The merits of new technology are often debated in the classroom. Last semester, some of that new technology was tested in the classroom, where UVA English students explored the iPad’s potential for learning and scholarship.

Thirteen students were loaned iPads in a discussion group for professors Jennifer Greeson’s and Brad Pasanek’s survey course, British and American Literature from 1660 to 1880. Pasanek and the group’s teaching assistant also used iPads during the experiment.

The goal was to see what works and what doesn’t when incorporating technology into course work. When asked for feedback, students gave mixed reviews. Some favored consolidating resources into one relatively compact device. Others found the technological kinks daunting. Some just didn’t like reading Dickens on a screen.

Pasanek says English faculty realize that textbooks will increasingly be moved to digital formats in the not-too-distant future. “It behooves us to shape the next stage before it is forced upon us by a publishing market that does not have our students’ best interests at heart,” he says. Pasanek and his colleagues plan to produce a digital “UVA anthology” that would include texts used in English courses and support material to illuminate those texts.

“I applaud my colleagues’ efforts,” says English professor Jahan Ramazani. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being in this English department is its leadership in developing new print and digital ways of disseminating literature.” But he cites a problem with the material available via e-readers and tablets. “Modernist scholars run into copyright restrictions,” he says, “since most literary works published after 1922 aren’t in the public domain and can’t be digitized without paying huge permission fees.”

In 2010, the Darden School of Business tried a similar experiment with the Kindle DX. Most students said in a survey they would not recommend the Kindle DX to incoming MBA students. However, nearly all said they would recommend it as a personal reading device. Michael Koenig, director of MBA operations at Darden, still sees educational potential in tablets. He told the Financial Times, “I was surprised by how many of my faculty members walked in with an iPad as soon as they were launched.”

Pasanek, along with English professor John O’Brien, have another iPad-related project on Grounds. With a grant from the Jefferson Trust, they’re creating a digital version of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson changed the book many times after he first wrote it in 1781 and, O’Brien says, a digital version can reflect multiple versions better than a printed book. They hope to launch an iPad version by the end of the year.