Tablet Enhanced Learning Environments

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This page was originally authored by Dale Addis (2009). It was modified by John Cunnian (Spring 2011). Addition of Stop Motion Artifact/Video by Alexis Handford (2018)


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A tablet enhanced learning environment is an environment where single or multiple tablets are implemented to enhance student learning. Though a universally agreed-upon definition is currently lacking, there is some agreement that a tablet is a computer is a personal computer whose primary input device is a screen or a convertible notebook computer whose screen can be used as an input device.[1] A variety of portable computers fall under this definition, including tablet PC, iPads and Blackberry Playbooks. [2]

When incorporated into a learning environment, tablets can afford teachers instructional options to enhance learning which would otherwise be unavailable. Tablet PCs allow teachers to be innovative by offering multiple methods of instructions via virtual whiteboard and/or presenter software [3]. Affordances of tablets include: portability, connectivity, and the ability to superimpose digital ink on electronic documents. [4] Active learning environments, Knowledge-Building Communities, are created when students enter solved problems into a single tablet PC, share worked problems between tablets, or anonymously submit worked problems to instructors using various web based classroom-interaction software, such as MessageGrid or Ubiquitous Presenter [5].


Description and Types

This is a picture of an iPad 2, which is a touchscreen tablet computer.

Tablets come in two basic designs: either a flat screen with a virtual keyboard and touch screen interface, or a netbook with a swivel screen (known as a clamshell) and stylus as an imput device. [6] . Touch screen tablets, like iPads and the Blackberry Playbook are becoming increasingly popular for both personal and education use. They are advantageous in that they are typically smaller and lighter than clamshell tablets, but they typically lack disk drives. Shown in the picture to the right is the graphical user interface of an iPad 2. The user can manipulate objects using their fingers, or a virtual keyboard (not displayed in the photo) can be used to enter text.

This is a tablet PC with its screen pivoted and the stylus being used as the primary input device.
This is a tablet PC being used as a typical laptop and showing how the screen pivots.

Clamshell tablets, like tablet PCs, are advantageous in that they retain all of the characteristics of a typical laptop, but can convert into a tablet as well. They are typically less portable and heavier than a touchscreen tablet and usually have smaller screens Like any other computer, tablet PCs come in a variety of types. Importantly, they vary in processing speed, memory, disk drives, screen size and, of course, price. Tablet PCs come with a variety of different software options, including some that are important for educators.


Using a stylus to write using digital ink.

Tablet computers afford their users the ability to superimpose digital ink onto nearly anything that can be displayed on the screen. In an educational context, this allows instructors to annotate class notes during lesson, mark digital assignments and create sketches or drawings[4]. These ink annotations can be saved on the original document for future use, or for students to access later on from a webpage or other resource page. Because tablets are wireless devices, instructors can teach from anywhere in the classroom and, as such, can engage students more readily.

Students using tablets can do essentially everything that they could do with a pen or pencil and paper. Students could use tablets to collaborate on a project, where each student adds their own ink annotations.

Learning Environment Designs

One Tablet PC Classrooms

This is an image from Cox and Rogers 2009 work.

One tablet PC classrooms use single tablets, sometimes shared between teacher and students. Instructors use wireless, virtual whiteboard tablet software to project annotated notes and alter classroom dynamics. [5] Instructors walk throughout the classroom while writing on the tablet, allowing them to foster a communal learning environment. Cox and Rogers (2009) used solved student problems as a means of formative assessments (students share the tablet to project their solved problems).

Multiple Tablet PC Classrooms

Multiple tablet classrooms occur when teacher and students have access to multiple tablets. Presenter software and wireless technology allows exchange of information between tablets; thus, creating Knowledge-Building Communities[7].

Examples: In 2006, five of thirty-four calculus sections of science and math undergraduate students at Clemson University used tablet supported MessageGrid and Unbiquitous Presenter software within activity-centred classes. After 10 to 15 minute lectures, students were wirelessly given mathematical problems. Students worked as individuals or groups on solutions (while the instructor helped) and anonymously sent electronic digital ink solutions to the instructor. Solutions were projected, highlighted and discussed; thus, enabling students’ dynamic self-assessment of their methodology [8].

