DUBAI // All students taking remedial English lessons at the three federal universities are now using iPads to help engage them with the language.
The Higher Colleges of Technology, Zayed University and UAE University all believe the tablets will help the 90 per cent of students who start university without enough English to take a degree course taught in that language.
The problem, they say, is that teaching from text books no longer maintains students' interest.
"They have to find more innovative ways of teaching in the classroom and engaging the students," said Dr Christina Gitsaki, head of foundation programmes at HCT.
"The variety of applications available and the number of things students can do is really abundant on an iPad."
Learning with the iPad is more social, she says. "We don't want English to be seen as a chore. We want it to be part of their life."
It should cut the cost of going to university. Students who already have an iPad can use that, while those who do not can buy an iPad "3" for a discounted Dh2,300 - less than half the Dh5,200 they previously had to spend on a laptop.
Mohamed Al Zarooni, dean of foundations studies at UAE University in Al Ain, said there had been more concern about the teachers' readiness for the change than the students.
"It's forcing us to change from the memorising system to more problem solving," he said. "With this access to resources, you have to rebuild your teaching style and utilise this information better."
The three universities are sharing training materials and holding joint workshops.
"We all have the same challenges with the students we get," said Bryan Gilroy, vice-provost of Zayed University.
The students have been given 12 applications for subjects including maths and English.
"There's so many apps out there and, as time goes on, that world gets richer and richer," said Mr Gilroy. "Even just a textbook on an iPad is an improvement as it weighs less but an interactive one really changes things and is the way forward.
"For English language, it is a much more advanced way of learning with the access to vocabulary and interactive resources, the ability to link to other students and the fact you can use it any time or any place.
"Mobile learning is far superior to the one-dimensional style of a book and a piece of paper."
Anas Mohammed, 19, is returning for his second year of foundations studies at Abu Dhabi Men's College, part of HCT.
While he is a fan of the iPad, he knows it cannot replace practising his written English with pen and paper.
"The notebook is still important," he said. "It helps to improve my grammar. Without that, I will forget how to write in English."
Since the iPads were introduced at the start of term two weeks ago, it has been clear that they are helping students pick up concepts more quickly.
"What usually takes up to four hours, has been done much quicker already," said Joe Watkins, a maths teacher at the men's college.
"It's much more tactile and the students can actually see the connection between a graph and an equation. They can't get that concept of the relationship with pen and paper."
Still, says Clair Hattle, the director of IH Dubai, which teaches English as well as training teachers, there are limits. "Technology shouldn't do the work of the teacher," she said.