Laptops and tablets in the classroom: How to integrate electronic devices in the university

May 26, 2017, University of Seville
Credit: Petr Kratochvil/Wikipedia

Researchers from the University of Seville have published the study "To take or not to take the laptop or tablet to classes, that is the question", which has been selected for publication by the internationally recognised review Computers in Human Behavior, which deals with the social implications of new technology. In the article, the socio-economic factors that determine the use of laptops and tablets in university classrooms in Seville are analysed, as well as the factors that limit their use. It also explains the possible Trojan horse effect that inappropriate use of such devices might have, especially tablets, on a lack of academic engagement.

The study, carried out by the researchers José Ignacio Castillo Manzano, Mercedes Castro Nuño, Lourdes López Valpuesta, Teresa Sanz Díaz and Rocío Yñiguez Ovando, concludes that the profile of the user in the classroom is different from that of the user. In the first case, maturity takes precedence, that is to say, they are students who have experience in the use of laptops in pre-university education or who have been at the university for several years: as well as having different socio-economic characteristics like living away from their parents, without having any family member to look after. For their part, tablet users are usually female, they live with their parents and they have just left school.

The project, which has received a Special Mention for Teaching Innovation in the 23th National Conference on Teaching Applied Economics, uses microeconomic models on a sample of 412 students from the Faculty of Economic and Business Sciences of the University of Seville to analyse the profiles of the students who bring a laptop or tablet to class and the limitations on future expansion of their use.

For the authors, the high correlation between tablet use and greater activity on social networks is worrying. For the teacher José Ignacio Castillo, these devices, especially the tablets, "are a double-edged sword, and, as other studies have also highlighted, they can be the Trojan horse in which online entertainment invades the classroom in a massive way. It would be justifiable to evaluate limiting access to university Wi-Fi for contents that have little or no academic value, at least during class hours, if we don't want the utopia to become a dystopia".

The study also showed that there are no intellectual or technical barriers to the use of these devices in a generation of clearly digital natives, so their use is not linked to the students' technical knowledge, nor even to the marks they obtained at school.

For Castillo, according to the demands stated by the students in the study, the construction of this new paradigm demands an active role on the part of universities, improving both the physical infrastructure, especially the number of plug sockets in the classrooms, and the virtual infrastructure, especially the quality of the Wi-Fi connection. At the same time, the involvement of teachers has to be encouraged, by financing support programmes for teaching innovation, so that it is easier for teachers to encourage greater use of mobile devices in the way they teach. According to Castillo, the results of the study clearly show that the students want to get greater academic benefits from their devices in the classroom, to compensate not just for the economic investment that they have made in their laptop or tablet, but also for the personal cost of carrying them around every day.

He says, "Mobile learning or m-learning has become a new educational paradigm in developed countries as a consequence of the fact that now, students, in general, have electronic devices with which they can communicate and access information in real time". The goal of m-learning is that students learn in a more cooperative environment and with greater interaction with their teachers. However, the real use of these devices in teaching is still very far from their potential, both in Spanish university classrooms and in high schools. In this case, only a minority of students look their laptops or tablets to class regularly, specifically 17.8% and 16.8% respectively.

Explore further: Teaching practices could play an important role in preventing bullying

More information: José I. Castillo-Manzano et al, To take or not to take the laptop or tablet to classes, that is the question, Computers in Human Behavior (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.017

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not rated yet May 27, 2017
especially the quality of the Wi-Fi connection

With a hundred students and a hundred laptops in a lecture hall, the wireless simply gets congested and there's nothing much you can do about it.

not rated yet May 27, 2017
They would need separate basestation for each classroom or several, but even then wifi was never designed to service several tens of devices. The network arbitration just does not work, there will be too much collisions.
not rated yet May 28, 2017
They would need separate basestation for each classroom or several

Well, wlan has 12 or 14 channels, only 6-7 of them are actually non-overlapping. Adjacent networks shouldn't use the same or overlapping channel.

But the problem becomes, one access point bleeds over the whole building and even to adjacent buildings unless you build your classrooms to be faraday cages (in which case cellphones would stop working), so you can only really have 6-7 base stations for the entire building. Any more and they start to interfere with each other, though they're most likely already interfering with your neighbor's wifi and both are slowed down.

In a typical residential building, with every apartment running some sort of wifi router, the practical speeds you get out is around 1/10th of your connection speed, so for 54 mbps link speed... maybe 5.4 mbps actual speeds - which is halved if a second device is connected.

For a classroom of people, it's just a crawl
not rated yet May 28, 2017
That's why I find, students who bring laptops or tablets to class usually have simply downloaded the relevant PDF documents in advance and are using offline applications if any.

Trying to access online content during class is simply a non-starter. Access to cloud services, online drives etc. becomes a pain and a distraction rather than a tool when everyone's just twiddling thumbs or fiddling their devices, rebooting laptops, or voodoo-sacrificing a chicken to get things working.

The fastest, most reliable, and frankly most useful device is still a printout of the lecture material. You can write on it without making a noise, it doesn't crash and dissapear, and it won't run out of batteries half-way through the class.

Same thing about fancy smartboards and document cameras. Half the time they don't work - while the good old blackboard and overhead projector with slides always works, and does the exact same job.

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