Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology

ISSN 2230-4398, Volume 22, Issue 1, 2018

Incorporating the NACCQ publications:
Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1176-4120
Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1174-0175

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Box Refereed Article :

Laptops for Information Technology Students: User Impressions and the Impact on Learners

Michael J. Watts
Auckland Institute of Studies, New Zealand
mjwatts@ieee.org

Dios Cabiling
Auckland Institute of Studies, New Zealand
cabilingd@gmail.com

Kar Wen Choe
Auckland Institute of Studies, New Zealand
karwenc@ais.ac.nz

Watts, M J., Cabiling, D. & Choe, K W. (2018). Laptops for Information Technology Students: User Impressions and the Impact on Learners. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 22(1). Retrieved June 15, 2019 from http://www.citrenz.ac.nz/jacit/JACIT2201/2018Watts_StudentLaptopsR1.html

Abstract

The Information Technology Programme at Auckland Institute of Studies transitioned to a laptop-based teaching mode 2014-15. While the roll-out was a success from an administrative perspective, the effect of these laptops to students’ learning had not been thoroughly evaluated. To address this gap and to improve the students’ learning experience, the majority of students in the IT Programme were surveyed at semi-annual intervals, on the students' experiences and satisfaction with using laptops. We found that most students were satisfied with the laptops, laptops improved the students’ learning experience, and that students found laptops helpful in doing course assessments. We also found that a large proportion of students did not backup their data. A statistical analysis of course outcomes comparing results before and after the transition showed that there was a significant difference between course outcomes, with the median course outcomes after the transition being one sub-grade higher. This shows that laptops are an effective tool for teaching IT. It also shows that further technical work must be done to improve the security of students’ data.

Keywords

International students, student computing, laptops

Laptops for Information Technology Students: User Impressions and the Impact on Learners

 

Michael J. Watts, Dios Cabiling, Kar Wen Choe
Auckland Institute of Studies, New Zealand
mjwatts@ieee.org, cabilingd@gmail.com, karwenc@ais.ac.nz

Abstract

The Information Technology Programme at Auckland Institute of Studies transitioned to a laptop-based teaching mode 2014-15. While the roll-out was a success from an administrative perspective, the effect of these laptops to students’ learning had not been thoroughly evaluated. To address this gap and to improve the students’ learning experience, the majority of students in the IT Programme were surveyed at semi-annual intervals, on the students' experiences and satisfaction with using laptops. We found that most students were satisfied with the laptops, laptops improved the students’ learning experience, and that students found laptops helpful in doing course assessments. We also found that a large proportion of students did not backup their data. A statistical analysis of course outcomes comparing results before and after the transition showed that there was a significant difference between course outcomes, with the median course outcomes after the transition being one sub-grade higher. This shows that laptops are an effective tool for teaching IT. It also shows that further technical work must be done to improve the security of students’ data.

Keywords

International students; student computing; laptops

1.   Introduction

The context of the project reported here is the Information Technology Programme at Auckland Institute of Studies. At the time of this research project, the programme offered two qualifications: the three-year Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT, level 7); and the one-year, level 7, Graduate Diploma in Information Technology (GDIT). A third qualification, the level 8 Postgraduate Diploma in Information Technology (PGDIT) has since been added. Three specialisations are currently taught: Software Development; Computer Networks; and Information Systems. There are three semesters per calendar year, and students may enter the programme at the start of any semester.

It is axiomatic that effective teaching of information technology requires extensive practical work. This has traditionally been done using student computer laboratories, where desktop computers are installed. At the start of the project the IT programme had six dedicated computer labs, including two network labs. This situation had several problems.

The most substantial problem faced by the IT Programme at AIS was that the size of the lab, with respect to the number of computers installed had to be matched to the size of the class. That is, a lab with an insufficient number of computers directly impacts student learning, while a lab with too many is a waste of resources.

The breakdown of a single lab machine inconveniences everyone who uses that lab. Since students are not always reliable in reporting faults, a breakdown could go unrepaired for some time.

