The Use of Laptops and Tablets PCs in Secondary School Subjects

Year: 2019

Author: Byers, Terry

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Access to and use of digital technology in education, its value, or lack thereof, continues to be a contested subject. Proponents of technology hinge their arguments on the premise that the integration of technology has the potential to enhance teaching and learning. Many focus on the affordances that particular devices present to teachers to modify, augment or transform their practice to enhance student learning experiences. An example of this is the recent evolution of Tablet PCs, with the affordances of a digitised stylus mimicking the function of a pen/pencil, Here the argument by proponents suggests that the stylus, like a pen, better supports human thought and learning through the ability to engender both linguistic and nonlinguistic communication unlike a laptop's keyboard interface. On the other hand, critics continue to lament the limited understanding of the use of these devices in the classroom setting. There is a limited understanding of how teachers incorporate, or not, the affordances presented by different digital devices with their practice and the ensuing nature of student learning experiences across a variety of subject areas.

In light of the gap in the literature, an exploratory study investigated how a sample of secondary school teachers (n = 26) and their students utilised laptops and Tablet PC (Microsoft Surface) devices in different subject areas. Over three years, a time-series quasi-experimental approach, facilitated by a repeated measures design, compared the activity and behaviour of the same teacher using these devices to discern if and how the interface (laptop – keyboard and Tablet PC – digitised stylus and keyboard) impacted pedagogies and student learning experiences. The application of the Linking Pedagogy, Technology, and Space (LPTS) observational metric timed, compiled and produced a proportionate visual breakdown of actions and behaviours of both teachers and their students using each device. Comparative visual analysis of the repeated measures observational data highlighted how the teacher sample used, or not, the affordances presented by the interface of each device in different subject areas. Thematic analysis of post-observation conversation highlighted how the nature of communication in the various subjects influenced the interaction with the device interface. The findings, similar to those of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014), Oviatt et al. (2012) and van der Meer and van der Weel (2017), suggested that the affordances presented by device interface can impact the use of devices and nature of learning they can support in different subject areas.