Tablets in the classroom

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This week in ECI 201, something rare happened: a Digital Native became a Digital Immigrant, well at least within the context of learning how to use an Ipad. Prior to checking out an Ipad last week and before Thursdays class, I had never used an Ipad or any other tablet device for school or personal use. My preferred devices to use have always been either a traditional desktop, laptop or a smart phone. Among the products in the  technology spectrum, I have used the oversized Gateway and Dell PC towers and monitors, the enormous Dell Laptops, the Blackberry Torch, the Iphone, and most recently, the Macbook. When new products entered the market, the next time I was ready for an upgrade, I eagerly traded up to newer devices and software. However, on Thursday, for the first time in very long time, I struggled to use technology. It confused me, it frustrated me, and it made me think about how I was using technology to accomplish a task. I was already somewhat familiar with how to navigate the Ipad software since it is the same platform used to run the Iphone, but learning the fine details about moving between apps, rotating the screen, or using particular apps was a learning curve. Although challenging, once I learned the basics I realized how powerful of a tool the tablet can be in the classroom with students and for teachers in designing instructional activities.

Being an educator in 2015 means that we have a well-developed idea and model of what a twenty-first century learner looks like: the students we encounter in our classrooms each day.  The students in todays classroom are unique in that technology is no longer an “add-on” to their lives; it is fully embedded in how they live and work in a rapidly changing world. In our society where we value immediacy and convince, traditional laptops are no longer able to meet this need. To this end, more individuals, companies, and educational institutions are turning to tablets for many reasons. First, (and the most likely reason), is that tablets are portable and easily assessable: they require little room, are lightweight, and can be used for a variety of different purposes. In a post for Edutopia  Ben Johnson, a school principal, describes how tablets can be used in a science lesson emphasizing their power and ease of use. While conducting an experiment, students can use a tablet to photograph and video the different stages, record minute-by-minute oral or written observations, and share that information with teachers and other people. With one handheld device, students can accomplish what was once done by hand more accurately and in a more appealing format. It is students completing tasks like this that Johnson believes demonstrates how tablets are changing student learning experiences. With tablets, students can engage in problem based learning in which they identifying global or local problems, look for solutions, and then present those solutions to appropriate audiences.

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Using tablets in the classroom have benefits over using laptops. Some of the most common uses of tablets is to run apps that allows students to explore topics and create products, and to use apps specifically designed to address students’ individual learning needs (often remediation) in different content areas according to student needs. Matthew Lynch reported in an article for the site Gizmodo, that studies have found that the use of apps designed for educational purposes improve student learning. Lynch mentions a study that found the use of apps for specific purposes such as vocabulary develop and math skill practice lead to higher learning gains. These apps also increase student engagement in the classroom. Lynch describes a study in which 54% of students self-reported they were more involved with classes which used technology.  These apps are often designed for use on portable devices and many times do not work or function very well on traditional laptops, which then makes them less effective or impossible to use with students. With the popularity of tablets increasing, many textbook publishers are now producing virtual books that are interactive, more up-to-date and easily updatable. As in the example of apps, these digital textbooks are often more easily used on a tablet. Apps that allow the use of word-software, presentation software, and data analysis tools mean that reports and graphics can be created from the tablet device and shared with global audiences without ever needing a laptop.

The power of using tablets in the classroom can be seen the video below of a New Jersey school district whose teachers and administrators describe the implementation of tablets using Google Play apps as fundamental in changing instructional practices and enhancing student learning:

While tablets have the ability to be a transformative tool in the classroom, as with any tool used for instructional purposes, there are drawbacks and limitations. Both Lynch in his article for Gizmodo and Johnson (in a different Edutopia article reflecting on his schools implementation of tablets) state that one of the challenges of incorporating tablets into the classroom is shifting control away from the teacher and trusting students to use the technology without teachers controlling every their every move. This can be difficult for teachers who want to ensure that students remain on task but for students to experiment with the tools available to them, they must have the freedom to do so. Students are not the only individuals who need to be allowed to experiment with using tablets to learn. Johnson found that in his school since teachers were “computer literate”  it was assumed that they would know how to incorporate tablets and apps into their lessons: he was mistaken. Teachers need additional training on how to use tablets if they have never used one before as well as in how to evaluate apps for use with students.  Other disadvantages that can come from using tablets include the lack of a keyboard for students who may prefer or need one for input versus relying on touch screen. Additionally, tablets cannot play CD’s or burn information to CD’s if necessary, and for some students, the screen size many not be large enough if they have a vision impairment.

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When thinking about which type of device I would prefer to have in my classroom, I lean towards laptops but I can see the value in the use of tablets. As I prepare to enter the classroom to student teach in the spring, I am excited by the fact that my school is BYOD; therefore, I will have students using tablets, phones, possibly laptops and Ipods. Regardless of the device, I want my students to use their devices to customize their learning and to conduct research beyond what I provide in my instruction. Students may remember some of the content I provide to them, but when they take control of their own learning and seek out information for their own personal desire, that is the information they will remember when they leave my class.

Works Cited: YouTube Video:


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