While a standard image can be easily installed on each lab machine, and software installed on user profiles fed from a central server, some courses have software that is particular to that course. Some of that software, for example the data mining package WEKA (Witten & Frank, 2005), cannot be installed on profiles and must be installed locally on each machine. This is time-consuming, inefficient and inconvenient.

While larger institutions can bear the cost of having student labs open 24/7, the cost of security can be substantial and even with cameras in every lab, thefts of equipment still occur. While thefts are unfortunate-and directly contribute to computers being unavailable-a greater issue is the lack of student access to the labs, as this can interfere with the students’ ability to carry out their practical assignments.

Finally, running computer labs forces an institution into regular updates. As computers get older they become less reliable and therefore require more maintenance. They also become less capable of running the latest software. Lab machines must therefore be replaced regularly, but even disposing of the old computers has a cost.

Issuing laptops to students solves these problems. If every student is given a laptop, then there are always enough machines available to the class. If a laptop breaks down, it only inconveniences one person, and then only until a spare or new laptop can be given to that student. Being portable, they are available at all times to the students, and security for “their” machine becomes their responsibility. Finally, software can be installed on the machines on an as-needs basis, or students can install the software themselves. The self-installation approach is especially appropriate for IT students: that is, IT students need to be able to install software, and therefore need practice in doing so.

Our goal was to replace the student IT labs with a one-laptop-per-student approach, where the cost of the laptop was recovered from the per-course resource fees. The laptops needed to be powerful enough to run the coursework software yet priced such that the full cost of the laptop could be recovered from a one-year qualification. At the end of the transition, every student had a laptop and all of the computer labs had been decommissioned.

The above motivation for switching to laptops is largely administrative. While it was anticipated that laptops would be more popular with students, it was important to verify that the change did not adversely affect students. To do this, we investigated the following research questions:

1) Are the students satisfied with their laptops?

2) Do the students feel that laptops negatively or positively affect their in-class learning?

3) Do the students feel that laptops positively or negatively affect their ability to carry out assessments?

4) Are there technical matters we could be doing better?

5) Do laptops negatively affect student grades?

The first four were investigated using a series of student surveys, starting one year after the end of the transition period. We investigated the fifth research question by comparing the final grades of students from before the laptop roll-out, with those of students from after the laptop roll-out.

The existing literature is mixed as to the effectiveness of laptops in classrooms. Research with high school students (Keengwe, Schnellert and Mills, 2011) found that laptops contributed positively to student engagement, while the academic performance of middle school students was shown to significantly improve after being issued with individual laptops (Lowther, Ross and Morrison, 2003; Gulek and Demirtas, 2005; Del and Theresa 2001). In higher education, research has found that note-taking and other learning activities were made more efficient by the use of laptops (Efaw et al., 2003), and that the usefulness of laptops outweighs the challenges of using them (Wurst, Smarkola and Gaffney, 2008; Kay and Lauricella, 2011). A recent study found that banning laptops from class does not improve student performance (Elliot-Dorans, 2018).

Conversely, laptops can also be distracting for the students using them, which negatively affects students’ learning (Fried, 2008; Patterson and Patterson, 2017; Carter, Greenberg and Walker, 2017). This distraction, however, tends to be caused by using the laptops for non-class related activities (Gaudreau, Miranda and Gaureau, 2014). Web browsing in-class has been identified as a factor in laptops contributing to lower student grades (Grace-Martin and Gay, 2001), along with email and instant messaging (Kraushaar and Novak, 2010). Such distraction has even been shown to extend to those students who are not directly engaged in the non-class activities (Sana, Weston and Cepeda, 2013), and that the division of student attention in class caused lower performance in exams (Glass and Kang, 2018). A study of Spanish graduate students, however, found that academic work was the most prevalent use of laptops in class (Goyanes and Catalán-Matamoros, 2017).

However, most of the literature cited above dealt with non-IT students, and mostly described classes in North America. While the makeup of the student bodies studied in the cited work were not specified, the work reported here involves international IT students studying in New Zealand.

2. Laptop Rollout

We designed and implemented a one-year, or three-semester, plan to transition our teaching from a lab-based to a laptop-based mode of instruction. It commenced in the third semester, or September intake, of 2014 and completed the end of Semester 2 (August) 2015.

