The 'connectaholic' behind the curtain: medical student use of computer devices in the clinical setting and the influence of patients.

BACKGROUND: The use of mobile devices such as tablets and laptops by students to support their learning is now ubiquitous. The clinical setting is an environment, which lends itself to the use of mobile devices as students are exposed to novel clinical scenarios that may require rapid location of information to address knowledge gaps. It is unknown what preferences students have for these devices and how they are used in the clinical environment.

METHODS: In this study we explored medical students' choices and their use of different devices in their first year of clinical attachments. We sought to evaluate learners' experiences with these devices using a mixed methods approach. All students newly entered into the clinical years were given the option of a MacBook Air or iPad. We surveyed these students using an online survey tool followed by individual semi-structured interviews to explore survey findings in more depth.

RESULTS: Students owned a multitude of devices however their preferences were for the 11 in. MacBook Air Laptop over the iPad mini. Students made constant use of online information to support their clinical learning, however three major themes emerged from the interview data: connection and devices (diverse personal ownership of technology by students and how this is applied to source educational materials), influence and interaction with patients (use of any device in a clinical setting) and influence and interaction with staff. In general students preferred to use their device in the absence of patients however context had a significant influence.

CONCLUSIONS: These mobile devices were useful in the clinical setting by allowing access to online educational material. However, the presence of patients, and the behaviour of senior teaching staff significantly influenced their utilisation by students. Understanding the preferences of students for devices and how they use their preferred devices can help inform educational policy and maximise the learning from online educational content.