FREDERICK — Professor Christopher Stromberg picked up a paperback book with a creased cover.
He flipped open his book. The students turned on their Apple iPads and launched e-book reader software.
Such is life at Hood College this fall. All 318 first-year students enrolled in the Class of 2015 were given complimentary iPads this summer. Hood launched an initiative to explore the role of portable tablet computers in the college’s academic mission last year, a program paid for by a grant from an anonymous alumnus.
All 318 received an early homework assignment once they were given their new tablet computers. During the summer, students were instructed to eschew traditional paperback books like the ones Stromberg covets and read Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” on their computers.
Martha Bari, director of Hood’s first-year experience program, said the assignment fulfilled two missions: Students could get acclimated to their new tablet computers, and they could become familiar with Hosseini’s tale about the experiences of two Afghani women whose lives were affected, and intertwined, by recent wars. Hosseini is scheduled to visit Hood in October.
Stromberg led a discussion about “A Thousand Splendid Suns” during first-year student orientation last month. The conversation ended with a spirited debate about the new iPads, how students are adjusting to them and if e-readers are better than printed books.
First-year student Jamone Davis, of Cincinnati, said he was able to quickly look up the meaning of Arabic phrases on the iPad.
“I probably would have just read over them if I had a book,” he said.
Stromberg, a reluctant convert, said he prefers books because he can take notes in the margins. He said he also enjoyed another advantage.
“I don’t need batteries,” he said, tapping his book’s cover.
Even so, Stromberg said the tablet computers would likely be used daily by students, even if it was simply to keep track of friends and communicating with friends and family via social networking. He said he would have preferred to see Hood give larger laptop computers better suited for writing papers, but, so far, students seem enamored with their iPads.
Winters Mill High School graduate Joseph McCulloh came to Hood, in part, to play lacrosse. He had already made his college decision but said he thought he lucked out by getting a new tablet computer as well.
Manchester Valley High School graduate Ashley Kitzmiller, who runs cross country at Hood, said, at first, she had a hard time believing she would get an iPad for free.
“I was the first of my friends to get one,” she said. “They were jealous. Everyone wanted to see it.”
Bari said she’s heard from many students that they came to Hood, in part, because of the iPads. It is unclear if future first-year students will get iPads. But she said students mentioned it was a welcome perk to their educational process.
“They are going to use them here,” she said, “for every purpose imaginable.”