A majority of university students use laptops in the classroom: what does it mean for teachers?


While we debate whether , how and how much to use electronic devices in primary and secondary classes , in the university environment the use of digital devices has been integrated into the system for more than two decades.

The implementation of the Bologna Process – with one of its basic pillars focused on educational improvement through new teaching and evaluation methodologies – has promoted, over the last 20 years, a notable development of the use of ICT in all universities. . In Europe, the use of learning platforms that allow managing academic content, communication and evaluation has become widespread (for example, MOODLE in Spain).

The improvement of Wi-Fi connectivity in classrooms ( EDUROAM is the network used in Spanish universities), together with the progressive decrease in the prices and weight of personal computers, has led to the use of these devices by students and students in the classrooms has become widespread. It is estimated that, in higher years, more than 80% of students use them regularly.

Although with less intensity than in pre-university education, there is also debate at the University about the influence on academic performance of the use of laptops during face-to-face classes.

Academic performance and use of ICT in the classroom

The comparative evaluation of academic performance in university studies is notably more complex than in pre-university studies. Academic freedom , “a right that applies to everyone who is in charge of teaching, insofar as it allows him or her to express ideas or convictions freely in relation to the subject matter being taught,” also allows teachers to implement their own methodologies and evaluation processes.

Thus, in a subject based on constructivist teaching methodologies and with continuous evaluation , the academic results of the students can be radically different from those of the same subject in groups with expository teaching based on master classes and final exams.

The implementation of the Bologna Process has allowed the higher education system to be unified into three cycles (Degree/Bachelor, Master and Doctorate). But, unlike pre-university education, with relatively homogeneous syllabi and study plans, the heterogeneity between study plans of the same degree (at national and European level) and the inter-university variability of syllabi of the same subject makes it difficult to compare results. academics between centers.

In this sense, studies that evaluate the incidence of electronic devices in classrooms yield contradictory conclusions . The factors that most influence these results are fundamentally related to the skills of the teachers and the approach they give to teaching.

And what do the students think?

To evaluate the students’ perception of the use of electronic devices in the classroom, since 2020 we have been carrying out anonymous surveys among all undergraduate students at the Higher Technical School of Agrarian Engineering of Palencia (University of Valladolid). Assessment questions about the use of ICT in class (do you consider the use of electronic devices positive in learning? Do they distract more than they contribute? Do they help to face real-life scenarios?, etc.), are confronted with questions associated with the teaching methodology (lecture, project-based, …), its evaluation, the skills of the teaching staff, the course, the number of repeated subjects, etc.

The results show very interesting conclusions. Among other things, the high rating (four out of five) that students in all courses give to the use of the PC in the classroom stands out. The high rating in this response is very strongly correlated with a high score in the question “the key to the success of learning with PCs in class is in the approach that the teacher gives to the subject and in his way of teaching.” Thus, 90% of students who rate the use of the PC in class with more than a four consider that the key lies in the attitude and knowledge of the teaching staff.

It also highlights a higher positive perception in higher courses and the favorable consideration of the use of ICT for technological or applied subjects. Regardless of the course and academic performance, it is concluded that there is also the perception that electronic devices can lead to a lack of attention and distraction, although respondents find that this is highly correlated with the degree of maturity of the student.

It should also be noted that the percentage of women who complete the survey annually is significantly higher than that of male students. It can be inferred that the degree of involvement in actions to improve the university of the students is higher than that of their peers and they are more inclined to use part of their time to carry out collaborative actions in this sense.

Adapt to device use

The survey continues with the question about the measures to be taken by the University to improve learning with electronic devices in class. Mostly, the need to improve the teaching skills and abilities of teachers and the need to improve Wi-Fi connectivity (EDUROAM) in classrooms reappears.

In our case, the digitalization of the classrooms involved important measures to adapt the classrooms, such as the renovation of the old furniture anchored to the floor, the electrical adaptation of the classrooms by installing plugs on all the tables, the reinforcement of Wi-Fi connectivity (EDUROAM). and the change of lighting. The project to adapt the spaces was called “From the Computer Classroom to the Computerized Classroom” with which the challenge of going from a few computer classrooms, maintained by the center, to the complete digitization of all classrooms was faced.

Our study shows that didactic adaptation to the realities and demands of society should not focus solely on the question “Computers in class yes or no?” Rather, the fundamental question – and a great challenge! – would be: how do teachers innovate and adapt their teaching to achieve optimal use of technology in the classroom?

Our questionnaire concludes with the question: Would you recommend continuing the effort to improve the use of individual electronic devices in classrooms? A final rating of 4.4 (out of five) clearly shows the steps to be followed by the university in this matter.

Author Bio: José A. Reque Kilchenmann is a Full Professor of Forestry at the University of Valladolid