We supplied students with laptops, rather than implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model. This was because we wanted to ensure that the laptops were capable of running the required course software, and that the software on the laptops was legal. If we had gone with a BYOD model, it was considered to be highly probable that at least some of the laptops students brought would have been incapable of running course software, which would have left the student unable to do their coursework. It was also considered likely that at least some of the software on the laptops would have been from “less than legal” sources, with all of the security risks that that would have entailed.

During the first semester of the transition, all students with at least three semesters worth of study remaining (no matter which qualification they were pursuing) were issued with laptops. For each semester of the transition, all new students, no matter their qualification, were issued with laptops. Thus after one year, all students in all qualifications had laptops.

Computer labs were progressively decommissioned so that after one year, there were no remaining computer labs. Several networked multi-function devices (MFD), combining printing, photocopying and scanning functions, were installed on-campus before the laptop roll-out commenced.

When the students complete their programmes of study, ownership of the laptops is signed over to them. Thus, problems with aging hardware and disposal of obsolete equipment are eliminated. This also avoids the problems and costs of cleaning laptops and otherwise restoring them to an acceptable state for re-use.

3. Student Surveys

To investigate the impressions students had about laptops, we carried out three student surveys over a one-year period. The first survey was carried out in October 2016, the second in April 2017, and the third in October 2017. The surveys investigated several aspects of the students’ impressions of the laptops:

All IT students were surveyed. We investigated student satisfaction with the laptops themselves by asking the following questions:

We investigated student impressions of the impact of laptops on their in-class learning by asking the following questions:

After analysis of the first two surveys, and taking into account feedback received on an earlier paper (Watts, Cabiling and Choe, 2017) we added three questions to the third survey:

The impact of laptops on students’ ability to carry out assessments were assessed using the following questions:

The students’ impressions of technical matters were assessed with these questions:

After processing the results of the first survey, an additional question was added to the second and third surveys:

Have you ever lost work or data from your laptop?

Questions on satisfaction, ease and difficulties experienced were assessed on a four-point Likert scale. Questions with binary answers were assessed as Yes / No responses. The demographics of the respondents were captured using multiple-choice responses, and assessed the gender of the student, the qualification they were enrolled in, their specialisation, and how long they had been an IT student.

The survey received ethical approval from the AIS Research Committee before being administered to students. The surveys were administered in class, and the classes were selected so that the overlap in students between classes was minimised, while maximising the number of IT students who could participate. Students were verbally instructed to not complete the survey if they had already done so in another class. The first two surveys were administered on paper and the results manually tabulated. The third survey was administered online using the LimeSurvey package (limesurvey.org). In this case, rather than handing students paper surveys, we instead gave them a slip of paper with a shortened URL. The survey clearly referred to “AIS-issued laptops”, which reduced any potential for confusion about which laptops (AIS-issued or personal) the survey is asking about.

4. Survey Results

There were 100 respondents to the first survey, 75 to the second and 64 to the third. In this section we present the results of these surveys. We divide this section into four subsections, corresponding to the four research questions posed in the Introduction.

4.1 Satisfaction with Laptops

Student satisfaction with their laptops is in two aspects: hardware and software. In this subsection, we present the reported level of this satisfaction.

In Table 1 we present the satisfaction with the laptop hardware. It is apparent that the student satisfaction with the hardware improved between the first two surveys then dropped again for the third. The initial improvement might be because later intakes of students received higher specification laptops than earlier intakes. Also, there were some problems with the quality of the first batch of laptops that were not present in the later batches. However, the students in the later survey would also be expected to have received more recent hardware, and the quality issues in the first batch of laptops have not, to our knowledge, been repeated.

Table 1: Student satisfaction with laptop hardware

Satisfaction

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Very unsatisfied

11

0

5

Unsatisfied

17

10

25

Satisfied

63

72

60

Very Satisfied

9

18

10

 

Student satisfaction with the software that was pre-installed on the laptop is presented in Table 2. The overall level of satisfaction decreased in the April 2017 survey, but dissatisfaction had decreased by the October 2017 survey. That is, in April 2017 more students were unhappy with the software, but they were not as unhappy as they had been in the previous survey, while by October 2017 satisfaction had rebounded to the previous level. The laptop image changes on a regular basis. However each new image is based on the previous one. Thus, the images are not independent and the satisfaction can therefore be compared between surveys.

