ASU Readies Freshmen for iPad-Intensive 'Making Connections' Class

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro is set to implement a program this fall that will require all freshmen to use an iPad as part of a first-year experience course called "Making Connections."

The course is designed to help first-year students transition into higher education by teaching them study skills, personal organization and how to conduct research, as well as familiarizing them with campus resources. Last year, ASU had more than 1,700 students enrolled in the course. 

Arkansas State Chancellor Tim Hudson said that requiring students to use the popular tablet computer will lead to "improved education performance." The effort, which is the first time a public university in Arkansas has required all freshmen to use iPads, is getting ASU faculty more involved in developing multimedia curricula especially for the iPad, via iBooks and iTunes U.

"Our faculty are developing multimedia content that will be available for students to access anytime and anywhere they want," Lynita Cooksey, executive vice chancellor and provost, said. "We’re confident this will enhance the traditional classroom experience."

Students will obtain their iPads via the "Making Connections" course. They can supply their own, or they get one at ASU's IT Store, where the 7-inch 16GB WiFi iPad mini costs $329 plus tax, and the 9-inch fourth-generation iPad costs $499. Students can also rent refurbished iPads for $50 per semester.

Students will also purchase a $48 "connection kit," which includes the course textbook; a copy of the course's common reader book, "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers; and a suite of productivity and creative apps, including Apple's Pages, Numbers, iPhoto and iMovie apps. There's also a $25 gift card to the IT Store, which students can use to buy an iPad case.

(More: ASU has more details on its "Making Connections" course here.)

ASU has also worked to make sure students can access plenty of content with the device. In an effort that coincided with the tablet-intensive "Making Connection" course, ASU's Dean B. Ellis Library spent $500,000 to buy the complete online resource of 14,000 scholarly e-books collected by JSTOR, a nonprofit digital library that supports higher education.

The library says it will provide full access through its website to the entire collection of titles from 34 publishers, including the Modern Humanities Research Association, RAND Corporation, and university presses at Princeton, Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina and Texas. 

Meanwhile, ASU faculty members are using Apple tools like iTunes U and iBooks Author to develop interactive curriculum. Among them is "Energy & the Environment," a general education physical science course developed by John M. Pratte, a professor of physics and dean of the the ASU College of Sciences and Mathematics. The digital content includes an e-book and a lab workbook.

ASU has also been working to improve on-campus WiFi so students can easily get online.

Darla Fletcher, ASU's director of technical service and support, told KASU-FM, 91.9, last week that the university has spent $100,000 to make sure most areas of the campus are covered by WiFi in order to make sure students have a good online experience.

"We have put a lot of money into making sure our wireless can handle that," she said. "We have a great team of guys that have been just working super hard to make sure that we have access points for connect improvement in these areas that [first-year experience] classes are being taught. And so that's been cross campus …"