Incoming medical students at Stanford University will have fewer textbooks to carry this fall after the university distributes iPads to its 91 first-year students during orientation later this month as part of a trial program, university officials announced.
The move by the university represents a growing interest by academic institutions to incorporate the Apple devices into the classroom and provide tech-savvy students with more modern tools.
Stanford medical school officials said the pilot program is designed to improve the students' learning experiences because the device's portability and search capabilities will redefine the "old-fashioned" teaching practices in use by many medical programs.
"We're at a major crossroads in medical education reform," said Dr. Charles Prober, an associate dean with the Stanford University School of Medicine, in a statement. "Part of the challenge facing medical students, and all doctors, is the overwhelming amount of information."
By storing digital textbooks, syllabi and other course content on the lightweight devices, Prober said students will be able to better access "the enormous amount of medical knowledge that is being produced constantly," which might involve virtual cadavers for dissection labs, lecture slides or journal articles.
School officials also noted they will be studying the cost benefits of switching to the digital tablet because medical textbooks can run as high as $200 each for paper editions while e-editions are typically offered for slightly less.
Across the state and country, other universities are embracing Apple's tablet technology and outfitting students with iPads, which start at $499 for a basic model and cost up to $829 for high-end versions with increased storage capacity and additional wireless network options.
Incoming medical students at the University of California, Irvine are set to receive fully loaded iPads at a ceremony Friday for new students.
But iPads aren't just being embraced by medical school staff.
A pilot program at Oklahoma State University will provide students in certain communications and business courses with the devices, and all 550 incoming freshmen at the Illinois Institute of Technology will receive iPads loaded with introductory course material this fall.
At Stanford, similar experiments with other electronic devices, such as the Kindle wireless reader, haven't lived up to expectations. This time, school officials will determine how helpful the devices are to students by monitoring their use through regular surveys.
"We really don't know yet how the incoming medical students will use them," said Dr. Henry Lowe, the school's senior associate dean for information resources and technology.
Lowe, who regularly uses an iPad, said he's found the device extremely helpful and predicts it will catch on among doctors.
"Physicians are a mobile group," he said in a statement. "They're moving around from clinic to clinic, from patient to patient."
The handheld devices aren't the only way the school of medicine is making inroads in revamping its teaching style.
In September, the school will open the five-level, 120,000-square-foot Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, which will include interactive, experiential and team-based learning technologies.
The center is the school's first new education building in 50 years.
Officials said the technology shift would help make "significant changes" to the medical school's current education model.