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Bring Your Own Laptop

Some professors worry that having students bring their own laptops to class could be a distraction, but an NC State pilot project shows that it actually improves learning in introductory writing classes – and saves money.

Students in the pilot project tested a classroom design with wireless Internet access and power outlets for personal laptops, eliminating the need for the class to use computer labs.

“The cost of setting up a classroom like this is minimal, compared to setting up new computer classrooms, which is essential given budget constraints and the limited availability of new space – you’re converting existing classrooms rather than creating new computer labs,” says Dr. Susan Miller-Cochran, co-author of the study and associate professor of English. “Basically, this is an economical way to create a sustainable space for teaching writing that can be scaled up or down according to need.

“And, of course, all of this is predicated on the idea that computer use should be incorporated into introductory writing courses. We think it should be because this is the medium today’s students use to write, and because computer literacy is a key component of a college education.”

Despite concerns that students would become distracted – checking their Facebook accounts during class, for example – the researchers found that students using their own laptops in the pilot project classroom tended to be more focused, perhaps because of their familiarity with the equipment they were using.

“We also found that the students were more likely to take their work with them,” Miller-Cochran says. “For example, students could pick up their laptops and continue to write in the lounge outside the classroom.”

However, Miller-Cochran stresses the need to ensure that all students can take advantage of the wireless classrooms.“There are going to be students who do not have their own laptops, or who lose or break their laptops over the course of a semester,” Miller-Cochran says. “One solution is to provide a fleet of laptops that students can sign out.”

The pilot project, launched in fall 2008, involved 28 class sections taught over three semesters. The researchers hope to increase the number of classrooms with similar capabilities in the near future.

The research, “Teaching Writing in Blended Learning/Space(s),” will be presented by study co-author and doctoral student Dawn Shepherd at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Louisville, March 18.

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