As computers have became a common tool for students to function effectively in the classroom and to be productive in their personal lives, it should not be surprising that these students come to college with the expectation of anytime, anywhere computer access. Studies have found that most college students believe the computer to be an asset to their learning. (Lauricella, & Kay, 2010). There are some significant strengths to requiring laptops in the classroom. Access to laptops opens doors for designing more student centered and constructivist lessons, and less lectures. (Dunleavy, Dexter, & Heinecke, 2007) A study at MIT found laptops to be especially useful in large lecture halls where extended lectures are usually the norm. The study “examined the students’ perceptions of the studio classes, characterized their learning, and evaluated whether and how the studio style classes with the use of wireless laptop computers facilitate active learning in large lecture halls. “ (Barak, Lipson, & Lerman, 2006, p. 245). What they found was wireless laptop computers enabled the integration of lectures with hands on learning. Laptops used by students were superior to the traditional computer lab, and that their study was in line with other studies that support laptops in the classroom. (Barak et al., 2006) Like desktop computers, laptops have the educational advantages of facilitating student learning through problem solving, collaborating with other students, and researching. However, laptops have the added advantage of being portable so that coursework started in class can be finished at home, or in the library, or away from the university.
Therefore, many colleges have moved from computer labs to requiring laptops of all students. However, laptops should not only be used by students and faculty in universities, they should be purchased by the universities for the students and faculty, fully loaded with the appropriate software and hardware. Although the university may find it prudent to offer a couple of different packages (graphic design departments tend to utilize Macs) (Orr, Sherony, & Steinhaus, 2008), the laptop otherwise should be identical, loaded with standard software thereby meeting the requirements of the course, regardless of the major. This is beneficial because even if the student switches majors, he or she will still have access to programs required. In addition, a wide choice of computer applications gives students the opportunity to explore software they may not have purchased on their own.
An advantage of providing loaded laptops to every student is that it levels the playing field. Some studies suggest laptops provide students with more access to resources and learning opportunities. (Penue, 2006). Every student, regardless of their income will have the same opportunities to own and use a laptop without the inconveniences of checking one out of the library or working in a lab. Most universities that require laptops, like the University of North Carolina, provide grants for those in need (Carolina Computing Initiative). Other universities incorporate laptops as part of the tuition so that if financial aid is needed, it will be covered. However, for schools that do not offer assistance, laptops are expensive and without funds for the disadvantaged, some students may have problems purchasing a laptop and all necessary software.
Another reason the university should provide and purchase the laptops is that by purchasing in large quantities, universities are able to purchase laptops at substantial discounts. But a drawback of providing computers is the fact that 88% of all university students already own a laptop and 90% of these laptops are under a year old. (Lindquist & Powers, 2010) However, as more universities are requiring a loaded laptop purchased from the school, this statistic may be reduced as students may wait until college to purchase the new computer. Parents, at least, seem to appreciate the ease of purchasing a laptop that has already been chosen for the student. (Lindquist & Powers, 2010)
A further advantage of the laptop computer purchased for the students is that every student having the same computer and software means that there are less variables for support. For laptops to be successful in the classroom, technical support (and reliable internet connection) is imperative. It will be easier for the help desks to troubleshoot laptops as well as make it easier for students to help each other with technical problems if all the software and hardware is the same. Plus, faculty will more likely use the laptops if they are familiar with the same technologies the students are using. (Penue, 2006)
According to researchers, (Lindquist, et al., 2010 and Barak et al., 2006 ) there are disadvantages of using laptops in the class room. The MIT study found that 12% of the students used the laptops during classroom time to do social activities, such as checking e-mail and social networking sites. An article in the Washington Post interviewed David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown, who surveyed his classes after six weeks of lectures—laptop free. Eighty percent said they were more involved in the class discussion with the laptops put away, and 95% percent admitted using the laptop for activities other than class work. However other educators feel that it is up to the professor to engage the students. After all, if the class is not engaging, surfing the net is not much different than doodling or reading a book hidden from the teacher’s eyes. (deVise, 2010)
