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Study Confirms Wireless Computers Effective During Class

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A recent Columbus State University study shows that students who consistently use laptops with interaction software to enhance or supplement their classroom notes outperform their counterparts.

"The students who sporadically used computers—bringing them irregularly or not actively participating in computer-facilitated classroom activities when using them—were outperformed by all others, including those who never brought a computer to class," says CSU physics professor Zdeslav Hrepic, who, with colleague Kimberly Shaw, monitored and surveyed 37 students taking an algebra-based introductory physics course taught by Hrepic last spring.

The results reflect other recent studies that found benefits in the structured use of wireless computers in the classroom and counter a growing backlash from professors against students misusing laptops during class as described in a recent Washington Post article, "More colleges and professors shutting down laptops and other digital distractions."

Hrepic and Shaw will present their findings from "Gauging Instructional Effectiveness of Open Policy for Wireless Computers in the Classroom," during the Oct. 25-26 Workshop on the Impact of Pen-Based Technology on Education at Virginia Tech. The study also will be published in the workshop's companion monograph The Impact of Tablet PCs and Pen-based Technology: Going Mainstream, 2010.

Hrepic recently obtained a grant to equip a classroom with special classroom management software called DyKnow Vision—a key variable to the study. Designed to spur active learning and problem solving, the software allows the professor and students, who bring computers to class, to exchange ideas related to concepts they're learning. The professor, in turn, can facilitate and distribute the electronic annotations transpiring around the room and efficiently monitor the level of the students' comprehension.

One of the measurements of the Hrepic-Shaw study was cumulative semester score. Final grade percentages declined parallel to the decrease of the active computing (a combination of students bringing computers to classes and participating regularly in DyKnow sessions). The average final scores were 79.5 percent for 14 students who "always" participated, 74 percent for seven students who participated "most of the time," 64.9 percent for four students who participated "sometimes" and 61.2 percent for four students who "rarely" participated. Meanwhile, students without computers recorded a 67.2 percent average, exceeding the scores by the sporadic wireless users in the latter two categories.

"The results also show that frequent DyKnow users scored higher than their peers who had better high school GPA and SAT math scores but were less involved in wireless classroom interaction," Hrepic says. "Also, students using tablet PCs were among the course's top performers."

Hrepic and Shaw say their study signals and reconfirms that emerging classroom technology, like tablet PCs and DyKnow Vision, can efficiently and effectively transform a traditional lecture into an interactive session of learning and problem-solving activities.

The technology also can apply to a wide range of disciplines, from medical fields, science and engineering to art, education and language studies, Hrepic says.

Shaw, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences and director of CSU's Math and Science Learning Center, says efforts to expand the classroom technology in the College of Letters and Sciences and throughout CSU are challenged by limited funds, time and resources necessary for professors to learn and adapt to the applications.

"CSU currently holds 100 software licenses for DyKnow and we're seeking funding to furnish a classroom set, or multiple sets, of tablet PCs for faculty to check out for their students to use during class," Shaw says.

Hrepic says tablet sharing would be viable. "Ideally, every student would have a tablet PC, but even if the students paired up or shared a tablet in small groups, the application would be effective."



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