Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tablet PC Learning Research Questions

These notes start a process of assembling a proposed research agenda as a learner might use a Tablet PC to increase learning. Perhaps these notes could serve as a beginning for organizing a Symposium on the Impact of Pen-Based Technology on Education Learning (SIPTEL). I assume that these studies occur in an environment in which people take advantage of instructed as well as open learning.

With your help, I'd like to flesh these notes into a reference for those interested in examining the mechanics of how people learn with Tablets and what implications these findings have for ways we organize learning venues, especially public schools.


Tablet, Touchscreen, and other mobile PCs offer state-of-the-art tools to identity how people learn new information and intellectual skills. These tools, with their many features, complement and expand the capacity of the Wisconsin General Test Apparatus (WGTA) and field study designs used earlier for similar purposes.

I have more confidence as a teacher in objective, experimental, empirical, behavioral research results than from anecdotes and school program evaluation reports. Yet, results from any of these strategies yield more confidence than from personal experience and other forms of non-objective data.

Tablet PC learning studies appear timely and relevant, given the expanding use of these tools in schools and businesses.

I'd like to see the following questions addressed objectively about Tablet PC learning. Studying these questions could require some teachers to work with behavioral learning scientists and software developers. I leave questions about learning as a meaningful process, cognition, knowledge transfer, creativity, neuropsychology, etc. to others, for the moment.

Two categories of study questions appear useful as a start: learning as behavior pattern change, learning as meeting state standards, and likelihood of increasing learning without school instruction.

Study Questions

1.0 Learning as Behavior Pattern Change

1.1 What do Tablet learners (i.e., students when learning) do first, second, third, etc. when reading, solving math problems, taking notes, etc.

Describe common and unique movements of eyes, hands, sounds that gain attention, number of tasks conducted at a time, etc.

1.2 Do people of all ages learn the same way as described in previous objective, experimental, empirical, behavioral research studies, e.g., by Gold, Hobbs, Skinner, Zeaman and House, et al.?

An easy, useful beginning test of this hypothesis would be to replicate with Tablet PCs learning studies conducted with the WGTA. That way, we could compare results in order to describe effects of testing and examining equipment. These comparisons would allow us to calculate confidence indices to use when applying findings about how people learn to school instruction. With appropriate support, students as young as 4th and 5th grades could replicate some of these studies.

1.3 What learning efficiencies do Tablet PCs offer with existing instruction and curricula?

For example, identify which Tablet features reduce the number of errors students make before meeting learning criteria in a lesson. Rank order these features from most to least efficient in lectures, one-on-one instruction, direct learning exercises, etc.

1.4 Which Tablet features increase learning efficiencies most at the beginning, middle, and end of a school day and lesson?

In other words, when in the school day and in a lesson do Tablet features work best? What distribution of fatigue exists across Tablet PC features and work as well as clock time?

1.5 What novelty affects do Tablets introduce to student learning rates?

Asked another way, when do student learning rates plateau as an indication of Tablets' routine use?

1.6 What visual and auditory dimensions yield learning criteria faster and in what order of quickest to slowest?

Do Tablet learners respond to sight or sound learning prompts more quickly? Color or sound rhythm slower? As compared with non-Tablet learners? Distributed similarly across academic content?

2.0 Learning as Meeting School Standards

3.0 Likelihood of Learning without School Instruction

3.1 What school relevant content do students learn independently beyond school instruction?

3.2 Which students will likely learn that content independently.

Implications of Study Results

How does Tablet learning affect the validity of categorical programs, such as special education and gifted and talented students? Of classroom instruction? Of grade levels, such as 1st, 2nd, and 9th grades?

What Tablet application software strategies would likely incease student learning more for each academic content area?

This is a start. Let me know your additions, questions, and so forth.