An introduction to proof (math) multiple tablet course at Murray State University allowed students to develop, consider, and critique, different problem-solving strategies by sharing solutions over a wireless network. Peer review allowed more material coverage than in a normal lecture-based course.[9].

Face to Face Instruction

Tablets can effectively enhance instruction in a traditional classroom setting in various ways. Using a tablet, an instructor can construct and deconstruct notes and diagrams starting with a blank screen or using a skeleton outline of a topic. Given this ability, instructors can model how to solve problems and create materials through the course of a lesson.[10] This allows the instructor to be better able to respond to feedback from students during a lesson so that he/she can 'change courses' or explain a topic in more detail should it be necessary.

Tablets are advantageous when compared to black or whiteboards in that they allow the instructor to face the class. Furthermore, tablets are wireless devices and, providing that the connection to a projector is also wireless, the instructor is able to wander about the environemnt rather than stay at the front of the class. This affords instructors proximity to their students which, in turn, allows for better classrom management and interaction with students.

Digital ink annotations can be saved directly onto the original document and uploaded onto an webpage or Learning Management System (like Moodle or Vista) to allow students access.[11] In doing this, students can concentrate more on the instruction in class than on taking notes.

Tablets are computers and, as such, allow instructors to incorporate and display a variety of multimedia and presentations. Again, the major adventage that tablets afford is that the intructor can write on these multimedia (including video, simulations and models) and presentations to enhance their effectiveness as learning objects.

Blended Environments

In a blended learning environment, students are able to not only access information from instructors but also actively participate in the construction of knowledge. When tablets are used by students in a blended learning environments, new opportunities for collaboration and creative problem solving emerge.[4] Teachers in this environment can switch from the role of instructor and distributor of information to facilitator. Interaction between instructors and students can increase because instructors spend less time teaching.

Students can use time to collaboratively solve problems and socially negotiate what they have learned. A tablet allows students to collaborate in new and meaningful ways. For example, students can access learning materials online and then co-create a concept map to represent their knowledge using software called Puzzleview. [12]

Distance/Online Education

One of the primary benefits of using tablets in an online course environment is that students can receive more personalized notes and feedback from their instructors.[6] Instructors can mark digital assigments using a tablet, and the ink annotations can be saved and sent back to the student on the original document. Because instructors can mark directly where they want to on the document, students ultimately get more specific and useful feedback on their assignments.

Another advantage that tablets afford is the ability to hold interactive virtual office hours. Using programs such as elluminate, instructors can conduct synchronous office hours and, in doing so, use their tablet to sketch or otherwise markup documents to support their explanations to students. [13]

Advantages and Disadvantages

Instructor Noted Advantages Single/Multi Tablet Environments

Whether annotated or spontaneous, tablet presentation notes may be highlighted with multiple colors, key diagram concepts pinpointed or segmenting of mathematical steps [5]. Static annotated notes, or video recordings of audio and pen strokes (screencast) during annotation of prepared notes, with the use of MS Encoder or Camtasia software, can be uploaded to websites. Archived video notes allow students to study instructor thought processes involving course material [14]

Other Benefits:

  • “We see a variety of mistakes and can correct them in front of all of the students—at a prime learning moment” [8]
  • “Introverted students are now willing to contribute” [8].
  • “Annotating encourages students to actively participate” [3]
  • Virtual office hours take advantage of digital ink supported Course Management Systems to help students with questions [5]
A screenshot of virtual office hours in Blackboard.

Student Comments/Satisfaction Survey Results

University students participating in single or multi-tablet classrooms noted the following:

An example of a virtual whiteboard

Single Tablet Classroom

  • Two hundred and forty five students rated the following statement 1.5 on a Likert-scale survey: “My professor’s use of the Tablet PC during class did not create a better learning environment”’[5]
  • “It is simpler for the professor to write, he is never in the view, it is recorded and available” .[14]

Multi Tablet Classroom

  • “Having immediate feedback on my work during class puts the material in my head, really reducing the amount of study-time” [8]
  • “I like being able to answer questions anonymously” [8]
  • “I like being able to pull up corrections on my work out of class” [8]
  • “Our initial belief that the daily use of Classroom Presenter would provide its own student motivation was unfounded” [15]


Disadvantages of tablets within classroom environments were noted:

  • Less drawing room than large blackboards afford. [14]
  • Equipment expense.[14]
  • Video recording of annotated notes create large file downloads [14].
  • Students view recorded lectures instead of attending class [14].
  • Software systems (not ready for deployment) tested in classrooms routinely crash [15].
  • Wireless connectivity challenges and additional technical support required [9].

