Will iPads or other tablet devices become standard diplomatic equipment? President Obama periodically receives his daily intelligence briefing on one and the UK even built a custom app (aka "the Number 10 Dashboard") for the Prime Minister. USAID started using them the year they were introduced and in 2013 the Pentagon cleared iPads for use on its secure networks.
British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher declared (at Chatham House, December 2012) that "In this brave new digital world, the most effective diplomats will carry an iPad rather than letters of credence." Fletcher believes "the digital revolution has opened up a new frontier. Equipped with the right kit and the right courage, diplomats should – as ever – be among its pioneers." We agree. The Patterson School's iPad trial revealed the considerable benefits this transformative technology can provide to one of the world's most traditional professions.
Over the three years that all students, faculty, and staff used iPads, the device became a must have item. And, in our context, "must have" actually meant "must have with you" at any given moment. Students almost always brought their iPads to class, but where the device appeared to have the greatest impact was everywhere else: in the corridor, on a bus, at lunch, waiting for a plane.
The iPad shined most in content delivery. Coupled with PressReader (which provides instant access to 2500+ international newspapers and magazines), it lets policy wonks in training stay current on breaking events from Venezuela to Vatican City to Viet Nam. Other apps offer up live BBC and NPR broadcasts, the evening TV news, or the author featured last night on The Daily Show. The iPad proved to be an unbeatable media device. Light enough to always have at hand, battery life sufficient to go all day, and a screen that is large and bright enough to make reading enjoyable.
From the educator perspective, having everyone in the program working with the same device proved exponentially advantageous. The iPad and its many apps enhanced student teamwork and information sharing, provided an easy vehicle to convey class content and required readings, and improved student presentations. In the trial closeout survey, over 90% of our students said the iPad had enhanced their academic experience, with more than 80% believing the device would be valuable in their future profession (a third said "extremely valuable").
Our technology project drew considerable attention and support, from sponsors providing hardware and software to those who make the magic in Cupertino. Indeed, during the trial the Patterson School was designated an "Apple Distinguished Program" in recognition of our efforts to "enhance the training of future international affairs professionals with the latest technology and methods, with an eye toward both the classroom and the workplace."While the Patterson School's formal iPad trial has concluded, our faculty and staff (and many students) continue to explore additional ways to use the device in the classroom and test new apps to see how they can further enhance the study and practice of diplomacy.