February 03, 2003

Chapter 6: English 101 Laptop Inquiry Project: College of Engineering and Science

By the Students of Dr. Cynthia Selfe's English 101 Class

Executive Summary

In the Fall semester of 2000, students in English 101-103 conducted a classroom inquiry project designed to answer the following question:

What effects, if any, has the Clemson Laptop Program had on students and faculty in the College of Engineering and Science (CES)?

As a part of this project, class members designed and sent out a survey to the 275 students enrolled in the CES Laptop Program and interviewed three faculty members teaching in this program. To carry out this inquiry project, students in English 101-103 formed eight different teams: a Survey team, a Computer Resource Team, a Sampling Team, a Student Interview Team, a Faculty Interview Team, a Digital Photography Team, an Analysis Team, and a Writing Team.

The data gathered from the student-survey effort (N=49) indicates the following findings:

• 77% of students completing this survey reported that the Laptop Program had a positive effect on their learning experiences at Clemson University. However, 35% of the first-year students completing this survey believed that the laptop program had a negative effect on their learning experiences at Clemson.

• 57% of the students responding to this survey felt that the laptop courses had some effect on their oral communication skills. Similarly, 67% of students responding felt the laptop courses had some effect on their written communication skills.

• Students completing this survey felt that classes in the Laptop Program had afforded them more contact with teachers (75%), more access to materials (81%), and more contact with other students (71%) than had their non-laptop classes.

• Students responding to this survey reported using their laptops to access the Internet (57%), WebCt (85%), and the CLE (57%); as well as to complete hands-on work in class (77%) homework (83%), tests and quizzes (75%). Students (81%) also indicated that their teachers used laptops for demonstrations.

• 36% of students responding to the survey felt that the Laptop Program had resulted in a positive change in their grades. In addition, 45% of students responding felt more confident about their grades in Laptop courses than in non-laptop courses.

• Of the students responding to this survey, 35% thought the technical support for the laptop program met their needs "all of the time" or "sometimes."

The information gathered from interviews with faculty members (N=3) indicates the following findings:

• Two out of three faculty interviewed for this project reported, "greatly enjoying" the laptop program.

• Two out of three faculty interviewed for this project reported that participating in the Laptop Program increased their effectiveness as teachers, supported more effective contact with students, allowed for more focus on course context, changed the way they structured their courses, slowed the pace of their classes, and allowed them to continue their use of student groups.

• All three faculty interviewed for this project agreed that the Laptop Program had resulted in more work for faculty- in part, because it required some alteration of their homework assignments and class presentations.

• Despite the additional work, two of the three, however, faculty interviewed for this project agreed that the Clemson Laptop Program had resulted in a better quality education for students and better teaching practices.

• All three faculty interviewed for this survey reported that the Laptop Program allowed access to better teaching materials and promoted better assignments.

• Two out of the three teachers interviewed said they would like to see "more professional development," both for students and faculty in the Laptop Program.

Background Information

The Clemson Laptop Program now in it’s third year of operation, began in February of 1997, when five faculty and staff from Clemson University attended an IBM Fly-In presentation on the use of information and technology in higher education at Wake Forest University. In the spring of 1997, Provost Rogers appointed a committee, which met to discuss information technology projects then being considered for implementation at Clemson. A few months later, the committee suggested a establishing pilot laptop program in the College of Engineering and Science (CES) and a university- wide Faculty Development Center. The Associate Dean of CES, Dr. Stephen Melsheimer, immediately formed a pilot laptop program committee, and this committee submitted a proposal to Provost Rogers in August of 1997. Dr. Melsheimer was notified, in December of 1997, that Provost Rogers would grant $75,000 for the new Laptop Program and expected the CES to match their donation. Martin Hall was modified to incorporate the Laptop Program with new furniture, specifically desktops that had special accommodations such as power and Ethernet ports. The first laptop program began in 1998, immediately after the college had finished modifications to support a pilot Laptop Program.
During the summer of 1998, a letter outlining the program was sent out to all students planning to enroll in CES for the 1998-1999 school year. The program’s goals included the following:

• increasing the students’ retention of information

• increasing CES’s retention rate of students from year to year

• improving students’ written communication skills

• improving students’ oral communication skills

• improving students’ electronic communication skills

• improving cooperative skills

• improving team-building skills

• improving asynchronous collaboration skills

The Laptop Program founders hoped that by trying to improve the overall educational experiences that Clemson offered its students in the Laptop Program, the quantity and quality of students in the program and applicants to the program would improve. In 1998, 100 students joined the pilot Laptop Program, and 125 new first-year students enrolled the following year. In 2000, the Laptop Program was opened to those in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities (AAH) also, increasing the enrollment of first-year students in the pilot Laptop Program to 175. After three years of the pilot Laptop Program, administrators are assessing it impact and identifying possible areas of improvement.