Table 2: Student satisfaction with standard laptop software

Satisfaction

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Very unsatisfied

8

0

2

Unsatisfied

5

18

11

Satisfied

72

59

72

Very Satisfied

15

23

15

 

4.2 Impact on In-class Learning

From the point of view of educators, the most important effects laptops could have on students is on learning. In this subsection we present the results of the survey questions that investigated the students’ impressions of the effects of laptops on their learning.

In Table 3 we present the results of the survey question that dealt with student note-taking in-class. This shows a slight overall increase in the proportion of students who found it more difficult to take notes using laptops, but they are still a small minority, with most students finding it much easier.

Table 3: Does having a laptop in class make taking notes more of less difficult?

Ease

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Much more difficult

1

3

3

More difficult

4

10

6

Less difficult

62

57

67

Much less difficult

33

30

24

 

Table 4 shows the ways in which students used laptops to take notes in class. This was only included in the October 2017 survey, and shows that MS Word and Notepad are by far the most popular choices for those students who take notes using laptops. Lecture PowerPoint files are made available to students via Moodle before class, which allows the students to download and directly annotate the slides. This was the third-most popular method of taking notes in class.

Table 4: How students take notes using laptops. Proportions add to greater than 100 % because students report using more than one method to take notes.

Method

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

MS Word

36

MS Notepad

38

Direct on PPT

13

OneNote

5

Other

9

Not used

30

     

 

In Table 5 we present the results of the question gauging the impact of laptops on following classes. While the April 2017 survey shows a decrease in the proportion of students who reported that laptops made class easier to follow, by the October 2017 survey this proportion had returned again to a total of 95 %.

Table 5: Do you find having a laptop in class makes following the class more or less difficult?

Ease

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Much more difficult

1

1

0

More difficult

4

11

5

Less difficult

52

59

73

Much less difficult

43

29

22

 

As discussed in the Introduction, previous research has found that laptops can distract students. The results presented in Table 6 show that the proportion of students who reported laptops to be distracting was small overall, and decreased across the surveys, with only 8 % of respondent students finding their own laptops to be distracting in class. The results in Table 7, however, show that the way in which other students use their laptops is distracting to a total of 15 % of the respondent students, almost twice as many. The responses to the query of what about other students’ use of laptops is distracting are shown in Table 8. This shows that the most distracting activities are students watching YouTube or other websites, along with students either forgetting to mute their laptop speaker or typing at inappropriate times.

Table 6: How distracting do you find having a laptop in class?

Level of Distraction

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Very distracting

3

0

0

Distracting

17

8

8

Slightly distracting

38

45

39

Not at all distracting

42

47

53

 

Table 7: How distracting do you find other students’ use of laptops in class?

Level of Distraction

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Very distracting

2

Distracting

13

Slightly distracting

17

Not at all distracting

68

 

 

Table 8: How does other students’ use of laptops in class distract you?

Cause of Distraction

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

YouTube / video / other websites

60

Making sound / typing

30

Playing games

10

 

Overall, the students report that their own laptop use is not distracting to them, but other students’ laptop usage is. Plainly, there are some students who are not paying attention in class and are playing with their laptops, and their lack of attention is causing distraction to other students.

4.3 Impact on Student Assessment

Behind following classes, the next most important impact of laptops from an educational point of view, is on student assessments. In this subsection, we present the results of the survey questions concerning students’ experiences with completing assessments using laptops.

Table 9 presents the results of the question investigating the ease of working on IT assignments while the students were off-campus. There was little substantial change between the surveys, with the large majority finding that having a laptop helped with assignments. Only the distribution between “Slightly easier” and “Much easier” changed for the October 2017 survey, although for this survey a total of 97 % of respondents found that laptops made assignments easier to do off campus, while a total of 93 % reported the same for the earlier two surveys. While some services, such as the database servers, are not accessible off-campus, the software licensing agreements we have mean that students can install the appropriate software on their laptops. The lack of access to servers is not, therefore, a substantial impediment to students working on their assignments.

