NEWPORT, R.I. – The Naval War College (NWC) is currently conducting a pilot program to determine the effectiveness of using electronic reading devices or tablet computers for student’s coursework. The college is also evaluating surveys from participating officers that will impact future educational and financial decisions.
“The War College has been looking at e-readers and other digital content concepts for several years,” said Professor John Roberts, Assistant Director for Technology and Innovation with the College of Distance Education. “When the Apple® iPad was introduced into the market last year, we thought it offered potential for student’s learning capabilities and value for our curriculum.”
The War College purchased a few dozen iPads to use at the intermediate and senior level for both its resident and nonresident programs.
“In some cases we’ve digitized as much as 95 percent of the required readings and loaded them into the iPads,” said Roberts, who is directing the pilot program. “The technology allows users to interact with the content—not just to read—but also to highlight passages and add notes and comments in the margins. We also believed it was important to conduct a comprehensive trial program to closely monitor the efficiency and overall utility of the devices and obtain the necessary feedback from the users.”
Thirty-five students from the Fleet Seminar Program kicked-off the pilot program last August and 30 seniors from National Security Decision Making started during the winter trimester. Ten students in an elective class also used it at that time. In addition, two seminars in Joint Military Operations are scheduled to use the iPads throughout the spring trimester.
“We’ll also implement this trial in March for two seminars of seniors in Strategy and Policy,” Roberts added. “They’ll have all of the selected readings as well as a few books downloaded and ready to go.”
Classes for the program were selected to include the entire spectrum of the military services as well as civilian and international students.
“We also wanted to involve the entire cross-section of the War College population to obtain critical information from the follow-up surveys,” Roberts added.
All participating students attended a 90-minute instructional training class to familiarize themselves with the capabilities and functions of the digital units.
Roberts acknowledged there was initial apprehension and skepticism about the devices from some of the officers. However, from the results of the initial surveys, approximately 75 percent of the students prefer the iPad over books and printed readings.
“We’ve heard from some who didn’t consider themselves ‘techies,’ but now are asking to keep their e-reader for another semester,” Roberts reported. “Many now prefer using a single electronic device in place of a backpack or box of books and reading materials.”
Another dynamic that’s being looked at is whether the age or seniority of the officer impacts the acceptance rate.
“We’re curious to find out if younger people were more inclined to prefer the iPads because they’ve grown up using these types of technologies,” Roberts said.
NWC’s leadership will evaluate the research from the surveys and explore all cost factors before deciding on the iPads future use at the college.
“Yes, we would certainly lessen our printing costs, but there are also new fees involved with purchasing, downloading and scanning the books and documents into the iPads,” Roberts said. “We also need to consider any additional copyright costs involved for this program.
He pointed out other considerations including the fact that digital materials can last in perpetuity, but not 100 percent of the required readings will be available to the college any time soon.
“We’ll eventually reach the point where it makes sense—both educationally and financially—to have the majority of our learning materials on digital devices,” Roberts said. “It would definitely be a fundamental, but exciting, shift for the War College to transition from print to digital.”
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs