Laptops vs. Tablets in the College Classroom


Dear College Made Simple Reader,

The world is more interconnected now than it has ever been, and technology has become an absolute necessity for most types of work.

Higher education is no different, and your college-bound kids will be hard-pressed to achieve a degree without some sort of access to computers and the internet.

Thanks to this need and the aforementioned status of technological advancement, a new debate has arisen over the best computing hardware for college: Laptops vs. Tablets.

We’ll look at both in today’s College Made Simple…

– Scott

Laptops vs. Tablets in the College Classroom

It’s no secret that computing technology is a necessity for the modern college student.

Most schools and professors communicate primarily by email, papers are written with word processing software, and a majority of research is now done digitally—not to mention the roll that social media sites like Facebook now play in the way that college students meet and interact.

In recent years laptops have become a traditional gift for college-bound high school grads, and for the most part this tool has been sufficient for the needs of degree-seekers everywhere.

However, the wireless mobile revolution has changed everything. The advent of smart phones and tablets is challenging the not-so-long held notion that laptops should be the tool of choice for higher education.

There are pros and cons for the use of laptops and tablets for both students and teachers alike. Let’s take a look at some of the big ones for laptops.

Laptop Pros

Laptops give users nearly all of the functionality of a desktop computer in a portable form—though not as portable as the tablet.

They can handle just about any computing function from surfing the internet to video editing to word processing, practically eliminating any need to utilize the school computer lab or own a desktop.

Most come standard with word processing software, and one of the biggest arguments for laptops over tablets is the keyboard.

With their full-sized keyboards, laptops are excellent for note-taking and writing papers—far easier than trying to peck out letters on a small tablet touch screen.

Another plus is the fact that most laptops come with a CD/DVD drive.

While movies and music are becoming increasingly digitized, many students still prefer utilizing hard copies of media that can be shared amongst friends. It also allows you to share research and other types of projects that are saved to blank discs.

This brings us to the point of memory. While some major tablets like iPads are limited to the internal memory that comes on the device, laptops have a virtually infinite memory bank thanks to external memory devices that can be connected with USB ports that are nonexistent on tablets.

Some tablets include memory card slots but these only support a limited increase in memory (usually a maximum of 32gb to 64gb more than the internal memory of the device).

Finally, laptops, at least for now, are more compatible with the types of software being used in higher education today. New applications are being added to tablet marketplaces every day, but if a particular type of software or program has not specifically been converted to a mobile version it probably won’t work with a tablet.

Laptop Cons

While laptops may be more functional than most mobile devices, they do have their drawbacks.

One of them is power. Since laptops are larger devices with more computing ability, they drain energy much faster. Most laptop users must always carry a power cord with them, and for any serious work they will be limited by the need to stay near an outlet.

And while laptops are certainly portable, they are still rather large devices and can be a bit clunky to carry around. One answer to this problem has been the development of mini laptops called “netbooks,” but most of them are only good for web browsing and typing.

Cost is another major factor. Laptops can cost a pretty penny, and while tablets are not exactly cheap, they can save you hundreds of dollars.

Additionally, from a teacher’s perspective, the design of laptops can inhibit discussion and provide hidden distractions. Students tend to be more engaged when they use a tablet because it is much harder for a teacher to notice if a student is playing a game when the screen is hidden from them, as is the case with laptops.

Students with laptops also miss out on the convenient recent thrust towards e-textbooks. This means they must carry around old-fashioned books that can be lost or easily damaged. E-textbooks can basically assure teachers that students will have their texts with them in class when it comes time for discussion.

However, the biggest con for laptops may be internet connectivity. While tablets can come with 3G and 4G networks that allow internet access nearly anywhere, laptops can only access the internet if there is a Wi-Fi network or an internet cable hookup (unless you buy separate, pricey devices).

Keep an eye out for the upcoming part II in this series where we will look at the pros and cons of tablets.

To your college admissions and funding success,

Scott Weingold
Co-founder, College Planning Network, LLC

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