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(A2) The iPad: Mobile Learning Tool for Students in Post-Secondary Education (30 minutes)

Presenters: Linda Chmiliar and Carrie Anton, Athabasca University

Abstract: The iPad as a mobile assistive device is a relatively new and unstudied phenomenon in the post-secondary academic environment.  Students with disabilities have been enrolling in post-secondary institutions for many years, and institutions work hard to provide these students with support services that will help them to succeed at their course work.  Unfortunately, education success for students with disabilities in post-secondary education tends to be lower than that of the general student population, as students may struggle with many academic skills. The provision of digital text on the iPad may be an important accommodation for students with disabilities.  The features of the iPad and the apps that can be loaded onto the iPad can provide students with an opportunity to learn and complete their studies in a mobile way.  This device may also help students find tools that support the difficulties learning that they experience due to their disability.  The apps available on the iPad provide a number of features that make it an attractive tool for all post-secondary students including those with disabilities.  The iBooks app provides a platform for textbooks and course materials that has a number of features that can help students including adjustable font size, background color, and light intensity as well as text-to-speech functionality, built in dictionary, search function, bookmarking, and note-taking. The flashcard apps provide ways to study course materials using auditory/visual cues.  The organization and planning apps help students keep on top of their planning throughout the course.  There are also peripheral tools available such as built in switch access, to help students with physical challenges. 

The purpose of this research was to investigate how the iPad as a mobile assistive device, can be used by post-secondary students with disabilities in their studies.  In Phase I of this research, 2 post-secondary students with disabilities were provided with iPads loaded with their course materials and apps to support learning.  At the completion of Phase I, the students expressed very positive perspectives on the use of the iPad.  Both students felt that the iPad facilitated their ability to study in a mobile way, and found apps that greatly supported their learning and their disabilities. Both students expressed a desire to move to this technology for all of their studies.  In Phase 2 of this research, the participants were 10 post-secondary students with a greater range of disabilities who received an iPad loaded with their course materials and apps to help them learn for one course.  The students received training and support during their course to help them maximize their learning and use of the iPad.  The apps included etext, apps for annotation, organizing, distraction avoidance, written expression, communication, reading support, and other areas as needed by the student. The apps and peripherals used were selected by the student working with the team, to best meet the needs and interests of each student.

This presentation will discuss the results of both Phase 1 and 2 of this research.  We will also share resources that were developed to support the students to use this mobile assistive device effectively.


Dr. Linda Chmiliar is an Associate Professor with Athabasca University.  She coordinates a Diploma in Inclusive Education and enthusiastically pursue research in using the iPad for learning.

Carrie Anton is an Assistive Technologist and accessibility specialist with Athabasca University.

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Updated December 16, 2015 by Student & Academic Services