Teaching With Technology Face-Off: iPhones vs. PC’s

An experiment this semester at Houston Community College compares two sections of the same course, one in which students are given iPhones and another in which students use old-fashioned PC’s to view course materials online. The question: Will students with the smart phones spend more time watching course videos and interacting with peers than those without them?

The course, called “Anatomy and Physiology II,” is a hybrid of distance education and traditional classroom teaching — the students meet in person once a week and are asked to watch lecture videos and follow assignments online for the rest of the material. There are 20 students in each section, and the only difference between the two is that one group got iPhones on loan at the beginning of the semester and the other did not.

The professor, Lifang Tien, an instructor at the college, said in an interview today that she had asked students in both groups to keep journals recording how much time they spend using course materials, noting when and where they log in. She said that students in the iPhone section were reporting working on the course at odd moments while they’re on the go. “One of my students goes to the playground with her kids and can study there” using the iPhone, she said. “Another one logged on while waiting in the dentist’s office.”

The students with iPhones still watch some of the videos on their PC’s, of course, but Dr. Tien said that preliminary results of a survey of the students showed that students with the iPhones spend more time studying than those without. Some of that difference could just be the novelty of the technology, however.

“It was kind of like an icebreaker,” said Dr. Tien, who noted that because most of her students are working adults, they do not usually interact much outside of class. “This is the first time I’ve seen students so close to each other — they were forming study groups right away.”

She now plans to ask students in all her courses to exchange telephone numbers or e-mail addresses at the start of the semester, whether she’s handing out iPhones or not.

We plan to check in with Dr. Tien at the end of the semester to find out how the experiment turns out. —Jeffrey R. Young

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