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University News

In lieu of textbooks, students lug costs

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

For a backpack containing “Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy,” “Junquiera’s Basic Histology” and “Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking,” Corey Spiro’s MD’15 bag is remarkably light. Combined, the books weigh less than 1.33 pounds — the e-books, that is.

This year for the first time, Alpert Medical School required every incoming first-year to purchase an iPad 2. The Med School has revised its curriculum to further incorporate tablet technology.

Administrators are encouraging first-years to use the iPads to read electronic versions of textbooks and take notes in class. Some faculty are also piloting iPad use in three second-year pathophysiology classes.

First-years were required to buy iPad versions of several textbooks through Inkling, a California start-up. Combined, the cost for these e-books totalled $30 more than the cost of new print editions through Amazon — $150 more than the cheapest used versions. Combined with the iPad’s $699 price tag for 64 gigabytes — a figure that does not include the AppleCare service package, keyboard, cover and stylus recommended by the Med School — the total purchase was less cost effective than the traditional print-edition route.

But minimizing costs for students was not the motivation for the iPad initiative, said Philip Gruppuso, associate dean for medical education.

The additional features of the Inkling “virtual textbooks” provided a major incentive, said Paul George, director of the second-year basic science curriculum. After reading about a certain physical diagnosis exam, for instance, students using the e-book can watch a video about how to perform it and then take a comprehension quiz. “Regular textbooks don’t allow that sort of interactivity important for active learning,” George said.

In class, students can use their iPads in a variety of ways — they can look at slides during a virtual microscopy or pull up instructions for a lab experiment. Tablets can also be used in a clinical setting. Most hospitals are moving toward digitalization, in line with federal mandates to establish electronic health records by 2014, George said.

The old Med School facilities lacked the power outlets necessary to support heightened technology use in the classroom, Gruppuso said. But with this summer’s move to a new building, students and faculty can take full advantage of digital opportunities.

Spiro said his biggest gripe with the initiative is the fact that it was mandatory. “Everything I’ve done with (the iPad) so far is something I could have done on a laptop,” Spiro said.

But Gruppuso said administrators needed to require iPads to factor the cost into financial aid calculations. He acknowledged that students most likely knew they were not truly mandated to purchase the tablets. Students know there are no “iPad police running around threatening to throw them out of medical school,” he said.

After making the decision last spring to adopt iPads for the fall, administrators called on Rahul Banerjee ’10 MD’14 and Michael Kim ’10 MD ’14. Both had worked for the technology support help desk and were asked to aid with the transition and to act as liaisons between students and administrators.

Banerjee and Kim tested apps and wrote support documentation this summer. The two offered workshops and held office hours during orientation and the first weeks of the year. The recently launched IT Fellows program will make sure iPad technologies at the Med School are up to date, Banerjee said.

Though some students were initially reluctant to adopt the Apple product, they have by and large embraced it, Banerjee said. Having the community on the same technological platform streamlines tech support, he said. And since all the new classroom technology was chosen with the iPad specifically in mind, it is not necessarily compatible with other devices, George said.

Administrators are now gathering student feedback so the Med School can further integrate iPads into the curriculum, Gruppuso said.

So far, feedback has been “generally positive,” George said, adding that administrators will continue to solicit input throughout the year. About a quarter of second-year students have adopted iPads as well, he added.

Banerjee and Kim anticipate the Med School will soon put pressure on its affiliated hospitals to adopt iPads as well. Many hospitals have already started the process — iPads can be a great resource for doctors, Banerjee said. “On the wards, you want to be able to look up information very quickly, whether it’s dosage of a drug or whether it’s possible side effects of medication or of a certain treatment regiment,” he said.

Georgetown University, Stanford University, the University of California and other major universities have also begun exploring iPad use in their medical schools.

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