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UMD Works on a Language App and Uses iPads as Learning Tools

Dana Lindaman, Dan Nolan, Mike Mullins and Jake Caceres
A view of the Russian Grammar Guide App

As technology continues to progress, universities and their students keep pace. UMD is facing the challenge using Apple iPads, in-the-field experimentation, and the development of an app through interdisciplinary teamwork.

The utility of the iPad, combined with a pressing problem for UMD’s German Studies department, has lit a spark of innovation among three very different disciplines. A German grammar guide, long used by Assistant Professor Dan Nolan of the German Studies department, had been discontinued from print. Worried about losing the guide for good, Nolan spoke to his colleague, Instructor Michael Mullins, and as a pair they decided to create an iPad application to replace the guide.

“The grammar table didn’t really work so well on paper." said Mullins. "It was large, cumbersome, and hard to navigate. At a meeting one day, we drew out what the app should look like and started to make it happen.” Helping to “make it happen” are Associate Professor Mariana Waisman, of the Department of Graphic Design in the School of Fine Arts, and Associate Professor Pete Willemsen from the Department of Computer Science. The interdisciplinary project also involves students from all three departments, who work on the app through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” said Nolan. "The students go on record as having developed an open source application for an iOS device and get valuable experience in their field of study. Professors and language students all across the country will gain access to the application, which will include images, video clips, and interactive games to help the material penetrate." The application is scheduled to be completed in 2012, and up on the App store shortly thereafter.

This would not be the first time that UMD language instructors encouraged tablet use in the classroom. Over the past few semesters, professors from the Foreign Language and Literature Departments of the College of Liberal Arts have used iPads as learning tools in their classes. Assistant Professor Jake Caceres, for example, has used iPads to show films to students in his Spanish Cinema course. “Rather than a laptop screen, which only one or two people can view effectively, a tablet like the iPad can be laid flat on the table, allowing seven or eight people to view the device with ease.” said Caceres. Users appreciate how easy tablets are to use. "By swiping a finger across the screen from any angle," said Caceres, "students can manipulate the film and move through scenes with little effort.”

IPads have also been used successfully. In spring 2011, Assistant Professor Dana Lindaman introduced iPads to his French Literature class as an alternate way to read from textbooks. The iPad is especially strong when partnered with Google Books, a free service which makes open source literature available through the internet. By using foreign texts from Google Books rather than physical textbooks, Lindaman has saved his students time and money, as well as added handy tools to their analytical process. A Google book allows users to search an entire text for certain words, making it quicker to find quotes and easier to understand the context of them compared to the rest of the text.

Emily Cooper, a student in one of Lindaman 's courses last spring, enjoyed using the iPad, a sentiment shared by much of the class. "It's more discrete than a laptop, easier to carry around, and is also less distracting for others." Cooper said. "There's no clicking noise when you type in class, and when you consider that it allows you to switch the keyboard to that of another language, it becomes the perfect tool."

Written by Zach Lunderberg, December 2011.

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