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iPads empower CVTC students

Amy Pinley reads a textbook on her CVTC-issued iPad while at a computer work station at the Learning Center. Pinley, who has physical limitations that prevent her from carrying heavy textbooks, has all of her books loaded on the iPad, though she still needs college computers to send homework assignments.

Terry Ray slips out of his wheelchair and with strength of arms lifts himself up the ladder one rung after another, 16 feet up to his deer stand. He settles in his chair and pulls his bow and his gear up after him, then puts on his headphones.

For the next few hours the Chippewa Valley Technical College student listens as an iPad reads his Business Management program textbooks to him while he keeps a sharp eye out for deer.

“I’m an auditory learner,” Ray says. “I learn better by hearing it than by reading it.”

The iPad was made available to Ray and nine other students through the Diversity Resources office as part of a federal Perkins Student Success Grant.

“The grant has traditionally provided technology to support students with disabilities,” diversity/Equal Opportunity Manager Mike Ojibway says.

The iPads, which can hold entire text and audio textbook libraries, are being used to help students in a variety of ways: aiding auditory learners like Ray, helping students who have difficulties carrying heavy textbooks, and allowing a visually impaired student to better see written material.

For Ray, it’s opened a whole new world of studying opportunities. He had been using audio textbooks before, but had to be tied to a computer with Internet access, which he couldn’t carry with him.

“It’s given me complete mobility,” he says of the iPad. “The place doesn’t matter, as long as you are in the state of mind to absorb the material. I learn more in a relaxed atmosphere. I study more.” Ray used to study in a tree stand using homemade flashcards. Now he has his textbooks with him.

“One of the original ideas was to provide iPads for students with mobility-related issues, so they didn’t have to carry around 2-30 pounds of books. This is a way for them to carry all of their textbooks in one lightweight iPad,” Ojibway says.

Because the CVTC Business Education Center is so large, some students with mobility issues had to be provided with lockers in different parts of the building, so all of their books could be within reach from a wheelchair, and in places close to their classrooms. The iPad solves the book access problem.

That has really helped Amy Pinley, a Health Information Technology student who has both physical and learning style issues. She is an auditory learner because attention deficit problems make concentration on reading difficult. Also, due to reconstructive surgery on both feet and other physical problems, she is unable to carry heavy books.

“A laptop is too heavy,” Pinley says. “They downloaded the books right to the iPad. This takes the place of six books.”

Pinley notes that her Health Information Management book alone is 1,338 pages hard cover. “There’s no way I could handle that. I’m on a five-pound weight limit.”

Erin Poeschel, a specialist in the Diversity Resources office who coordinates the iPad program, says CVTC has long worked hard to help students with special needs. Laptops were provided to some who needed auditory learning opportunities, but they didn’t have access to them during class, and not at home if they didn’t have Internet access.

“We thought it was important for them to have textbooks that were accessible to them, but also in places that are accessible to them,” Poeschel says.

Poeschel adds that iPads were a good choice because of the lightweight design, but also because of the large number of education-related applications available for them.

A CVTC student with a visual impairment was provided with a device the size of a small suitcase, Poeschel says.  The device was designed to magnify reading material, either in a textbook or written on a whiteboard or screen in front of the room. To read something on the board, the student had to stand and hold the device at a perfect angle.

“She felt very self-conscious about the bulky thing,” Poeschel says.

Now with the iPad, the student can enlarge textbook material on the screen, and for material presented in front of the classroom, she can use the iPad to take a photo and enlarge it on the screen.

“We’ve had a great response, and students are experiencing great success,” Poeschel says.

The program is in its pilot phase, and some details still need to be worked out. In today’s colleges, homework is often submitted electronically. Students still need the school computers for that, as the iPads aren’t set up for it.

Ojibway says the hope is to allow the students to purchase the iPads at a discount when they graduate so they can continue to use them as they head into the workforce.

Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.