Laptops In The Classroom: Help or Hindrance?

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipientKaren Kohfeld, School of Resource and Environmental Management

Project teamDavid Zandvliet, Faculty of Education, and Aimee McGowan, School of Resource and Environmental Management

Timeframe: April 2015 to February 2016

Funding: $5,000

Course addressed: REM 370 – Resource Issues in Oceanography

Final Report: View Karen Kohfeld's final project report (PDF)

Description: An open question for me as an instructor is where the use of electronic devices by students in my classrooms falls on the spectrum between 'help' and 'hindrance.'  The purpose of this project is to monitor the effects of device use on overall student engagement, learning effectiveness, and student perceptions of the learning environment.

Under normal conditions, students are allowed to bring and use laptops, tablets, and smart phones in the classroom.  For Week 1-6 of class, I plan to allow full use of devices, without any discouragement.  These normal conditions will be considered the CONTROL sessions.  For Week 7-12, students will be requested to remove all electronic devices from the learning environment.  These classroom times will be considered the DEVICE-FREE sessions.  The total number of electronic devices used will be recorded for all class periods.

The effectiveness of the learning environment will be measured using regular quizzes, and student engagement will be assessed using an observation protocol to count the total number of students who participate through asking or answering questions as well as the number of unique student participants. Surveys at week 7 and 12 will be conducted to assess the classroom perception of constraints being placed on laptop use and how those constraints affect the learning environment.

I anticipate that information about the most productive approaches for incorporating laptop use will greatly enhance effective learning and engagement. I am also interested to explore the effects of laptops in two other student populations: my large, lecture-based undergraduate classrooms, and graduate students who use their laptops in class as learning resources.

Questions addressed:  

  • Do devices impact the effectiveness of learning comprehension in a largely lecture-based classroom?
  • Does classroom engagement in the classroom suffer when device use is prevalent?
  • Does laptop use affect more than just device users?
  • How do students perceptions of the learning environment differ in classrooms with and without laptop use?

Knowledge sharing

(a) summarize the results of this project at a department faculty meeting
(b) provide a project write-up or presentation summary for the Dean's Office of the Faculty of Environment and the SFU Faculty of Environment Undergraduate Environmental Science Program Steering Committee (of which I am a member)
(c) provide a final project report for the ISTLD website.