 

Table 9: How much easier does having a laptop make working on IT assignments, while off-campus?

Ease

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Much harder

3

1

0

Slightly harder

4

6

3

Slightly easier

20

21

38

Much easier

73

72

59

 

The proportion of students who experienced problems with their laptops during practical assessments is presented in Table 10. While the majority of students did not experience any problems at all, the proportion of students who did increased slightly but steadily between surveys, from 21 % in October 2016 to 36 % in October 2017. The most common problem (Table 11) reported in the first survey, automatic updates, became must less of a problem over time, reducing from 33 % of reported problems in the October 2016 survey, to 13 % in subsequent surveys. This might be because lecturers reminded students well before the exams to ensure that updates had been applied before the students went into the exam. The next most commonly reported problem, an unspecified laptop crash, remained steady across all three surveys at 29 %. Problems with network access and downloading or uploading exam files were more common in the October 2017 survey, at 29 % and 25 % respectively. It is not really surprising, however, that when network access issues arise students also have problems submitting files over the network.

 

Table 10: Proportion of students who experienced problems using laptops in practical assessments

Experienced Problems

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Yes

21

29

36

No

79

71

64

 

Table 11: Distribution of problems experienced by students in practical tests and exams

Problem

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Laptop crashed

29

29

29

Network access

13

4

29

Downloading / uploading exam files

8

8

25

Automatic updates

33

13

13

Laptop did not meet requirements

4

17

4

Other

13

29

0

 

4.4 Technical Matters

In this subsection we present the results of the questions on the technical matters assessed by the survey: printing; backing up data; and installing software. As IT students, the technical matters are expected to have a greater impact on the students than would otherwise be the case.

 

4.4.1 Printing

While the IT Programme does not require hard-copy submission of assignments, and all teaching material is distributed online via Moodle, some students prefer to print out lecture notes before class, or print out assignments for proof-reading. Table 12 displays the proportions of students who experienced problems with printing from their laptops. There is little change between the first two surveys, and a decrease in problems experienced in the third. In all cases the majority experienced no problems. The most commonly reported problem (Table 13) across all three surveys was communication between the laptop and the printer server, that is, network issues: either communications could not be established, or the laptop was not recognised by the printer server. Issues with printer drivers also arose, and other problems reported included page layout problems and (what the student thought was) poor quality printing. Again, network problems were manifesting themselves.

 

Table 12: Proportion of students who experienced problems printing from their laptops

Experienced Problems

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Yes

36

35

22

No

64

65

78

 

Table 13: Distribution of problems students experienced with printing from laptops

Problem

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Communication with the printer

28

29

53

Laptop not recognised by server

48

37

35

Printer driver

24

17

12

Other

0

17

0

 

4.4.2 Backups

Although modern computer equipment is quite reliable, hardware or software failures do happen. Other problems, such as loss or theft of laptops have also occurred. Backing-up data is therefore an important task for any student. Each student at AIS has access to one terabyte of cloud storage space for backup purposes. The question we investigated in the survey, and results for which are presented in Table 14, is what proportion of students are making use of that backup space?

We can see in this table that a sizeable minority (35-41 %) never backup their data, and that this proportion did not change substantially between surveys. Only 8 %, in the first two surveys, backed-up their data daily, and this proportion decreased to 6 % by the October 2017 survey. Plainly, the message about the importance of backups is not getting through to students.

Table 14: Frequency at which students backup laptop data

Backup Frequency

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Never

36

35

41

Monthly to Fortnightly

31

35

20

Fortnightly to Weekly

14

10

23

Weekly to Daily

11

12

10

Daily or more

8

8

6

 

The observation that a large proportion of students either never or seldom backup their data, in the October 2016 survey, motivated us to include a new question in the second and third surveys. This question asked students if they had ever lost data from their laptops, and the results of this question are presented in Table 15. While the April 2017 survey showed an un-concerning rate of 8 % of students reporting the loss of data that rose to 11 % in the October 2017 survey. This is not a large increase and is not necessarily indicative of a trend towards increasing data loss, but it is still of some concern and an item that must be addressed in the future.

