AL AIN // The UAE's three federal universities are preparing to launch their own iPad apps for students, featuring locally designed curricula and learning materials.
The apps will run under Apple's iTunes-U (for university), a platform that makes it easy for academics to organise their courses into iPad format.
The system, launched in 2007, is used by major universities around the world, including Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and Harvard.
Following the success of a pilot project for remedial students, academics from UAE University (UAEU), the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and Zayed University are now developing a version for the UAE.
They were also encouraged to develop standalone apps at a training session last week led by Gilbert Ho from the global education team at Apple.
Since September, all remedial university students - those without good enough English or maths to start their degree courses - have used iPads to help develop their skills in and out of the classroom.
Dr Jorg Waltje, director of the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at UAEU, said the initiative had been warmly received.
"Some of our instructors are already engaged in creating iBooks and other multimedia materials for their classes," he said.
"This workshop has helped to show us how to integrate Apple products into the curriculum and the overall student environment for a richer learning and teaching experience."
Teachers who were involved in the project from the start will be helping to coach others in the new teaching techniques.
"It's not enough to just say a handout will be turned into a PDF," Dr Waltje said. "It's about taking the iPad and doing things that otherwise couldn't be done.
"The idea is to get more students engaged and reinventing the way we teach."
Dr Mark Drummond, provost of HCT, said the project would transform learning. "Going to 100 per cent eBooks, online assignments, lecture notes, support materials and assessments makes education portable in the sense of 'learn anytime anywhere'," he added.
But he admitted that the transition was a big challenge. "Textbook publishers are not generally up to speed with interactive live texts and many still simply put their print version texts into electronic format," he said.
"Supporting materials such as documents and apps are slow in coming and the curriculum must be revamped to take advantage of all the integration of learning."
He said there was enough material available to make a good start and the more common mobile learning becomes, the more material would be created, and that training for teachers was crucial.
"In most cases young people are way ahead of the rest of us in getting comfortable with this,"
Dr Waltje added: "We need these teachers at the workshop to go away and inspire the others."
He said they were vital in "overcoming the reluctance of the more traditional teachers" and showing them they need to do more than simply transferring material to another medium.
Sarah Whittaker, head of the foundations programme at the women's college in RAK, part of HCT, said: "This workshop ... highlighted ways to get the teachers to think about how they want to use the new technology and to realise the benefits for both the teachers and the students."
Troy Priest, curriculum supervisor of the remedial programme at Zayed University, said the workshop was "extremely beneficial as it was tailored specifically to the teachers' needs and wants".
"The teachers continue to try to find more innovative ways of teaching in the classroom and engaging the students," he said.
Dr Waltje hopes the project will help overcome students' reluctance to read.
"They need to be involved in a totally different way," he said. The apps are expected to be in all three universities by September, although exact details have yet to be confirmed.
For the current batch of remedial students, the transition should be seamless. "These foundation students haven't touched a paper book all year nor have they been lectured in the traditional way," said Dr Waltje. "That's not how students learn any more."