TUAW recently published this article, reporting on Abilene Christian University’s study on the advantages of mobile computing for student learning. While few details were disclosed in the article (presumably because the study itself has not yet been published), TUAW claims the study’s findings were “uniformly positive”:
In one study, students who annotated text on their iPads scored 25% higher on questions regarding information transfer than their paper-based peers. In a separate project covering iPad usage patterns, two researchers studying ACU’s first all-digital class discovered that the iPad promotes “learning moments” and helps students make more efficient use of their time. Grad students working in an online program reported a 95% satisfaction rate for online iPad-based coursework. As far as the ACU studies are concerned, the iPad in education is a success story.
Now, while such a statement might qualify as satisfactory reporting for anyone who has an interest in marketing the iPad (or any other device being hyped as a “game changer” in education) (and I’m saying this as a self-identified Apple fanboy myself), that there is sparingly little information in this article supportive enough to make any claim of a “performance boost” or “success”. Let’s deconstruct this a little:
“In one study, students who annotated text on their iPads scored 25% higher on questions regarding information transfer than their paper-based peers.“
I’m not much of a grammarian, but let me first point out that this statement is rather ambiguous in that we don’t know if the questions being asked of the test groups were about information transfer, or if measuring transfer was an component of the study. Assuming it was the latter, let’s reinterpret this statement as “In one study, the experimental group (iPad users) exhibited 25% more transfer of knowledge than the control group.” Reading the question as such, several follow up questions jump out:
- How is “annotated” being defined here? Highlighting? Commenting? Drawing shapes?
- What kinds of transfer was exhibited? Transfer of facts? Skills? Problem solving strategies?
- 25% sounds like a lot, without knowing the sample size, how can we know if this result is statistically significant?
- Have any of the students in the study had taken an online class before?
- What was the subject of the online program?
- What constitutes “iPad-based” here? Materials that are iPad-specific (i.e., interactive Apps found only on the Apple App Store) or was the coursework geared towards iPad-specific activities?