keyboards as well. Typing on the iPad is a bitch of an experience.
    Great for YouTube though.

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    1. R Thomas

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Chloe Adams

      It's good to give away aiding tools to students-US & UK have been doing it for years; Australia's behind in that aspect. Also, technologies have shifted everything including blended learning and in next 10 years, it will be mostly online. That would be the trend in most US high schools by 2019 itself which can be seen under http://www.knewton.com/blended-learning/. Technologies are shifting manufacturing, retail, legal, admin sectors and the dying careers within next 10 years are in admin (data entry…

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    2. Chloe Adams

      writer

      In reply to Chloe Adams

      @ R Thomas,
      I can appreciate that technology is necessary, but it still doesn't add to academic results. Schools have tried and failed with laptops and there is no definitive research to say that school marks increase.

      I don't see how social media enhances one's academic performance. If anything social media has a detrimental effect.
      What you're mentioning is not directly related to academic study. Students don't need Facebook or Linked In to complete assignments. They need a well designed…

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  3. Iain Paterson

    Graduand

    Good morning all, I'm a graduand of the institution with the big media release and impressive news. I'll be sending an email to Professor Kerri-Lee Krause et al. regarding their new found esteem for flexibility and innovation.

    Response pending I'll post further in this space with an eye to some places The University of Western Sydney may have overlooked that are overdue a little innovation and indeed resourcing.

    Fondest,

    Iain

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  4. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    Didn't a school of the University of Adelaide try this a while ago? Several US universities and colleges have adopted such a policy over the last few years.

    I agree with Dawson: the crucial issue is the extent to which this is supported by academics changing their teaching, about which I am deeply sceptical in exercises of this type.

    I also agree with Chloe Adams: trying to write on iPads is wretched. You can get a an accompanying keyboard, but once you've done that you might as well bring in your laptop with all your files and full functions. If I were a UWS student I'd return the iPad and submit an order for a few more (e)books.

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  5. Sean Manning

    Physicist

    The iUniiversity of Adelaide tired this to boost science enrolments. It failed.

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  6. Simon Pyke

    Assoc. Prof. at The University of Adelaide

    Actually it is the Faculty of Sciences at The University of Adelaide... We have given ~1800 iPads to commencing students since 2011 and will be doing this again in 2013. Has this been effective? Well enrolments are up, and both retention and student satisfaction have improved (students really appreciate the 'anywhere, anytime' capabilities of the device). It's worth noting that we didn't just drop the iPad technology into our existing curriculum - substantial curriculum reform and changes in pedagogical practice are the real drivers here. I'll be watching developments at UWS with interest.

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  7. Tim Niven
    Tim Niven is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Chinese Student and EFL Teacher at Tzu Chi University, Hualien City, Taiwan

    They just axed their economics department - an internationally renowned "heterodox" economics department. Because "they couldn't afford to keep it."

    I guess universities really are losing their minds. Who cares about academic excellence - look kiddies, we've got shiny new toys for you!

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  8. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    In the 2012 excellence in research for Australia assessments University of Western Sydney's economic theory was rated 1 - well below world standard and its applied economics was rated 2 - below world standard. UWS didn't submit enough outputs to be assessed in the other 2 fields of economics.

    I presume that UWS cut its economics department mainly because it couldn't attract enough students.

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    1. R Thomas

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      It's good to give away aiding tools to students-US & UK have been doing it for years; Australia's behind in that aspect. Also, technologies have shifted everything including blended learning and in next 10 years, it will be mostly online. That would be the trend in most US high schools by 2019 itself which can be seen under http://www.knewton.com/blended-learning/. Technologies are shifting manufacturing, retail, legal, admin sectors and the dying careers within next 10 years are in admin (data entry…

      Read more
    2. Tim Niven
      Tim Niven is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Chinese Student and EFL Teacher at Tzu Chi University, Hualien City, Taiwan

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Problem is there's more to consider than simply student numbers. There are public goods here, which obviously don't fit market logic - such as access to this program which, despite what you've said is quite renowned. Furthermore, in this instance, forecasts were supposed to be based on these lowered ATAR entreance scores for sandstone universities - so preference one goes to USyd, UNSW - when they fill up, students filter back our West.

      http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3626129.htm

      It's a question of what we value, not hard-headed financial decision making. As this unbelievable marketing gimmick aptly demonstrates.

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    3. Daryl Adair

      Associate Professor of Sport Management at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin, not sure what your remarks about ERA have to do with teaching. I can't comment on the UWS student numbers either, but that appears to be a more relevant question than one about research rating. Part of the challenge across the sector is to have teaching quality better recognised. Unfortunately, some of the most active researchers don't tend to do much teaching, particularly of large classes at UG level. So a nexus between ERA research ratings and excellent teaching performance, which you seem…

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  9. Phillip Dawson

    Lecturer in Learning and Teaching at Monash University

    Further details on NTEU position: http://www.nteu.org.au/article/Courses-should-come-before-iPads,-says-the-National-Tertiary-Education-Union-13875

    There are a bunch of questions at the bottom of that page that are worth considering:
    "Will students be given an iPad to keep? Or will the iPad remain the property of UWS? How will this be administered? At what cost?
    Will the university wireless infrastructure be upgraded to cope with presumably higher traffic? Such upgrades are necessary anyway…

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  10. Cameron Murray

    logged in via Twitter

    Who would have thought that competition in the University sector would lead to marketing gimmicks and race to the bottom. We have all seen how competition works in the media (the same generic gimmicky nonsense on all TV channels).

