Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

157 Online Resources vs. Handouts – 02.14.2019

Do students prefer printouts or links? Is tangibility a convenience or a burden? When are handouts best used in a digital learning environment? These were some of the questions discussed during a snow emergency at the February 14, 2019 Active Teaching Lab. Eight participants skied in to weigh advantages and disadvantages in accessibility, portability, readability, etc. of digital vs. paper resources for various settings and learning purposes.


  • Decide if laptops/devices will hinder students’ ability to carry out the learning task. Will students have messy hands or work with materials that could damage their devices? Will they be able to effectively use the technology if it’s covered by a protective shield? Will they move about in ways that make dragging along a laptop inconvenient?
  • Take advantage of the ability to hide and open digital materials. Don’t want students to access the answers before the experiment but also want to shift their attention away from frantic note-taking of every detail to thoughtfully considering the topic at hand? Post materials online that open up to them only after a particular date or class.
  • Eliminate distractions. Help students focus on course objectives by minimizing the cognitive effort of locating materials and instructions. Reduce visual clutter by hiding unused Navigation bar options. For each class, use a single page that includes learning objectives, activity instructions, embedded materials, and a summary. Use iframes to embed content and keep students on one page rather than opening tab after tab.
  • Ask your students! They’re each in several different courses and have a much better perspective of what other instructors are doing with their courses. They also may know what works for them and perhaps what works for their generation. Offer points to reflect on each assignment and give you feedback, then demonstrate that you’re listening! Some may offer great insight just to save the poor students who have to take the class in the future!

For more information on online vs. paper resources, visit the session’s activity sheet, and check out Tanner, M. J. (2014). Digital vs. print: Reading comprehension and the future of the book.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

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Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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