OGDEN -- Jeff Tuverson appreciates the option of hitting "pause" when his Weber State University instructor says something confusing.
"With an actual lecture, you can't pause the instructor while you think about what he said," said Tuverson, 24 and a zoology major. "And you can pause a virtual lecture, but you can't ask your virtual teacher questions."
Tuverson and 13 other honors students are part of an experimental class to test the value of tablet computers as classroom and remote-learning tools.
Bret Ellis, WSU vice president of information technology, teaches the class, which asks students to listen to live or virtual lectures and to attempt various tasks with pen and paper and with their loaner iPads. On Fridays, Ellis and his students come together for a timed online test and to discuss their feelings about when tablet computers offer a learning advantage and when they don't.
"The virtual lectures are nice, because I can watch them on my breaks at work," said history major Boston Workman, 17. "But there are distractions, and I'm not sure I retain as much. For me, I think it's better to have an allotted time that I come to the classroom and learn."
One student drew laughs by saying he had begun using his iPad in all his classes, and his backpack was now about a tenth of its previous weight.
Ellis established the class to study the tablet's effectiveness as a classroom tool and see which wireless updates would help WSU.
"I had students identify learning activities, like listening to lectures, taking quizzes, writing papers alone or in groups, studying with flashcards ...," he said. "I designed experiments so every Friday we would test the traditional way of learning against the mobile way."
So far, students have learned that collaborating for a group paper is more convenient online, and hand-held cardboard flash cards are superior to any prompting system on their tablets.
On other questions, opinions are mixed, and feelings often align with students' iPad-using comfort level.
As tablet computers become more common in the classrooms of the future, Ellis said, Weber State may need to increase the strength of its wireless signals and system. If students all over campus are using tablets, a teacher trying to give students an online timed quiz may find that not all students can log on at the same time.
Issues already changing the world of education include the availability of online information at students' fingertips. Students taking a test can tap questions into their smart phones and have answers in an instant.
"When I was in high school, one guy who had an earlier history class texted all the answers to his friends in the later class," said Jessica deJong, 17, a zoology major.
More proctoring during tests may be necessary in the future if students can't be trusted to use proper ethics, the classmates agreed.
Then again, students will have learned how to better judge the truthfulness of information they find on the web, Ellis said.
But Ellis and his honor students don't have to solve all of the future's problems. They just need to identify tablet issues that may arise in Weber State's near future.
And, after another four or five weeks, when the course ends and the tablets must be returned, they will need to deal with iPad separation anxiety. Multiple students have asked if there's a way they can keep the iPads, but the answer is no.
Ellis joked that he is worried about the reactions of his peers. "People could think I'm a teacher providing students with an addictive drug, then taking it away."