The Best Uses of Student Laptops

Here’s a quote from a document I’m working on for US Faculty:

The Best Uses of Student Laptops We’ve Seen

Student Laptop UseIn both the MS and US, the best routine use of laptops involves organization. Research, writing and revision are the core productivity benefits, but the overall benefit of “having your work in one place” is a major benefit for laptop users (and why backing up the work is so critical). Four years ago, a US student with an early tablet computer showed me a brilliant use of OneNote software—he had carefully used the software to take and organize notes, illustrations and text from all of his classes, and he could easily search and page through his notes at will.

In the MS, we see similar gains. Before the laptop program, maybe 30% of students had decent skills in managing their work on a computer. As we scan the 7th and 8th laptops this year, we find that over 80% of students are doing a great job of organizing their work, as well as using the laptops to manage their time and make productive use of online communications. Having the files, the calendars and notes, and communications tools all on one device had made a major difference, and this is one of the main advantages to student laptops that travel from home to school.

In the US, we would like to ensure that this type of benefit continues for all students, and the Edline System helps in this goal with files, dates and other resources in online space that the students can access at any time. This summer, the Edline system should be upgraded to include discussion boards and homework hand-in features.

The next best use of laptops we’ve seen is advanced project work. Unlike a computer lab, where students might spend 45 minutes on a given day working on a project, a laptop enables students to invest more time in advanced and in-depth work with research, writing, data collection, mathematics, images and video, music creation and a host of other productive opportunities. This type of individualized work is normally unique to a student or a group of students, but that most students report that they have an interest in at least one area where laptops can enable in-depth, academic work.

Finally, we’d like to create a set of examples of the best in-class uses of student-owned laptops. These examples might be simple—like the use of ProQuest for science research. Or more sophisticated—such as video or music production on a laptop owned by a student but brought to school. We’ve found that when US faculty want kids to use computers during class time, they often forget that many of the students own their own laptops and can easily bring them to school for basic in-class work. For students with advanced interests (in Mathematica or Maya, for example), we’d like to become involved and help them secure their own legal copies of advanced software for personal use on their laptops.

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