Peer Learning Facilitators’ Take on myCSUNtablet Initiative

April 23, 2014

By Kristina Munoz

Spring 2014 marks the second semester of California State University, Northridge students’ and faculty’s conduction of the myCSUNtablet Initiative.  The iPad is becoming a staple tool in the classroom environment within many CSUN departments.

The Biology department is one such department that incorporates iPad usage during class.  The Title V grant’s Peer Learning Facilitators (PLF) within the Biology department are amongst the few who find themselves utilizing the technology tool in aiding students with class topics.

Girar Kolakian

As a Peer Learning Facilitator for Dr. Mary-Pat Stein’s Biology 107: Principles of Biology class, 22-year-old Girar Kolakian uses the iPad to address questions students have concerning a chapter or unit’s subject matter.

His initial feeling of the initiative was wariness.

“At first, I did not think the tablet initiative was the best way to learn,” said Kolakian. “I felt that many of the apps needed to be perfect and it was too technical and

complicated.  I am more of a book person.”

However, Kolakian’s view progressively changed over the past myCSUNtablet Initiative semesters.

During scheduled PLF sessions, he uses the downloaded iPad app Socrative to format questions on chapter topics.  The questions are then sent to the students’ iPads where they choose an answer.  The students’ results are automatically sent anonymously to Kolakian’s iPad.  He is able to differentiate which topics students are more comfortable with and the areas he can aid students in understanding better.

“I can pinpoint where I need to spend more time during my review sessions to most benefit the students’ comprehension and learning,” said Kolakian.

He then projects the anonymous findings in a bar graph to the class to allow them to see how they are progressing on different topics.  He will take snapshots of the questions he formatted with Socrative and email it to all the students so they have a study guide.

Outside of the classroom setting, Kolakian enjoys using the tablet for e-books and taking notes with the iPad app Notability.

“I do not have to lug big textbooks throughout the day and I am able to refer to different books or notes instantly with a swipe,” said Kolakian.

He feels that more progression can happen with the apps.

“A teacher is able to design an exam for students with the iPad app ExamSoft, but it does not allow teachers to formulate questions that require a drawing,” said Kolakian. “I feel that, especially in Biology, students need to be able to draw structures like amino acids or carbohydrates.  With the app, the teacher cannot quiz the student with pictures.”

Regardless of the needed improvements, Kolakian views the iPad as an “invaluable resource” for students to learn how to use technological tools in their everyday life.

“However, the iPad is an invaluable resource to learn about because it allows an individual to be more productive.  You can see its convenience.”

Ulises Lopez

26-year-old Biology major Ulises Lopez noticed a similar reaction to the integration of a tablet.  As a Peer Learning Facilitator for Dr. Casey terHorst’s Biology 106: Biologic Principles I class, he noticed his peers’ initial concern for using a tablet because it changed the classroom dynamics.  Over the course of the past semesters, his peers’ reaction has changed to acceptance and overall positivity.

During class, students have printed out class assignments and use their iPads to address its questions by reviewing notes from lecture.

“For these assignments, there is a lot of interaction among the students,” said Lopez.  “I do not feel the iPad is a distraction in the classroom.  It enhances the collaboration and interaction among peers.”

Lopez chooses not to use the iPad during the PLF sessions.  Instead, he creates worksheets concerning class topics and aids student’s comprehension of new material.

The pro-technology classroom environment is also promoted by the professor.  Lopez recalls that the professor will walk around the classroom, talk to students and draw images on her iPad that are projected on a screen for all the students to follow.

“Students will not have to carry heavy books on their back throughout the day and their notes can be protected from tear and misplacement,” said Lopez in regards to the pros in using a tablet at school.

Lopez, who owns a personal Samsung 10.1 Note tablet, feels learning how to operate a tablet in a classroom environment is positive for students regardless of the career path they wish to pursue.

“If you want to be a teacher, you learn how to use the apps to create exams or communicate with co-workers via FaceTime,” he said. “If you want to be a doctor, you can learn to transfer notes to a computer and use a tablet to pull up information in seconds.”