Leeds med school students get an iPhone: but what happens when they graduate?

There was considerable press interest this week (BBC, eHealthInsider, TechRadar) in a new initiative by the Leeds University: issuing a free iPhone to students in their final two years of medical school.

The devices come with unlimited mobile internet for free as part of the arrangement with UK mobile network operator O2, and the university has taken the further step of installing WiFi networks in four medical student residences. Under this uniquely structured deal, students who want to take advantage of the iPhone’s ability for calls and SMS messages can take out a pay-as-you-go tariff from O2.

But Leeds progressive stance doesn’t stop there: they have also bundled premium applications with the devices, through an arrangement with Medhand.  Students will receive two Oxford Handbook titles and the British National Formulary free of charge from the university, with free upgrades for the duration of the two-year deal. Bypassing Apple’s AppStore, Leeds have avoided paying full retail prices.

When we publicised the news to our followers via the devices4 Twitter account, one of the question that was raised was “At what cost to other areas of the course?”  We got the opportunity to put this question to Gareth Frith, the Technology Enhanced Learning Manager at Leeds who was instrumental in putting the deal together, in a brief interview.

devices4: The press report stated a cost of £380 per student – what does this cover?

Gareth Frith: This covers the cost of the device and the unlimited free mobile broadband for the first year.

d4: What is the opportunity cost of this?

GF: The press have picked up on the “textbooks-on-an-iPhone” angle, but what this is really about is increasing the value of assessments and the near patience experience.

By deploying a device like this, the student is actively using the device every day. We ran a prior project on student assessments, and found that these weren’t completed by students (and therefore reviewed by tutors) as often as we wished. If a student had been on a 6 week work experience rotation at an off campus hospital, they might not have received feedback until week 5 when most of the learning opportunity had passed.  But with these devices, the feedback is much more immediate, and the student can get so much more from the experience.

d4: At the end of their studies, will students be required to hand the devices back?

GF: This is one of the questions we’re getting from students:
“What happens at the end of the fifth year (i.e. June 2011) – can we keep these devices and take them on into our foundation year?”

It’s good question, and one we want solve.  But as it stands at the moment, students will be asked to return their devices when they leave Leeds to start their foundation course.

This is where devices4 can step up. We hope to replicate what Leeds has achieved for their students for health care professionals on a national level: bringing individuals within healthcare together to achieve discounts on mobile phones and applications through group purchasing power.

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