 

Table 15: Proportion of students who have lost data from their laptops

Lost Data

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Yes

8

11

No

92

89

 

4.4.3 Students Installing Software

As IT is a diverse field of study, it is not feasible to include in the laptop image every software package a student might require during their studies. It is therefore important that IT students are able to install software on their laptops themselves. Table 16 shows the proportion of students who installed software in both surveys.

 

Table 16: Proportion of students who installed software on their laptops

Installed Software

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Yes

76

65

67

No

24

35

33

 

The proportion of students in 2017 who reported installing software themselves decreased slightly from 2016. This might be due to changes in the standard image that was pre-installed on the laptops. As we have moved on with the laptop programme, the standard image has evolved, to include more of the commonly-used software.

The proportion of students who encountered problems installing software is shown in Table 17. This shows that the proportion of students who encountered problems doing so slightly increased in April 2017, then decreased to its lowest level by October 2017.

 

Table 17: Proportion of students who encountered problems installing software

Experienced Problems

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

Yes

19

23

15

No

81

77

85

 

The types of problems encountered by students when installing software are shown in Table 18. The most commonly reported problems across all three surveys were compatibility of the software with the operating system, and lack of disc space. Software required for class work is tested by the lecturer before use, so it is unlikely that essential software was not able to be installed because of OS compatibility. Also, the hard drives in the current (2018) batch of student laptops have more than 400 GB of space, which makes it an open question as to how the students could have run out? Students installing corrupted or malicious software was an issue, and this has caused some problems for our technical support staff.

Table 18: Distribution of problems experienced by students installing software on laptops

Problem Experienced

Proportion (Oct-16) (%)

Proportion (Apr-17) (%)

Proportion (Oct-17) (%)

OS compatibility

24

21

25

Corrupted or malicious software

14

17

13

Anti-virus blocked installation

14

8

12

Lack of user privilege

11

12

12

Lack of disc space

17

17

17

Unclean temporary directory

10

4

4

Files locked

10

0

17

Other

0

21

0

 

5. Impact on Student Grades

We investigated the impact of laptops on student grades by comparing two groups of students. We randomly selected fifty students from before the laptop roll-out commenced and randomly selected fifty from after the roll-out was completed. The students in the first group all completed their qualifications before the roll-out started and were therefore not exposed to laptops at all, that is, their studies were entirely lab-based. The students in the second group all started their qualification after the roll-out had finished, and were therefore never exposed to lab-based study. As only final grades were available, the data was ordinal-scale. We cleaned the data of grades that denoted aegrotat and conceded passes, or studies that had been put on hold, so that only confirmed, final grades were included.

The median grade before the laptop roll-out was ‘B-’, while the median grade from after the laptop roll-out was ‘B’. We found that the two groups of grades were significantly different (chi-squared test, p=0.01). That is, grades after the roll-out were significantly better than before.

This result does not, however, prove that the laptops caused the higher grades. Several other changes occurred in the IT Programme during this period, including teaching staff and content changes, and these could also have contributed to the improvement. The result does, however, strongly indicate that the laptops did not cause a drop in student performance.

6. Discussion

The results above allow us to answer the five questions posed in the Introduction.

1) Are the students satisfied with their laptops?

Students are satisfied overall with the laptops issued to them but that satisfaction is variable, going from 72 % satisfied in October 2016 to 90 % satisfied in April 2017 then 70 % in October 2017. This is a substantial amount of variation and further work is required to identify the reasons behind these large swings in satisfaction. We have observed that the number of complaints received from students that the laptops are too slow has dropped and this is reflected in the level of satisfaction. Students are mostly satisfied with the standard software installed on the laptop, and while this satisfaction did vary slightly, the amount of variation (82 % to 87 %) was much smaller than the variation for the hardware.

2) Do the students feel that laptops negatively or positively affect their in-class learning?