Now that the Clemson Laptop Program has been up and running for three years, program administrators are also considering possibilities for expansion: among these are the possibilities of bringing additional students into the Laptop Program, developing a laptop college modeled after the Calhoun Honors College, starting or extending Clemson’s wireless infrastructure, and/or doing more integrating with computers in higher level engineering courses. The results from our class inquiry project may help with the future planning for Clemson’s Laptop Program; hence, this semester is an appropriate time for our class to conduct an inquiry project on this effort.

Several factors have limited our findings in this project. First, we had limited time to design and have students complete a survey about the Laptop Program. In addition, the survey's length--six pages--may have discouraged more students from responding to it. Students in the Laptop Program have limited time for additional tasks outside their regular routine, and in addition to this survey on the Laptop Program, they had also been asked to complete several others. Second, we were not successful in persuading students to comment more fully on their answers or allowing us to interview them–both techniques might have provided us a more robust explanation of the data. Third, the population that did respond to our survey is self-selected. For instance, we did not succeed in getting responses from students who had dropped out of the laptop program. The perspectives of these students might have told us a great deal. Fourth, our 19.3% return rate (49 students out of 245) limits the extent to which we can generalize findings from our data to the larger laptop population.

Our survey data should be interpreted with caution. Only 18% of the total student laptop population (46 out of 245 students) returned completed surveys; thus, our findings are based on the responses and opinions of that relatively small percentage of students willing to complete and return surveys. The findings do not represent the opinions of the students who participated in the laptop program but failed to complete the surveys for our class project. Follow up interviews with students might yield additional findings, but students are often busy and reluctant to give up the time required for such interviews.

Carrying Out the Inquiry Project

Our inquiry project consisted of five main stages: taking care of background preparations, preparing the survey, surveying students and interviewing faculty, analyzing data, and writing the final report.
As background preparation for the project, the entire class did research on the background of the Laptop Program. First, we researched biographical information about the three original pioneers who established of the program: Dr. Stephen Melsheimer (Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Engineering and Science), Dr. William Moss (Professor of Mathematical Science), and Ms. Laurie Sherrod (Manager of Clemson University’s Pilot Laptop Program). After class members had researched the backgrounds of these people, each administrator came to class on a separate day, and we interviewed them. Each individual told us about their involvement in the Laptop Program and gave us some questions that they had about the Program itself. To the best of our ability, we included their questions in the survey that we complied in the next three weeks. We also prepared for the project by determining the groups that we needed to form in order to answer our inquiry question. Eight teams were formed in all: a Survey team, a Computer Resource Team, a Sampling Team, a Student Interview Team, a Faculty Interview Team, a Digital Photography Team, an Analysis Team, and a Writing Team. (Appendix A) Each student was placed in the group where he or she could best be used. Then we created a class Gantt chart (Appendix B) to indicate who would do what, when, and in what order. This timetable helped keep each group on schedule with the other teams.

The first group to begin work on preparing the survey was the Survey Team. With input from the class, this team compiled a list of the most important questions to include in the survey. To avoid leading questions, the team tried to use neutral language in the questions and to offer respondents both positive and negative choices for answers. We also included a "comments" section for each question so that respondents could place their own thoughts. After the survey was complete, the Computer Resource Team made the survey user friendly by placing it into Excel so that respondents could easily select their answers by clicking on them. To test the survey’s effectiveness, the Survey Team sent it out to six people identified as likely candidates by class members. We pilot tested the survey to see how respondents might interpret the questions. After the pilot-tested surveys had been returned, we made final revisions to the survey. The survey was then ready to be sent to the Interview Teams.

While the Survey Team was refining the questionnaire, the Sampling Team was compiling a list of all students in the Laptop Program with the help of Ms. Sherrod. Using the names given to them by Ms. Sherrod, the Sampling Team located the email address and phone number of each student. Then they separated this list into three groups: first-year students, sophomores, and juniors. After the final list was compiled, it was divided evenly among of the members of the Student Interview Team.

During the stage of conducting the surveys, each member of the Student Interview Team took the email address of each of their assigned students and sent them a copy of the survey. By sending each student a copy of the survey, we hoped to establish personal contacts with individuals. A total of 245 surveys were sent out. The Interview Teams waited one week for the completed surveys to be returned. Approximately 95% of the total surveys eventually returned were collected during this time. Then the teams attempted to call the students and ask for interviews. Most students refused interviews and said they would rather fill out the survey by email and return it. Not a single student consented to an interview and very few who promised to return the completed surveys actually did. A total of 49 completed surveys were finally received (17 from first-year students, 16 from sophomores, and 16 from juniors), representing 19.3% of the surveys originally sent out.

