Apple’s newest sensation has made its way to Duke as administrators look to change the way students learn and instructors teach.

Through the Duke Digital Initiative, the University purchased 89 iPads last Fall for loan to faculty and students. The program is a joint effort between the Center for Instructional Technology, the Office of Information Technology and other technology-oriented entities on campus. CIT also has a smaller, separate loaner pool from which faculty can borrow equipment for a week-long trial to explore potential uses of the device for their classes. In addition, CIT has provided grants to several University programs to help them purchase their own iPads.

Several Duke professors have incorporated the iPad into their courses. Richard Lucic, associate chair of the computer science department, is using the devices for his computer science course to teach students how to develop applications for mobile devices like the iPad.

“The course is... termed a ‘software project management’ course where the students are learning the process of developing applications all the way from idea conception until delivery of the final project to a client,” Lucic said. “There is no other course in computer science that teaches the whole development process start to finish, and we believe there’s a need for the students to learn that process, and it just happened that we felt that iPad programming would be a hot topic with students.”

The students in the class were divided up into two teams, each of which is working with a client on a project throughout the semester. One team is working with doctors from the Duke University Medical Center to find a way to improve emergency medical care. The other is helping research scientist David Johnston create a multimedia textbook of videos, research papers and audio clips related to his course, Biology 127: “Marine Megafauna.”

“What we’re developing is an application that would allow students to use iPads in the classroom to interact with course materials,” Johnston said. “So many people have iPhones and iPads that we’re hoping we can actually hit onto a demographic that already has the equipment.”

Lucic said he is very happy with the way the class has gone so far and that both the students and clients have been enthusiastic about the results.

Junior David Herzka, a student in the class, said he has enjoyed using his iPad and noted that it has facilitated the development of his team’s project.

“It has been very useful to have a physical device to run and debug applications,” he wrote in an e-mail Jan. 13.

Denise Comer, director of the First-Year Writing Program, is collaborating with two other instructors to explore ways in which iPads might be useful in writing-heavy classes.

“I was very interested in the early stages of electronic reading and more portable computing devices,” Comer said. “I thought about how it might intersect with scholarly writing and reading.”

Comer said she did not have a preconceived notion of how the iPads might be used, but she anticipated that the students would be “creative and savvy” enough to help her find uses for the technology. The iPads are useful during in-class workshops and facilitate real time editing of documents, she noted, adding that she plans on soliciting feedback from her students twice this semester.

“Anecdotally, [the students] have been very excited,” she said. “They bring [their iPads] to class every day even though it’s not required.”