The College announced it will send all students an 11-inch Apple iPad Pro with available Wi-Fi and cellular data connectivity, an Apple Pencil 2 and the Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad in an email on July 24. Faculty members will receive a 12.9-inch iPad Pro upon request.
“We have been determined to make certain that all Bowdoin students have the same access to online class activities, and this decision allows us to realize that goal,” wrote Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon in an email to the Orient.
The College has entered into a four-year market-based leasing program with Apple, which includes a discount for academic institutions. The College will pay approximately $750,000 a year for all student iPads. Bowdoin’s student body is around 2,000 students, meaning that the cost for one bundle of the iPad, pencil and keyboard is roughly $375 per year and $1,500 over four years. The market price for the entire iPad package is $1,297.
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Michael Cato wrote in an email to the Orient that the College has a longstanding relationship with Apple and has been considering a mobile computing program for the last few years, but that the shift to remote learning led the College to accelerate the process.
“We have discussed our desire to invest in our online educational model to ensure we deliver an excellent education in the fall. The budget developed for this academic year included funds for investments like this,” Cato wrote in an email to the Orient. “We are very fortunate to have, as a Bowdoin trustee, a senior executive at Apple.”
Each student will be able to use their iPad throughout the remainder of their time at Bowdoin, but seniors can purchase their iPad at the end of the year for one dollar if they think it will be useful to them after graduation.
The program came to fruition after the report from the Continuity in Teaching and Learning Group (CTLG) was released to the community on July 2. It concluded that language and computational courses would benefit from instructors and students having access to tablets.
Madeleine Msall, professor of physics and chair of the physics department, emphasized the importance of collaborative work.
“One of the things that you’ll see on the third floor of Searles is the entire hallway is lined with chalkboards, and all of our areas for student hang-outs in the physics department have multiple chalkboards. And the basic reason [for the chalkboards] is when people start to discuss a problem, they want to be able to draw cartoon pictures of the situation,” said Msall in a phone interview with the Orient.
When the College switched to an online model in the spring, Msall found a program that replicated collaborative board work. However, it was “clunky” and inaccurate on a computer, and she could not ask her students to use it because she could not guarantee that they all had access to a tablet.
“So when I heard everyone was going to have iPad Pros, I thought, ‘Oh, this really makes it possible for a level playing field for using this app,’” Msall said.
Mary Lou Zeeman, R. Wells Johnson Professor of Mathematics, has been using iPads for a summer course she is teaching which is unaffiliated with Bowdoin, and she says that iPads have been a useful tool for collaboration in her class.
“First, it allows us to write by hand, so it’s easier for the faculty and the student to share work and to share ideas written by hand. But the thing I’m even more excited about is that it allows the students to do their group work together on the same board,” said Zeeman in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Anna Dickson ’21, who is enrolled in Zeeman’s summer course, has enjoyed using the iPad for collaborative computational work.
“Something that I really missed last spring was being able to work at chalkboards, which is something I did a lot in my stats class before we got sent home,” said Dickson in a phone interview with the Orient. “This has been, at least during summer school, a really good substitution for that.”
Vyjayanthi Selinger, associate professor of Asian studies, will use iPads in both Intermediate Japanese I and her first-year seminar. Although the first-year seminar will be held in person, students must turn in assignments digitally to eliminate a potential point of contact for COVID-19, and Selinger sees the iPads as an alternative way to provide them with handwritten comments. Students in her Japanese course will use the iPad both to write in Japanese and to record themselves speaking.
For Destiny Kearney ’21, who is completing both an Africana studies major and an interdisciplinary major in visual art and art history, the transition to remote learning while taking two art courses was challenging due to the need to downsize from a studio to a space in her house and the lack of resources needed for her photography class. She believes that the iPads will increase accessibility for all students.
“[Having] been one of those students who had to ask for resources last semester, I think it was a way for them to really make something accessible for everyone, and that’s something that I really appreciate because [they’re] giving everyone this opportunity to have access to things that they might not have had access to before,” said Kearney in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
She also plans to use the iPad to build a portfolio for job interviews or graduate school.
Although many students are optimistic about the program, some questions are left unanswered.
“It’s a really nice idea, from the College, but the email [was] very out of the blue,” said Michael Borecki ’21. “It’s not really clear, like, how they’re going to integrate it into classes. It’s not really clear how the cellular connection is going to work. For students who might not have good internet at home, just saying, ‘we’re sending an iPad and there’ll be a cell plan on it, don’t worry,’ might not work if they’re in a rural area, or even, depending on the provider, you end up with random dead zones.”
Correction 7/31/2020, 2 p.m.: An earlier version misstated the cost of the iPad Pro and accessory per student. The previous version stated that the cost per iPad would be $375 per student, but over the College’s four year lease agreement, the cost for each iPad will total $1,500. The article has been updated to correct these errors.