Biology Students Use iPads in the Classroom and in the Field

In Dr. Cynthia Dassler’s classes, students are using iPads to complete assignments in new ways. This semester, Dr. Dassler is teaching Organismal Diversity, EEOB 3320. She also taught a 7-week course, Ohio Plants, EEOB 2210, at the beginning of the semester. In both classes she has implemented iPads in student-driven activities to enhance and support her teaching.

Using iPads in the field in Ohio Plants

Ohio Plants was the first of the two classes in which the iPads were used.

“Using them in Ohio Plants before implementing them in Organismal Diversity worked well because the labs in Ohio Plants were small, allowing each student to use an iPad individually or with a partner. This allowed me to troubleshoot an activity and the workflow before the activity was used in Organismal Diversity, which is a larger class.”

In Ohio Plants, students dissect and identify plants, and observe plants in various communities in the field. Fieldwork allows students to identify plant communities and to begin to evaluate the quality of a habitat, based on the plants present in an area. According to Dr. Dassler, iPads served as an excellent tool with which to perform these activities:

“The first activity that utilized the iPads was designed to introduce students to the plants that grow in prairies and to teach them how to evaluate the quality of the habitat using the plant data collected. iPads were used to record species presence and other supplemental data that the students then used to assess prairie quality through small group discussions centered around the iPad.”

In both courses, Dr. Dassler brought the devices into the field with the students. By taking photos directly in the Notabilityapp, students were able to document the presence of plants and plant structures in the field. This was an efficient means of recording findings, and allowed the students to interpret and discuss their findings while still at the field site.

“This was a popular activity in both classes. I think that field experiences enhance student learning, and, in both courses, iPads provided a means to efficiently document larger amounts of data than would be possible with paper and pencil within the confines of class meeting times.”

Bringing iPads into the Organismal Diversity Studio

Having the benefit of experience from using iPads in Ohio Plants, Dr. Dassler designed similar activities using iPads for Organismal Diversity.

 “Organismal Diversity is designated as a studio course, which means student activities drive the curriculum. The students dissect and make discoveries on their own before lecture is given. Lectures are short, and are used to summarize student lab and field discoveries, and also to extend concepts.”

Most activities in Organismal Diversity are based on the Jigsaw method of teaching, and create opportunities for students to become both learner and teacher. Some of the iPad activities were used to augment this method, including the field activities. While Dr. Dassler originally envisioned the iPads as a sharing tool to facilitate student discussions in small groups and to allow students to project from the devices, some technological limitations in the classroom forced her to create activities that used iPads in other ways. One such example is an innovative round robin-style activity created by Dr. Dassler for Organismal Diversity, using an iPad on each table. Students learned about the relationship between flowers and fruits by observing stages of development from flower to fruit of three different plant species. At each table, groups used Notabiityto collaborate on drawings of each specimen. By moving from table to table, students could learn from others as they saw each drawing evolve. At the end of class, all of the students had collaborated on complete diagrams of each specimen, and they were able to share the finished drawings directly from the iPads. This part of the process is one reason Dr. Dassler likes using the devices: “You can do this same exercise with paper and pen, but the iPad makes sharing easier.”

Using iPads for assessment

In both classes, Dr. Dassler also used iPads as a formative assessment to gauge how students were grasping concepts.

“When we dissected and discussed seed structure, I asked each student to photograph their dissections and then label them in Notability. This allowed me to assess whether they saw the correct structures and how well they understood how seeds developed.”

Students enjoyed using the iPads to complete these tasks, and needed very little training to begin their work.

“Initially, in both classes, we gave them a 10-minute tutorial, but found that it was unnecessary. Students were very willing, and preferred, to explore the apps and figure things out for themselves.”

In the near future, Dr. Dassler hopes to equip the studio classroom with several large screen monitors and wireless capabilities, which she’ll use to create even more collaboration opportunities for students. She notes that iPad implementation in these classes could not have been possible without the help of her cross-functional team, including:

  • Barbara Shardy, EEOB
  • Mike Kaylor, Arts and Sciences
  • Allen Coleman, Arts and Sciences

Below is a list of apps that Dr. Dassler used in her assignments: 

Notability — Dr. Dassler used Notability both in the field to annotate photos as well as for the flower-to-fruit drawing exercise in Organismal Diversity.

 “Notability was chosen because it is versatile, intuitive and user-friendly. It allows students to create PDF files by creating text either by using a stylus or a keyboard, by drawing pictures or diagrams, by importing photos, by taking photos, and by capturing sound.”

Box — Box allows students a place to store and share their work with each other and the Professor.  Ohio State has recently partnered with Box to provide collaboration and storage solutions for OSU faculty, staff and students. Buckeye Box is coming December 14!