Transforming Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: The @Lab Innovators Project

The @Lab Innovators is an initiative of the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) at Zayed University, UAE. Initially, the project was conceived as a series of 20 iPad workshops created and delivered by certified Apple Professional Learning Specialists (APLSs) at the CEI focusing on utilising the unique aspects of Apple mobile technologies in Higher Education contexts in order to help our faculty be more effective when teaching online during the lockdowns due to the global pandemic. Each session was 50 minutes long and it was delivered remotely. All professional learning sessions were recorded and made available via a learning management platform for later access by faculty.

Each of the sessions was carefully crafted to ensure practical hands-on tools with a focus on pedagogy and best practices in remote learning. After successfully delivering the workshops, faculty, who became part of the @Lab Innovators Project, completed the online Apple Teacher Certification course on the Apple Learning Center. Faculty were then asked to design a learning experience with iPad and complete a lesson plan. The lesson plan was peer reviewed according to a set of active learning rubrics and feedback was provided to faculty. The next step was for faculty to submit their revised lesson plan and create a reflective video (2-3 minutes) using Clips in order to showcase examples of their materials and how they used those materials to engage their students.

Faculty who completed the first phase of the @Lab project, then embarked on the second phase of the project which focused on creating unique and engaging teaching materials for their learning contexts using the 10.2 inch iPads, Apple pencils and Smart Keyboards we provided them with. Faculty were also mentored to help them design teaching interventions using the digital materials they created with Apple technologies. The design also included the collection of evidence of impact of the teaching interventions.

For the third and final phase of the @Lab project, faculty implemented their interventions, collected evidence of impact and were encouraged to write up the research projects and submit them for publication in research journals. The three phases of the @Lab project are summarized in the table below.

Apple Technology Requirements

@Lab innovators used a number of Apple devices to transform the learning experiences for their students. At a foundational level, we encouraged faculty to have iPad, Apple Pencil and a keyboard. Depending on the intervention they designed, we also provided iPads for their students. Macs and Apple TVs were also options made available to them should they wished to explore. The use of Apple Classroom and Apple Schoolwork was also encouraged in the design phase of the program as was the incorporation of managed devices via Apple School Manager for larger scale projects.


Over 140 faculty participated in the first year of the @Lab project. They had varying levels of experience with Apple technologies with about 10% of them never having used iPads or other Apple mobile devices and another 10% reporting they were expert users of Apple technologies. Faculty found the sessions easy enough to follow, they thought the length of the sessions was just right and that the sessions significantly contributed to their knowledge and skills.

Faculty reported that the use of the iPad in teaching online helped them implement activities that would otherwise have been impossible just using their laptop. One of the faculty reported:

Annotation and showing the steps when solving a problem is important when teaching math. My laptop does not support this type of freedom and and has no place for such dynamic interaction with students.” Another faculty reported that “the apps and features available on iPad offered subject specific options/strategies for instruction which enhanced engagement and thus learning”. Also, the ability of the iPad for promoting personalized learning and creativity was noted by one of the faculty members: “Using the iPad helped me assist students with different learning styles. It enriched my own teaching! Learning new technology is important and as an educator it is important to keep up to date with this changing medium. I will continue to use it to promote creativity and inspire my students.”

In general, faculty noted the ease of use of the iPad for teaching in a remote class environment, the ability to create engaging materials to attract the students’ attention and maintain their motivation which was diminishing as the online classes continued for months and how the @Lab Innovators project opened their eyes on what is possible with Apple technologies such as augmented reality and creating interactive activities for their students. Perhaps this detailed response provided by a faculty on how the @Lab Innovators project impacted their teaching is a good example of the many ways in which faculty benefitted from the @Lab program:

“I started using the iPad to help simplify my teaching as it is easy to learn/use, and for me that is an important element. At first I learned a few basic functions: the most helpful use for me was to mirror its screen in the zoom platform- it helped me tremendously when teaching formulas and I learned how to use Clips through the @Lab series and created simple quick videos for my students.Also I used the iPad screen recorder and created videos for the flipped classroom approach this past semester. I also found it helpful for customizing the articles that I find in Safari: I can use Safari Reader to get rid of all the distracting advertisements (readers view), change the font or background color for my students of determination and share the articles in class. I used the Keynote app to create interactive activities and I started to teach from Keynote (but I used the most elementary features-annotating tools for example- by opening my power point in keynote and displaying it in zoom-would like to learn more), I learned how to use Numbers for collaborative work, but wasn’t confident enough to use it in the classroom yet. I believe there is still so much to learn.”

Written for OEB Global 2023 by Christina Gitsaki.

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