Tuesday – April 24, 2018

From Textbooks to Tablets: iPads Bring Innovation to Machining Classrooms

October 2012

Machine shops are no longer the dimly lit, dirty factories portrayed in movies. Today, most are bright, clean and operated by highly skilled workers who program computers and sophisticated machinery to make precisely manufactured parts.

In keeping with the advanced computerized approach, Milwaukee Area Technical College machining students utilize technology that is perhaps more often found in a boardroom or in the hands of the nearest teenager. Since January 2011, MATC has been loaning iPads to students in machine shop lab classes, thanks to funding from MATC Executive Vice President and Provost Vicki Martin's Faculty Innovation Grant Program. The iPads take the place of textbooks in the machine shop and they also have broader applications.

The use of iPads in the machine shop is the brainchild of Tom Olson, MATC machining instructor. "I was thinking about a student's request for training and happened to see a commercial for iPads, and the idea just came to me," Olson said. "The students love working with the tablets. They have so many advantages over using textbooks." 

Among the major benefits of using iPads is the ability for instructors to make instantaneous changes or updates in computer numerical control (CNC) machining programs and in their curriculum, according to Olson. He also said that learning is enhanced because students can "zoom in" to see features on diagrams more clearly, view video demonstrations and even record classroom instruction so they can play it back for review. Instead of carrying around heavy textbooks, students can download e-books, which are often less expensive and interactive.


Andrew Schilling uses his iPad for reference in the machining shop.

"The students love working with the tablets. They have so many advantages over using textbooks."
-- Tom Olson

Students Help Create Curriculum

Internet access in the shop classes also is a major benefit. "Students can share links to demonstrations of machining processes," Olson said. "We have 12 to 14 students working on four machines in our classrooms. It's hard to help everyone at once. If students have questions, instead of waiting for the instructor's time, they can try to find solutions on the internet. They also can share those links with the rest of the class. This way, students become part of creating the curriculum."

Olson also sends job links and other information to students via iPads.


Machine tool students proudly show off their iPads.

The devices are loaned to the students during lab classes and then stored in the machine shop for safe keeping, but students can download information to flash drives for reference when they are not in the shop. All iPads are stored in OtterBoxes (strong casings) that protect them from fluids, dust and damage from being jostled.

Potential Cost Savings for Students

Plans are underway to require students who begin the machining programs in January 2013 and later to buy similar tablet devices in lieu of textbooks. The tablets and OtterBoxes will be available for purchase at the MATC bookstore, allowing students to use financial aid funding to cover the costs in the same manner they use financial aid for textbooks. "We believe that in the course of one year in the program, the cost of the tablet will be less expensive than the cost of purchasing printed textbooks," Olson said. The tablets will belong to the students so they can use them in the classroom, at home or at work.



Machining instructor Tom Olson works with student Jessica Morrison.


CNC setup and operations student Clarence B. Taylor checks his iPad.

Students currently enrolled in classes using the loaned iPads will be allowed to continue to use them until they finish their MATC programs. When all the students are working on their own purchased devices, the iPads received from the Faculty Innovation Grant will be made available to other MATC faculty and students.

Olson said that some of his colleagues in MATC's School of Technical and Applied Sciences are now considering introducing the use of iPads or other tablets in their programs. He also said that he is seeing a slow trend toward use of iPads or other tablets in manufacturing workplaces. "Some individuals on our advisory committee are excited about this project and looking at how they might be able to apply this technology at their companies," Olson said. "Our graduates will already be familiar with this technology when they begin working at these shops."


For more information on MATC's machining programs, visit:

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machine Operator/Programmer Diploma:


Machine Tool Operations - Automatic Screw Machine Setup and Operation Diploma:


Machine Tool Operations CNC Machine Setup and Operation Diploma:



Tom Olson