We approached faculty in another manner. The Faculty Interview Team identified six faculty members who were involved in the Laptop Program. The team tried to conduct interviews with all the teachers, however, the teacher’s limited office hours and the student’s busy schedules prevented this.

Only three of the six faculty members were interviewed. After all faculty interviews and student surveys were completed, the information was sent to the analysis team.
At the same time that the Interview Teams were completing their tasks, the Digital Photography Team was busy taking pictures with digital cameras. These pictures were then sent by email to a member of the Writing Team. These pictures have been used to enhance the look of the web page made by the Writing Team. The only difficulty for the Digital Photography Team was finding good situations in which to take pictures of students using their laptops.

During the Analysis Stage, the Analysis Team received all the information from the Interview Teams. First, the Analysis Team reviewed each survey and did a compiling of all the raw numbers. After the raw numbers were compiled, the team calculated the percentage of each type of response for each question. Then the Analysis Team looked for patterns in the data. The Analysis Team’s task took longer than anticipated because they had difficulty scheduling team meetings and getting data from all the teams on time and in an organized manner.

After the Analysis Team had completed all their work, the information was sent to the Writing Team and the Writing Stage began.

The Writing Team was in charge of submitting a final report on the class inquiry project’s findings. The Writing Team was given an outline by the professor of what to include in the final report. Each member took certain sections of the outline and completed them as soon as the material became available from the various teams.

The Writing Team had only a short time within which to write the report and had to contend with the interruption of Thanksgiving Break. After all the information was collected, compiled, and typed into a report, the Writing team placed all the information onto a web page.
Survey and Interview Results
The data from the completed student surveys can be found in Appendix C.
The comments from the faculty interviews can be found in Appendix D.

Analysis

Readers should note that not all the students enrolled in the Clemson Laptop Program, or those who have previously participated in the program, answered our survey. Surveys were sent out to the 275 students in the CES Laptop Program and 49 students (19.3%) returned surveys, three of these were incomplete. Similarly, we conducted interviews with only three faculty members teaching in the Laptop Program. Thus, our data reflects a limited number of responses. Few students responding to the survey took the time to explain why they answered as they did. For these reasons, as a class, we have tried to be cautious about the conclusions we draw from our data. The findings that follow represent our analysis of the data from our class inquiry project.

Benefits to Students

The majority of students completing this survey reported doing their homework on their laptops (82% of first-year students, 75% of sophomores, and 94% of juniors) and using the laptops to take tests and quizzes (53% of first-year students, 81% of sophomores, and 94% of juniors).

Students completing the survey reported using their laptops to access the Internet (53% of first-year students, 63% of sophomores, 63% of juniors), WebCT (71% of first-year students, 88% of sophomores, 100% of juniors), and CLE (59% of first-year students, 56% of sophomores, 56% of juniors). Students completing this survey also indicated using their laptops for both hands-on work in class (71% of first-year students, 69% of sophomores and 94% juniors) and indicated that their teachers used laptops for demonstrations (65% of first-year students, 81% of sophomores and 100% of juniors).

18% of the students responding to this survey (6% of first-year students, 25% sophomore, and 25% juniors) felt that the Laptop Program had a "great effect" and 34% (18% of first-year, 31% of sophomores, and 56% of juniors) thought that the laptop courses had a "small effect" on their oral communication skills. Similarly, 32% of students responding felt the Laptop Program had a "great effect" (12% of first-year, 44% sophomores, and 44% juniors) and 34% felt the Laptop Program has had a "small effect" (41% of first-year students, 31% sophomores, and 31% juniors) on their written communication skills.

A majority of students completing this survey felt that the Laptop Program had afforded them more contact with teachers (59% of first-year students, 81% of sophomores, and 88% of juniors), more access to materials (76% of first-year, 88% sophomores, and 81% of juniors), more contact with other students (65% of first-years, 63% of sophomores, and 88% of juniors), and better team-building skills (59% of first-year students, 69% of sophomores, and 81% of juniors) than non-laptop classes.

77% of students completing this survey (65% of first-year students, 81% of sophomores and 88% of juniors) reported that the Laptop Program had a positive effect on their learning experiences at Clemson.

Of the students responding to this survey, 32% thought technical support for the Laptop Program met their needs "all of the time" (24% of first-years, 31% of sophomores, and 44% of juniors).

36% of the students responding to the survey (6% of first-year students, 44% of sophomores, and 56% of juniors) felt that the Laptop Program had resulted in a positive change in their grades. In addition, 45% of the students responding (29% of first-year students, 44% of sophomores, and 63% of juniors) felt more confident about their grades in laptop courses than in non-laptop courses.

