A difficult tablet to swallow but the prognosis looks good

Teaching with the aid of notebook PCs is given a cautious thumbs up by lecturers. Jack Grove writes

November 3, 2011

The pros and cons of teaching students with a tablet PC have been assessed in a new study.

The tablet computer is the latest electronic device to be used in lectures, with market-leader Apple selling almost 40 million iPads since its launch just 18 months ago.

The merits of teaching with tablets have been evaluated in a paper by Kyu Yon Lim, assistant professor at Ajou University, in South Korea, in the journal Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

She observed the introduction of tablet PCs at an engineering faculty at a large US university, in which 28 staff volunteered to take part.

The new technology was not universally popular with academics. While some revelled in the ability to transmit information, graphs and equations using the touch-screen technology, others found it cumbersome and time-consuming.

One lecturer said he found writing on the small screen inhibited his teaching style. "I find the chalkboard to be an opportunity to literally create something," he said.

"I can go back, I can add in, I can pull anything I wrote on the board. I found some of the electronic medium to be difficult just because it tends to stifle the creativity."

Others complained that they had to dump materials previously prepared for overhead projectors and develop new digital resources.

Half the participants also reported frustration with the hardware and software, especially older staff unused to working with technology throughout their career.

However, many were impressed with the option of sketching equations on an electronic touch pad rather than typing information into a computer.

Despite observing the problems faced by staff adapting to new technology, the paper reports that "all 28 participants...agreed that the (tablet) increased efficiency and quality for drawing graphs, charts and equations as well as sketching".

It concludes on a cautionary note: "Attractive additions of a technology to an inherently poor teacher do not create conversion to a competent teacher."


New-wave lectures: Technology's helping hand

Quick-fire, ask-the-audience-style quizzes using motion-sensor technology are being trialled in lectures at the University of Portsmouth.

The motion-based audience response system was developed by Manish Malik, senior lecturer in electronic and computer engineering, who said his approach is preferable to existing alternatives because students do not need to carry electronic gadgets. Instead, a digital video camera is trained on students in the lecture theatre and software is used to identify their hand movements when they are asked a question.

"Students loved it," Dr Malik said. "They were clapping after the lectures." He added: "Some lecture rooms are equipped with transmitters or you can hand out clickers, but this is costly equipment. (My system) only needs a webcam, a laptop and the software." He is now developing the software into a format that can be used in schools.

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