The GCSU iPod Story

When Apple Computer introduced the iPod in 2001, it was touted by many as no more than “a little boom box.” Critics stated the “toy” had no place in higher education. Randall Thursby, the University System of Georgia's, vice chancellor for information and instructional technology, saw more. He began using his iPod to turn long hours of commute time between home and office into productive work time by catching up on paperwork his assistant had turned into audio files. After realizing a tremendous change in the management of his workload, Thursby began to imagine the impact the device could have in an educational setting. He contacted Jim Wolfgang, chief information officer at Georgia College & State University, to begin a dialogue about how the iPods might be used in the academic environment. They discussed ideas to add value to academics as well as enhance the total educational experience for students.

Several members of the campus community felt strongly that Georgia College could find a way to make such a project work. Knowing that a viable plan should focus on addressing a need, not on the technology, a call was issued for faculty proposals for interdisciplinary courses that would be iPod-enhanced. This call resulted in support for two initial projects from many proposals. By the spring of 2002, the university had 50 five GB iPods, two iMacs and two iBooks. Each project received an iBook, an iPod and plenty of support from the department of Web Enabled Resources. With course materials loaded on the iMacs, they became the "mother ships", where students "docked" their iPods.

Dr. Hank Edmondson and Dr. Daniel Fernald introduced the iPod in a course titled "War, Politics and Shakespeare." The iPod enabled Edmondson and Fernald to include audio recordings of an introduction to Shakespeare and his works and an eclectic collection of songs about war and peace ranging from Civil War Ballads to World Trade Center Musical Memorials. Also included were historic speeches on war and student recitations of passages from the works of Shakespeare. The course was an astounding success from that first semester and continued with regular updates to the repertoire of material synced to the student iPods.

Dr. Robert Viau and Dr. Gregory Pepetone addressed the challenge of introducing technology into a very traditional liberal arts classroom: their Gothic Imagination course. The iPod brought the missing link—music—into the students' world filled with discussions about art, literature, architecture, and all things Gothic. Students read, observed, listened and looked for parallels in theme, tone, the politics and social climate of the Gothic movement. These discussions spilled over to WebCT chats that often lasted until the wee hours of morning. Viau liked the iPods because they freed up class time for discussion rather than having to spend that time listening to musical selections, and subsequently used iPods in other classes, such as his honors seminar "Utopia/Dystopia: Studies In No Place." He felt it helped achieve the goal of accomplishing interdisciplinary correspondences and connections. The courses continued strong, filled up quickly, and remained iPod enhanced.

In contrast to the opinions of the early critics, the iPod Initiatives at Georgia's Public Liberal Arts University have been positive. As of 2005-2006 year began, the roster included over 40 new and diverse iPod-related initiatives spanning academics, leadership and student life. The faculty has used the iPod to maximize higher order thinking in class by using the device to time-shift less demanding work. By moving such things out of the in-class time space, faculty have sued more precious in-class time to consider and think about those experiences, reflect upon them and discuss course content.

Georgia College & State University’s iPod Initiatives continued to build on these early success stories. Hank Edmondson has lead several Study Abroad Programs which utilized the iPod. He called it a mobile, electronic classroom. Students were able to listen to audio books, native music, and language tutorials that pertain to the country they were visiting. Much instruction was actually done as students traveled from place to place. The time savings allowed them to see and experience the culture of the host country.

In the fall of 2005, one of the most exciting and innovative iPod-enhanced projects to date was launched—"The iVillage," a virtual learning community. In conjunction with Georgia College's required freshman residential experience, theme-based living/learning communities usually house students with common interests, goals, even majors, in the same residence hall or area. this model provides opportunities for bonding, making lifelong friends and business contacts, and creating opportunities for learning to take place outside of the classroom—important elements for retention of students. Campus communities have included Honors, Wellness, Fine and Performing Arts, Leadership, and International Issues.

The iVillage expanded the traditional concept of the living/learning community because its residents did not live in the same place. They had the same opportunities and benefits as residential community students by using Apple technology and related resources like WebCT to communicate. They dreamed, planned and created what may have been the first student-driven virtual learning community. There ware no professor, no syllabus, and no "floor plan." They were the pioneers setting out to homestead to higher education, retention, leadership and community building. Having developed there community through technology and not the confines of a building, it was expected that the iVillagers would maintain their community ties beyond the traditional freshman year.

The iPod Initiatives led to the creation of the iDreamers. This is a group of innovative and creative faculty and staff on campus. They have developed a wide range of ideas and plans for the future. The list grows as rapidly as anyone's iTunes library. Georgia College started out with a well-planned and solid foundation. This foundation allows us to continue to build while learning from ever-changing and ever-more-demanding needs. The faculty and students are able to enjoy their successes and looking forward to a very bright future where technology meets liberal arts—spawning new and innovative ways to teach and learn.