Olds College introduces course in which IPad is mandatory
Some educational institutions frown on the use of tablet computers.
At Olds College, it’s now mandatory for most students.
The college has introduced an entrepreneurship course that can only be completed using an iPad. Not only that, it’s in the form of a game that challenges players to operate and grow a lemonade stand business.
“It will take then anywhere from 30 to 40 hours to complete it, like it would a normal course,” said Jason Dewling, Olds College’s vice-president of academic and research.
Players progress through 12 modules, making financial decisions, improving the efficiency of their operation and applying marketing strategies along the way. New activities and business concepts are unlocked as they advance.
Called Spirit of Entrepreneurship, the iPad app must be completed by students enrolled in programs that run for 16 weeks or more. And it could foreshadow a shift in the way curriculum is delivered at Olds College.
“In the U.S. right now, 99 per cent of boys and 94 per cent of girls under the age of 18 play at least eight hours a week of games,” pointed out Dewling.
“We believe that to engage this generation, it would just be an amazing opportunity if we could find the right partnership with a gamer and whatnot to get the curriculum embedded in ‘gamification.’”
In the case of Spirit of Entrepreneurship, Olds College partnered with GoForth Institute, which specializes in web-based small business training; and Robots and Pencils Inc., a world-class app-designer. It also boosted the campus’s Internet connectivity from 40 to 1,000 megabits.
“We have more bandwidth per student here than anywhere in Canada,” said Dewling, adding that the Wi-Fi zone covers virtually every building.
The college chose Apple iPads as the platform for this electronic initiative after assessing the alternatives. But it caught the eye of Apple Inc. long before that.
“We had made a decision internally to commit to this entrepreneurship game before we even made a commitment to go to the iPad one-to-one environment,” said Dewling.
“Apple came to us and said, ‘This is two years ahead of anything that’s out there. We’d like to find a way to work with you.’”
Other post-secondary institutions are also showing interest.
“The top guy at Harvard, related to educational technology, he’s got a licence to the game as well, and has actually downloaded it.”
Recent presentations by Dewling in Chicago and Boston attracted queries from more than a dozen post-secondary institutions, as far away as New Zealand. He’s scheduled to speak at upcoming educational technology conferences in Cyprus and Ontario, sharing the stage at the latter with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
“So that’s the level that this is getting attention — and we’re not out pushing it.”
In addition to gamifying some of its curriculum, Olds College is working towards converting other courses into information apps.
“You can’t gamify everything,” explained Dewling. “But you can certainly take your resources in all your courses and digitize it.”
That would allow students to download the entire content of a course onto their iPads, eliminating the need for textbooks and opening the door to interactive elements like embedded videos and audio clips. In the classroom, content from individual tablets could be streamed onto Apple TVs, said Dewling.
“So right in the middle of class, students can throw what they have on their iPad right up onto the screen.”
Olds College has even secured copyright protection in Canada and the United States for the terms “appify” and “appified.”
The college and its development partners have invested about $2 million into its gamification project to date, said Dewling, which reflects the depth of the work being done.
“This is not a lightweight, Angry Birds-type of engagement. There’s deep integration with the curriculum and the game.”
The appeal of gamified curriculum among students is evident from the fact that the most popular time to play Spirit of Entrepreneurship has been between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
“So the time when they could be doing anything, they’re choosing to be in this,” said Dewling. “I promise you, they’re not reading a calculus textbook at that time of night.
“We believe we’re on the front end of something special,” he added. “We’re going to measure and evaluate how this goes, and we’re going to continue to press forward.”