Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Learning activities with laptops

In The Great Laptop Debates, I have been firmly in the pro-laptop camp. I don’t think it’s a good idea to ban them from classrooms. Many students need them to take notes, with or without official disability accommodation. It’s a waste of my time to police whether students use electronic devices, pass notes among each other, or roll their eyes. If I was a student, I would leave any class that would force me to shut down my laptop if I wanted to use it: Good bye and go bless your heart! 

Be my guest, you might say, but what about those studies that show (correction, I’d say: claim) that students learn less in the presence of electronic devices? 

Now, I could go on a rant about why I don’t buy those claims and why the evidence is weak, lacks validity, etc. This might be fun – in fact, it is fun: see The Tattooed Professor’s epic but not always accurate rant. But it wouldn’t show you how laptops can actually increase learning. It’s not enough that laptops don’t hurt students if used properly: we have to use them in a way that actually improves learning. 

This is the time for full disclosure: I have not studied laptop use in classrooms in any systematic manner. I have not tried a wide variety of learning activities with laptops, haven’t collected data, haven’t published analyses of those data in SoTL journals. But I can do two things: point to literature and make some suggestions. 

Avanti dilettanti! 

Publications: I am sure that I’ve found only a small portion of all there is, but a good starting point (at least chronologically) is a 2005 issue of New Directions in Teaching and Learning edited by Barbara Weaver and Linda Nilson. The different articles report on intentional laptop use in a variety of classes at Clemson University. Weaver and Nilson’s introduction (pdf) summarizes a number of activities that are explained in more detail in the individual articles of the volume: using laptops to gather immediate responses from students, to conduct in-class online research and source evaluation, to deliver multimedia material such as videos, to engage students in simulations, or to take laptops on field trips for mobile classwork.