The large majority of students felt that laptops positively impacted in-class note-taking, with an average of 91 % reporting that it made note-taking either Less Difficult or Much Less Difficult. Note-taking is primarily done via simple text files in MS Notepad, or in MS Word, or directly onto the PowerPoint slides. A substantial minority (30 %) report not using laptops for note-taking at all.

While several publications have previously found (Fried, 2008; Patterson and Patterson, 2017; Carter, Greenberg and Walker, 2017; Glass and Kang, 2018) that laptops in class are distracting to students, on average only 12 % found laptops to be either Distracting or Very Distracting. An average of 93 % of students found having laptops made following the class either Less Difficult or Much less difficult. As other researchers have found (Sana, Weston and Cepeda, 2013), more students find the way in which other students use their laptops to be more distracting than the student’s own use of the laptop. This distraction is often caused by other students watching videos on YouTube or similar sites. It is technically possible to block YouTube from the teaching network, but these sites also contain useful content that is relevant to teaching. We are investigating whether it would be possible to block YouTube only during class hours.

Overall, students reported that they found that laptops were a positive factor in their learning.

3) Do the students feel that laptops positively or negatively affect their ability to carry out assessments?

An average of 94 % of students found that laptops made it easier to work on their IT assignments while off-campus. A majority (71 %) of students reported that they did not experience problems with their laptops during practical tests or exams. Of those who did experience problems, an average of 20 % had problems caused by automatic updates. Although course lecturers remind students to ensure that their laptops have been re-started before practical tests, students often do not do so. This leads to updates being automatically installed during the test. A further 29 % reported an unspecified crash of their laptops. A move to using the online learning management system Moodle for the submission of practical test and exam work has already eliminated the issues with server access, while most reported issues with network access (average 15 %) were resolved during the assessment by simply turning the laptop Wi-Fi off and on again.

Overall, laptops certainly help with assignments, while technical issues can sometimes interfere with practical tests and exams.

4) Are there technical matters we could be doing better?

Notwithstanding the problems encountered by students during practical tests and exams, as described above, students also encountered technical issues in their day-to-day usage of the laptops. A substantial minority (average of 31 %) experienced problems with printing. Although these issues were always resolved, these problems do not contribute to a positive experience for the students.

A more troubling finding was that an average of 37 % of students never backup work from their laptops. This might be because only 9 % report ever losing data. That is, until they lose data, they do not see backups as important. This is somewhat supported by a further analysis of the data. Of those who reported losing data, 50 % backup weekly or daily, while among those who had not lost data, only 16 % backup that frequently. Other factors, such as duration of study or qualification being pursued, were not found to contribute to frequency of backups. While every student has access to one terabyte of cloud storage, backups must be performed manually. It seems that an automated backup system would be useful for our students.

5) Do laptops negatively affect student grades?

We can confidently state that laptops do not have a negative effect on student grades. While the median grade after the roll-out improved by a statistically significant amount compared to before, this does not prove that the laptops caused that increase. However, there was no evidence to suggest that laptops caused a decrease in grades.

 

7. Conclusions

The student laptop programme at AIS has been an overall success. The majority of students report satisfaction with the programme and do not report any problems with using the laptops either in class or while performing assessment activities. Student grades have not decreased since laptops were introduced and in fact show a slight improvement.

While the programme works for AIS, it is not certain that this would be effective for a larger institution. It is not clear how scalable this solution is, that is, whether a larger number of students and laptops could be handled as effectively as the current numbers could. A larger number of laptops in use would, for example, probably require a larger number of spare laptops, assuming breakdowns occurred at a similar rate as currently.

Future research will be focused on more deeply investigating the reasons for dissatisfaction with the programme. Further surveys also need to be done, on an annual basis, to determine if the drop in satisfaction rates observed in April 2017 were a one-off, that is, an outlier. We are especially interested in identifying and resolving the causes of laptop crashes during practical assessments, as these can potentially impact student achievement. We will be modifying the surveys in an attempt to tease more details out of the students. While a model of student-laptop interaction has not been constructed, with more data it is possible that one could be created. This model could then be used to further refine the use of laptops by students.

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