Problems for Students

38% of the students responding to the survey (24% of first-years, 50% of sophomores, and 44% of juniors) said that the technical support for the Laptop Program has met their needs only "some of the time."

24% of first-year students responding to the survey believed they had less access to materials in their laptop courses than in their non-laptop courses. 6% of first-year students responding to the survey thought they had less contact with other students in their laptop classes than in their non-laptop classes.

35% of the first-year students responding believe the laptops to have had a "negative effect" on their learning experience, while 13% of the juniors and 6% of the sophomores surveyed believe the Laptop Program had no effect on their learning experience at Clemson.

Although 36% of students responding to the survey felt that they retained more information in their laptop classes than their non-laptop classes, 55% of students reported either that they retained less information or that they were unsure about the amount of information they retained.

Benefits Perceived by Faculty

Two out of three faculty members interviewed for this project reported "greatly enjoying" the Laptop Program, while a third faculty member reported "moderately enjoying" participation in this program.
Two out of three teachers interviewed for this project felt that the Laptop Program supported more effective contact with students and allowed for "more focus on course content."

All three faculty members interviewed for this project agreed that the Laptop Program helped provide access to "better teaching materials" and promote "better assignments." Two out of three teachers interviewed reported that the laptop courses provided a "better education" and "better teaching practices."

Two of the three teachers interviewed felt that the Laptop Program had increased their effectiveness as teachers, slowed the pace of their classes, and allowed them to continue the use of student groups. One teacher noted "Certain topics can be covered faster giving me time to go into more depth on other topics. I have a lot more flexibility in the organization of the course." Another teacher noted, "My teaching effectiveness has increased enormously through the Laptop Program… I am now less competent as a teacher of traditional classes unless I take the time to integrate what I’ve learned in laptop teaching into the traditional classes–and that is harder than re-visioning myself as a teacher in laptop classes because traditional classes have so many constraints."

Problems for Faculty

All three teachers interviewed agreed that the Laptop Program had resulted in more work for faculty.

Two out of three faculty interviewed for this project felt that the Laptop Program demanded "more preparation" of teachers and caused "more problems."

Two of the three teachers interviewed said that they would like to see "more professional development," both for students and for faculty. For example, the professor who responded in this way added, "I wish the students had easier access to scanners, video cameras, and all the necessary peripherals and software to digitize video, CD burners, color printers, etc."

One of the faculty interviewed indicated that the Laptop Program needed to provide "more technical support."

Recommendations and Conclusions:
Continuing and Expanding the Clemson Laptop Program

• We recommend that the Clemson Laptop Program be continued as it provides an advantageous educational environment for both teachers and students.

• We recommend that the Clemson Laptop Program be expanded to all departments and colleges within Clemson University on a trial basis. Student participation in these trials should be voluntary.

• We recommend that the Clemson Laptop Program remain a voluntary program in the College of Engineering and Science.

• We recommend that there be a wider range of laptop courses—and more sections of these courses—offered each term, both in CES and in all college and departments supporting the Laptop Program. More specifically, we recommend that a wider range of laptop courses be developed for CES majors, especially at the upper-division level.

Improving the Clemson Laptop Program

• We recommend that the University establish a "Laptop Laboratory." This facility should be designed to provide faculty easier and more ready access to course materials and technical support for their laptop courses. It should also be designed to provide students a place in which to gain familiarity with hardware and software that would enhance their learning experiences in laptop classes. In this facility, further research could be conducted on the effectiveness of the Laptop Program.

• We recommend increased technical support and professional development opportunities for Laptop Program faculty. These efforts should help faculty solve problems they encounter with their laptops and become familiar with rapidly changing laptop hardware and software.

• We recommend increased technical support and professional development opportunities for students enrolled in the Laptop Program. These efforts should help students solve problems they encounter with their laptops and become familiar with rapidly changing laptop hardware and software.

• To support increased professional development and technical assistance we recommend adding additional technical staff to the Laptop Program.

• We recommend that the Clemson Laptop Program explore the possibility of using wireless technology and that such technology be implemented in as many buildings as possible on the Clemson campus. We also recommend that the Laptop Program explore the possibility of providing current laptop students the option of purchasing with new wireless laptops.

• We recommend that faculty teaching in the laptop program be encouraged to use laptops more often—and in more diverse ways—in their courses.

• We recommend that additional efforts be made to advertise the Laptop Program widely—both to students within Clemson and to incoming students—in an effort to recruit individuals interested in enrolling in this program.

• We recommend that Clemson recruit faculty who have extensive understanding of computer-based learning environments and that these faculty be encouraged to participate in the Clemson Laptop Program.

Posted by Chris at February 3, 2003 03:41 AM | TrackBack
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