Apr 25 2013

The Converted: Tablet PCs and Convertible Tablets Gain Footing on Campus

Students are most satisfied with tablet PCs when professors use them interactively.

Colleges and universities that incorporate tablet PCs into curriculums find the devices to be a powerful blend of laptop and slate, especially when faculty are prepared to make the most of what tablets offer.

“I would really encourage faculty to think long and hard about the specific role they want that tool to play in the classroom,” says Chad Kjorlien, faculty development coordinator at Winona State University in Minnesota.

Like many institutions, WSU takes a laissez-faire approach, allowing professors to integrate devices as they see fit. But Kjorlien says he would like faculty to be more proactive when it comes to involvement in such decisions.

“The key to effective roll-out of an initiative — and a pretty dynamic initiative, like this one — is to make sure that you’re taking on what the faculty are committed to get behind,” he says.

Laptops are a staple of campus computing, but tablet devices are making inroads, in part because of their digital inking and interactive tools. A 2012 Pearson Foundation survey found that tablet ownership among college students and college-bound high school seniors grew from 7 percent to 25 percent in one year.

WSU has distributed about 7,800 computers to students, faculty and staff: the HP EliteBook 2740p, a tablet PC; the HP EliteBook 8460w, a laptop; or the MacBook Pro, a laptop. This fall, WSU will introduce a pilot of complementary tablets: an iPad Mini for the MacBook and an Android device for the EliteBook 8460w.

One advantage of tablet PCs, Kjorlien says, is their capacity for robust note taking. WSU professor Matthew Lungerhausen has experimented with note-taking teams using Google Docs. His students have given positive feedback and report having a better understanding of terminology, and Lungerhausen finds the notes an effective measure of students’ learning.

Spread the Word

Highlighting the work of professors who embrace technology encourages others to follow suit, says Dale Pokorski, director of information technology for the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. “Peer mentoring is probably the best way: having one faculty member, who is well respected, adopt a product and help other faculty members do it,” she says.

Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering requires its 7,000 students to buy one of four convertible tablets: the Fujitsu T732 or T902, the Lenovo Thinkpad X230T or the HP Revolve 810 G1. The devices have worked well, Pokorski says, with one caveat: “If the faculty member continues teaching the same way they’ve always taught, you’re not going to see a lot of change in learning outcomes.”

Students report the most satisfaction with tablet PCs when professors use them interactively, Pokorski says. In a survey of faculty last year, more than 48 percent used tablets to annotate slides, but a smaller percentage adopted interactive tools. However, the college’s first-year classes are paperless: Students submit work digitally, and many professors use DyKnow for interactive learning.

Another advantage of tablet PCs, Kjorlien says, is their annotation capability: “There’s some real power to what the tablet PC offers in terms of digital ink.”

With the help of success stories like Lungerhausen’s, Kjorlien says he is being more deliberate in helping faculty use such resources: “That is the faculty prerogative, to have control over what’s going on [in the classroom], but certainly the students are reliant on the device in many different ways. The tool is a very powerful one when used correctly.”


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