Weber State students have learned that collaborating for a group paper is more convenient online, but handheld flash cards are superior to any prompting system on their tablets.

Jeff Tuverson appreciates the option of hitting “pause” when his Weber State University instructor says something confusing. But he also likes being able to ask questions in a live classroom setting.

“With an actual lecture, you can’t pause the instructor while you think about what he said,” said Tuverson, 24 and a zoology major. “And you can pause a virtual lecture, but you can’t ask your virtual teacher questions.”

Tuverson and 13 other honors students are part of an experimental class to test the value of tablet computers as classroom and remote learning tools.

Bret Ellis, Weber State’s vice president of information technology, teaches the class, which asks students to listen to live or virtual lectures and to attempt various tasks with pen and paper and with their loaner iPads. On Fridays, Ellis and his students come together for a timed online test and to discuss their feelings about when tablet computers offer a learning advantage and when they don’t.

“The virtual lectures are nice, because I can watch them on my breaks at work,” said history major Boston Workman, 17. “But there are distractions, and I’m not sure I retain as much. For me, I think it’s better to have an allotted time that I come to the classroom and learn.”

One student drew laughs by saying he had begun using his iPad in all his classes, and his backpack was now about a tenth of its previous weight.

Ellis established the class to study the tablet’s effectiveness as a classroom tool and see which wireless updates would best help WSU.

“I had students identify learning activities, like listening to lectures, taking quizzes, writing papers alone or in groups, studying with flash cards …,” he said. “I designed experiments so every Friday we would test the traditional way of learning against the mobile way.”

So far, students have learned that collaborating for a group paper is more convenient online, and handheld cardboard flash cards are superior to any prompting system on their tablets.

On other questions, opinions are mixed, and feelings often align with students’ iPad-using comfort level.


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