A bigger problem than laptops being utilized for activities other than class work, is laptops that are not effectively used at all. Students perceive that a requirement to purchase a laptop means that the laptops will be used in almost all classes. However, changing courses to accommodate technology takes time and commitment. Not only must there be professional development classes given by the university, but there has to be a willingness of the teacher to make the change. Many college professors are old enough not to have used technology as a tool for their own education and many use technologies offered by laptops and computers. Studies have shown that many teachers primarily use laptops for word processing, productivity, and research. (Dunleavy et al., 2007) North Michigan University surveyed students on using laptops in 2000 and 2005. Significant differences were found indicating that student perceptions of the usefulness, price, and quality of the computer increased from 2000 to 2005. However, if the laptops are not utilized in the classroom then the students do not see laptops as a justifiable expense. (Orr et al., 2008)
Important to the discussion of whether laptops should be required in universities is how well faculty will be trained to utilize the technology effectively. Studies have shown that many teachers primarily use laptops for word processing, productivity, and research. Therefore, teachers will need professional development to embrace the technology laptops have to offer. (Dunleavy et al., 2007) Beginning a laptop program without helping professors find a way to integrate the technology is not prudent. Teachers who see technology as an effective tool are more likely to use laptops. (And teachers who are concerned that students will use the equipment for unauthorized activity will use the laptops less often.) Therefore, universities must find ways to be sure the faculty is on board before embarking on a campus wide laptop program. “Some of the professional development that is targeted to help teachers become more “student-centered” in their teaching has been especially effective in transforming instruction in laptop classrooms.” (Penue, 2006, p. 338)
Teachers that believe that technology will support their curriculum are more likely to use it. (Penue, 2006). In addition, although professors may need help with the technology themselves, what was more critical was that they get help integrating the technology into their curriculum. In the past, most computer use has been to duplicate lecture styles with little change on how teacher’s teach. However, as teachers are trained and see what students are able to do, they are less reluctant to assign more complex projects.
A laptop is a tool, and like any tool, its effectiveness is contingent upon the how the tool is used. The presence of a technological tool is not sufficient for enhanced learning. Although difficult to measure, computer skills are imperative for the 21st century workplace. In order for technology to make a difference, however, students must be able to use the computers and programs at home or in the dorms (Penue, 2006). If they take the laptops with them to class, projects started in the classroom may be continued elsewhere. However, there must be adequate technical support and on-site repair, plus reliable internet connections available 224/7. Teachers must be trained not only in the technology itself, but understand how the technology integrates into their curriculum, with professional development classes that show the teachers how to utilize the laptops for active learning.
Barak, M., Lipson, A., & Lerman, S. (2006, Spring). Wireless laptops as means for promoting active learning in large lecture halls. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. Vol 38(3). ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education).
CCI, Carolina computing initiative. Retrieved from http://cci.unc.edu/about/index.htm
Dunleavy, M., Dexter, S. & Heinecke, W.F. (2007). What added value does a 1:1 student to laptop ratio bring to technology-supported teaching and learning? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23, 440–452. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Lauricella, S., & Kay, R. (2010). Assessing laptop use in higher education classrooms: The laptop effectiveness scale (LES). Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. vol 26(2).
Lindquist, E. & Powers, P. (2010, May 23). Some UW-Stout students would prefer to buy own laptops. The Leader-Telegram (McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX)
Retrieved from http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2010/05/23/4803833.htm
Orr, C., Sherony, B., & Steinhaus, C. (2008, June). Student perceptions of the value of a university laptop program. College Teaching Methods & Styles Journal.vol 4,(6).
Penue, W. R. (2006). Implementation and effects of one-to-one computing initiatives: A research synthesis. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. vol 38(3). ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education).
de Vise, D. (2010, March 9). Wide web of diversions gets laptops evicted from lecture halls. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/08/AR2010030804915.html