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About the iPad Initiative

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While several individuals within New Mexico Extension had already purchased iPads and were using them as part of their day-to-day work, the iPad Initiative is an attempt to create a solid community of users all sharing information with each other.

Goals for the initiative include:

  • identify ways in which iPads help Extension agents, specialists and staff work with clientele. This will likely include productivity (for example, checking email in the field, using apps to track mileage or demographics of activity participants), outreach (for example using apps to communicate Extension research with clients), and technology-based education (for example, having 4-Hers use iPads to record video or tell stories of their project work).
  • creating a community of iPad users within Extension to share knowledge, including useful apps as well as valuable ways to incorporate iPads into programming or daily work
  • establishing a solid group of users to test iPad apps developed by NMSU Media Productions, and propose new apps that are needed.

Funding

The department head of the Media Productions department (previously called Agricultural Communications) funded the initiative with research overhead funds garnered from previous grant-funded projects. She felt it was a valuable way to infuse technology into Extension, while performing important research regarding how technology can best feed Extension. She committed to spending approximately $50,000 on the effort, including cost of the iPads and related hardware, travel for trainings, and peripherals.

Process

Any Extension faculty and staff who work directly with Extension clientele were encouraged to apply to be part of the initiative by drafting a letter clarifying their interest, particularly ways they felt an iPad could help them in their work. They were also asked to commit to the requirements of the iPad initiative, including an initial training, participation in an ongoing listserv, testing of apps in development, and monthly feedback on their work. Funding allowed almost all applicants to be included in the initiative. Several extension faculty and professionals who already had their own iPads also selected to join the initiative.

iPad Purchase and Distribution

After considerable review, the iPad initiative team (which was led by the Media Productions department head, and included two other researchers, IT experts and training specialist) decided to purchase an iPad 3 for each member, including cellular capabilities. All iPads have wireless capability, meaning that, when near a WiFi hotspot, the user can access the internet. With cellular capability, an iPad can connect wirelessly to a cell phone network, giving the user access to the internet out in the field. iPads which are WiFi + cellular are more expensive, and the user must pay a monthly cost to take advantage of the cellular access. However, the user can choose to subscribe monthly or not at all. The team felt that some users would find cellular capabilities indispensable, others may not use it right away, and others may not use it immediately, but wish they had it at a later time. This decision meant, however, that each user would need to decide which network they preferred before the iPad was purchased (Verizon or AT&T), which necessitated understanding which network offered better coverage in each part of the state, and then contacting each person to determine which network was their choice.

Each iPad also included a support warranty (AppleCare), a case (though participants could choose their color), and a cable to plug the iPad into a projector.

The team also felt it would be helpful to preload the iPads with some apps, as well as videos and eBooks published by NMSU, which could be helpful to agents and specialists. They refined the list so that participants wouldn't be overwhelmed by a selection of too many apps, while still giving them some valuable tools. To do this, each person would need a specific Apple username and login. Again, participants were contacted to determine if they already had an Apple login (used, for example, in iTunes). If they did not, they created their own.

The iPads and related tools were distributed at the initial training session.

Training and Support

Critical to the use of any technology is training and support of the tool. For this reason, participants in the initiative were required to attend a six-hour training, and nine trainings were offered throughout the state. At the training, each person was giving their iPad, and asked to complete an online consent form (to participate in monthly surveys about their uses of the iPad), sign up for a listserv of iPad users in the initiative. Participants were also given a $50 iTunes gift card for purchasing apps of their choice, provided they committed to purchasing at least one month of 3G service (typically ~$20) to explore that option).

Training included basics of iPad operation (such as how to download or delete an app, change settings, etc), and specific uses of different applications (such as camera, web browsing, and calendar). One of the first steps during training was to set up email, contacts and calendar for each user on the iPad. The trainer also reviewed considerations in selecting apps, highlighting for example, the variety of word processing apps and why users might consider different apps. Users had time to play with their iPad, ask questions, and explore the different functions. The trainer also spent a considerable amount of time sharing some apps they may wish to purchase. The training was meant as an initial introduction to the iPad, building facility with the ipad, but also as a way of creating peers for each user so that they had colleagues locally using the iPad with whom they might share ideas and app suggestions.

The trainer also shared additional devices to be used with the iPads, such as the Apple TV (for streaming video through AirPlay or mirroring the screen to give presentations), adapters for plugging the iPad into projectors, and wireless keyboards.

Members of the IT department (including tech support, help desk operators, and other trainers) also received iPads so that they could more fully support the users within the state.

Researchers also established three resources to encourage and support ongoing learning.

  • The iPad Initiative listserv would give users a place to post questions or recommend apps to all users. Team members will monitor and post suggestions to the listserv, and encourage all initiative members to do the same.
  • The iPad Initiative website serves as an ongoing place to catalog recommended apps, frequently asked questions and other related suggestions. Team members will work to make sure apps or tools suggested in the listserv will be included and organized on the website.
  • The iPad Initiative blog serves as a place to share how the iPads are being used. It may include lengthier reviews of apps (comparing, for example, several different apps that serve the same function), as well as ways in which different initiative participants use the apps.

Research

Monthly, each participant is asked to complete 3-4 questions regarding iPad usage through an online survey tool. This feedback will be used to document ways iPads are used, recommend needed training, propose new app development. Findings will be shared through the blog and website. At the end of a year, team members will share their findings through research articles.