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Duke University to use iPads for field research

This fall, the Duke University Global Health Institute in Durham, NC will embark on a pilot project using the iPad as a field research tool. Masters students enrolled in the Research Methods in Global Health Sciences II class will be broken up into groups of three, with each group being given a 3G-enabled iPad.

The course introduces students to a wide range of methodological techniques, including quantitative surveys research, interventions and evaluations along with qualitative techniques of ethnography, survey design and semi-structured interviews. Funding and assistance with the course will come from the Duke Center for Instructional Technology (CIT).

Educational tech consultant Mark Sperber, who will train students on the iPad and decide upon the selection of software, notes that the iPad will allow students to collect and analyze data while in the field, where it's most meaningful. The do-it-nowability of the iPad was written about by mobile research blogger Tim Macer.

Traditionally, field-collected research could not be analyzed until the researcher got to a computer off-site, but the use of iPads will allow data to be examined immediately. Having done my share of quantitative field research I feel that bringing immediacy to the field opens up possibilities that were never before imaginable. The primary goal, according to sociologist Jen'nan Ghazal Read who will be teaching the course, is to equip students with tools allowing them to make the most of their time in the field and master the complex methods on which they will base their research.
Students will be given a local field work assignment to get used to using the 8 iPads used for the class, with the goal of preparing them for the limited resource settings of their global research projects in 2011. Currently Duke University research spans 37 low-resource countries from Bangladesh to Vietnam. The 10+ hour battery life of iPads is expected to hold up well in remote locations where other methods of data collection are in short supply, affording the student a full day's worth of interviewing without recharging.

This is part of a larger initiative to integrate technology into the curriculum at Duke. Amy Campbell, the Assistant Director of CIT, said that there is a large interest in these projects based on the the high volume of requests to join the CIT iPad loaner program.

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