Student Achievement Studies

Studies comparing tablet versus non-tablet university were conducted and indicted students achieved a greater understanding of course material when participating in tablet supported environments.

One Tablet Classrooms

Cox & Rogers (2009) compared chemistry student achievement between single and non-tablet supported classes. Higher marks resulted in the tablet-supported environment [5].

Results of a one tablet classroom.

Multiple Tablet Classrooms

Reba & Weaver (2006) studies on multi-tablet supported classes show marginal increases in student achievement, compared to non-tablet classes (refer to tables 1, 2, and 3)[8].

These are the results from a multiple tablet classroom.

Tablet Software for Education

Virtual Whiteboard/Presenter Software

Multiple types of software can become virtual whiteboards. For example, Windows Journal allows for multiple file formats and images to be imported, annotated and saved to websites [3].

Interactive presenter software wirelessly communicates between student and teacher tablets, acts as virtual whiteboards and allows for dynamic student response.

Software that only acts as virtual whiteboard

Presenter Software

This is a screenshot from Ubiquitous Presenter.

Tablet Enhanced Learning Environments - Stop Motion Artifact


  1. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}
  2. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 le Ber, J., Lombardo, N., & Quilter, J. (2008, January). Tablet PC Use Enhances Teaching and Student Learning. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 5(1), 17-31. Retrieved February 22, 2009, doi:10.1080/15424060802093351
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 White, B., & Tutty, J. (2005). What, no lectures!: Experiences from a blended tablet PC Classroom. Paper presented at the UniServe Science, University of Sydney.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Cox, R., & Rogers, J. (2006, March). The one-tablet classroom: methods, student attitudes and learning gains. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from mediasite:
  6. 6.0 6.1 Cicchino, R. & Mirliss, D. (2004). Teaching with Tablet PC's: A Powerful Teaching Tool. In: Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education, pp. 543 - 548. Washington, DC.
  7. Milner, J. (2006, April 1). Tablet PCs: The Write Approach. T.H.E. Journal, 33(9), 20-26. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ762451) Retrieved February 22, 2009, from ERIC database.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Reba, M., & Weaver, B. (2007). Tablet PC-enabled active learning in mathematics: A first study. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from IEEE Xplore:
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fister, K., & McCarthy, M. (2008, April). Mathematics Instruction and the Tablet PC. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science & Technology, 39(3), 285-292. Retrieved February 22, 2009, doi:10.1080/00207390701690303
  10. Brophy, S.P. and Walker, D.G., .Case study of the pedagogical impact of tablet PCs as a presentation medium in large-scale engineering classrooms., Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, June 2005, Portland, OR.
  11. Ambikairajah, E., Epps, J., Sheng, M., Celler, B., and Chen, P. (2005) “Experiences with an Electronic Whiteboard Teaching Laboratory and Tablet PC-Based Lecture Presentations”, Proc. IEEE Int. Conf. on Acoust., Speech and Sig. Proc. (Philadelphia, PA), April, pp. 565-568.
  12. Yi-Chan Deng, Ming-Zhang Do, Li-Jie Chang, Tak-Wai Chan. PuzzleView: Enhanced Workspace Displaying for Group Interaction with Tablet PCs. In Proceedings of WMTE'2004. pp.205~206
  13. Kohorst, K. and Cox, J. R. “Virtual Office Hours Using a Tablet PC: E-lluminating Biochemistry in an Online Environment” Biochem. Mol. Biol. Educ. 2007, 35, 193-197.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Mock, K. (2004). Teaching with tablet PC's. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from Alaska University:
  15. 15.0 15.1 Weaver, A. C. (2006). Does classroom presenter software change learning outcomes? Retrieved January 23, 2009, from IEEE Xplore: