Benefit or distraction?
Laptop study seeks answers
by Heidi Wicks
The Killick Project in the Faculty of Education aims to foster innovative research, training, and generation of new knowledge in the area of e-learning in education. One of Killick’s research initiatives is a laptop study, being conducted with a group of high school students at Prince of Wales Collegiate in St. John’s.
Dr. Bruce Sheppard and Dr. Timothy Seifert of Memorial are the lead researchers, with Stephen Connors, chemistry teacher at PWC. The study is a partnership project with the Faculty of Education and the Eastern School District, and involves two groups of advanced placement students in each grade level one group using laptops to learn their curriculum, the other using traditional classroom methods.
The initiative began in September 2006, and researchers have reached partial conclusions, although the outcome is far from set in stone.
“An interesting finding concerning student perception (of the project) is that the majority of them clearly indicated that they’ve been struggling with distraction that comes with the laptops,” said Dr. Sheppard.
“If they’re doing their homework, or in classes doing research, they’re surfing the web, finding information and so on, or taking notes from some class discussions or teacher lecture … they find that the draw of the web, or the messaging software/MSN. Suddenly someone wants to chat. Teachers and students both recognize that this is a distraction. One student suggested putting up blocking software, but realized that sometimes being able to ask the person across the room, ‘Have you worked out this problem?’ so then the chat becomes more engaging and instructional, and therefore helpful,” he said.
Although many may see Internet distractions as a negative aspect of introducing technology to the classroom, it is possibly a way of garnering independent, self-motivated learning amongst students, say the researchers.
“Some teachers use the Internet as a teaching tool,” said Mr. Connors, “Kids are going to find distractions no matter what, whether it’s messenger, an iPod, a laptop, a cellphone, whatever. It’s just a matter of getting familiar with whatever the latest form of technology is. Kids will always have distractions, whether it’s their laptop or a notebook they’re doodling in. By using technology, I think they’re going to be more motivated, and I think they’ll be less distracted.
“We’ve got eight teachers here now who are working hard and are very enthusiastic about getting it up and running,” Mr. Connors continued, “and having Bruce Sheppard on board is great because he gives an objective opinion in his assessments. It gives validity to the study.”
The study is nowhere near complete, and researchers are hoping that its second year will answer floating questions, like whether or not the laptop technology can inspire students to become more self-motivated, independent learners. As well, there is considerable professional development amongst teachers that needs to occur before the program can be sustainable, as well as economic considerations. Currently, there is only a certain bracket of students and schools who are able to afford laptop learning.
Overall, however, teachers, students and researchers alike are pleased with the new doors that technology in the classrooms is opening.