    Maybe a different structure might helps maintain a focus on quality and integrity in research and teaching.

    Or maybe we should see this as a success and start a competitive private market for primary school - lollies and cartoons to attract new students?

    /rant over

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  11. Sean Manning

    Physicist

    How sure are we that the increase in student satisfaction and enrolments in University of Adelaide Science are caused by the iPad scheme and not something else?

    Anyway, my fundamental problem with the whole thing is the subscription to one particular technology from one particular company. If you were to choose a technology based on its applicability to education I don't think iPads would top the list. However, if you're simply out to appear trendy and draw in students with a fancy gift then…

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  12. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    No university can offer all subjects. So which ones to choose? Most if not all candidates offer public goods. Economics is offered by many other universities in Sydney which presumably also provide public goods.

    If a department's research is poor and it attracts few students why continue to allocate resources to it in preference to much more successful areas, and indeed, in preference to improving the whole institution's teaching-learning?

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    1. Tim Niven
      Tim Niven is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Chinese Student and EFL Teacher at Tzu Chi University, Hualien City, Taiwan

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Daryl's comments as regards teaching are important. I still don't understand why, in institutions that are supposed to draw so much money from teaching students, that teaching is seen as a second-rate activity.

      Research is not necessarily poor as the ERA indicates. For instance, the work of Steve Keen is internationally renowned. As an aspiring mature student of the subject, i would absolutely have enrolled based on that. It is notable their honours students are successful in securing cadetships…

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    2. Daryl Adair

      Associate Professor of Sport Management at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin, it is true that no university can offer all subjects. However, students ought not be penalised because of that. For example, I can't imagine anyone doing a Business Degree at a university that doesn't have a substantial economics component, which (as in the case of UWS) is often delivered by a cohort of teachers in an Economics Department. Is there any prospect for, say, a student enrolled at one university doing a Business Degree but picking up specialisations within that at neighbouring…

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    3. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      If the place cannot sustain an Economics department, its right to be called a university, let alone be funded as one, must be called into question. As a taxpayer, I am not very happy about our money being wasted on places like this. What we can expect from a graduate with a 'degree' from these places really boggles the mind!

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    4. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      "For instance, the work of Steve Keen is internationally renowned."

      Yes, but "internationally renowned" for being spectacularly wrong. So wrong that "The Merchant of Gloom" was last seen shuffling from Canberra to Mt. Kosciuszko as penance for his latest economics balls-up - predicting the collapse of the Australian housing market. If I were interviewing a UWS graduate, I'd want to be reassured that they had not swallow this sort of mystical pseudo-Marxist guff.

      http://www.news.com.au/business/economist-steve-keen-loses-housing-bet-against-rory-robertson/story-e6frfmbi-1225793985120

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  13. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    @ Daryl Adair

    I was responding to the claim that UWS should have saved money on iPads to retain its ' internationally renowned' economics department. On the best evidence available to a person not expert in economics UWS' economics department was weak in research and if it had few students as was reported I am still not convinced that UWS should have maintained its economics department.

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    1. Daryl Adair

      Associate Professor of Sport Management at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I now see that you were responding to a comment from @ Tim Niven. None the less, it seems that we still don't know about the number of students. Hopefully, someone will enlighten us.

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  14. Linus Bowden

    management consultant

    Isn't this the same university where lecturers pretend they are Ellen DeGeneres, and 'dance' to try and teach their students rooly hard concepts, like 'class' and stuff? If the students are too intellectually-challenged to understand 'class', I doubt they'll be able to even get an i-pad to work. Still, once they do get it to work, they can check out Youtube, and learn from their lecturers doing the chicken dance. You Go Girl! Like, Awesome, and, and whatever!.

    Close the dump down.

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  15. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    Once having concluded that an area is weak - which I acknowledge that Tim doesn't concede - I agree that a university should consider several options. I also agree that it is very strange for a university such as UWS with 5,200 equivalent full time students in management and commerce not to have a substantial presence in economics.

    I don't know what axing the economics department means. UWS' web site states that it has an economics and finance program with even an honours program in economics…

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  16. Dejan Tesic

    Former Lecturer at Charles Sturt University

    I fail to see this move as anything other than (not so cheap) marketing gimmick. Perhaps it's just me, but the actual academic and learning benefit from using tablets (outside of specialised software developer courses) is hard to imagine. Critical thinking - "there's an app for it".

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  17. Alan Byrne

    Principal

    I bought myself a iPad mini. I have owned a lot of devices in my life, starting with a TI64. The iPad mini is the best device I have ever owned, but like so many things it depends on your application rather than the device.
    If the iPads are used well they will be a great way to communicate, distribute, collect, update, notify etc.
    The results of the exercise will be very interesting and may set the ground rules for something great in the future.

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  18. Ann Luzeckyj

    Lecturer in Higher Education

    It is interesting to me, at least, that most of this discussion has focused on the technology aspect of the article and so little comment has been made about the loss of language teaching. I appreciate that the introduction of iPads is a very important aspect of the article, but it also concerns me that the cost is a decision to move away from teaching 3 languages which is another blow to the Arts.

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