Technology continues to advance at a breathtaking pace. One of the most significant new forms of technology to emerge in recent years is the tablet. The trailblazing iPad has been picked up and embraced by a huge number of people and is the best selling gadget ever released.Tablets are extremely versatile, enabling apps to be developed for almost every conceivable subject or activity. One important sector in which tablets have been tested over the past year is education. A great deal of excitement has surrounded the concept of implementing tablets in the classroom to revolutionise learning, reenergising teaching techniques and making courses more interactive and stimulating.
However, there has also been a degree of caution advised by education experts wary of what a too quick transition in the classroom and over eager embracement of the tablet could mean for the education sector and quality of teaching as a whole.As with all heated debates there are those for and against the use of tablets in the classroom who have highlighted clear pros and cons. Let’s start by considering the pros. To begin with, the dimensions of tablets make them perfect for student use. Far lighter than textbooks, which can weigh a significant amount in backpacks, their long battery life means they can be charged at home ready for a full day’s use at school.
It’s not just the weight of the textbooks that tablets can make an improvement on. The flat representation of information in textbooks cannot compete with the engaging interactivity of education programs on tablets. Lectures can incorporate audio and video, while the information on the screen is linked to other relevant information, enabling students to create a saveable path of learning that would otherwise require finding exact page references across a number of books in the library.
When downloaded on to the tablet pc, education apps, programs and e-textbooks can be automatically updated as new information becomes available, rather than waiting a few years for a revised edition of a hardcopy textbook to be published. Also, digital books are usually cheaper than their hardcopy versions. Many colleges and universities have adopted cost effective cloud based IT solutions on campus and the tablet fits perfectly with this model, allowing work to be saved to the cloud from anywhere within the campus’ WiFi range. Information can also quickly be shared among students, for example during brainstorming sessions and group projects, nurturing invaluable teamwork skills.
Another reason to include tablets in the classroom is quite simply that the social changes wrought by new technologies like smartphones and tablets demand it to keep children engaged in education. Already integrated into so many spheres of social activity, the new technologies are here to stay. A large number of professions use tablets and smartphones as everyday tools, so failing to incorporate these technologies at the education stage could be seriously hampering children when it comes to developing key IT skills. Can schools afford to lag behind a generation when homes and workplaces are already equipped with tablets and other technologies?
Without doubt, tablets have a lot to offer education, but what are the cons that need serious consideration?
The Pros and Cons
Firstly, there are questions about the quality and range of learning apps, programs and e-textbooks, compared to the high standard of academic publishing in textbooks. While tablets are compatible with established web based teaching and learning platforms like Blackboard, there are simply not enough e-textbooks, apps and programs available to make full tablet adoption feasible. This is in part due to the fact that it’s still early days for the tablet fullstop, let alone the integration of the tablet and education, but the openness of development for the tablet, while stimulating widespread creativity and producing dedicated and niche apps, also raises the question of quality control and regulation. Will the production of education sector apps, programs and e-textbooks exist in a competitive market open to all? Or will governments take hold of the reigns and produce officially endorsed syllabus tablet materials? Is it possible to conjecture the forthcoming proliferation of education materials for tablets could make it difficult to distinguish the good from the bad?
Child Safety Online
Another particularly pressing concern regarding tablets in the classroom is the freedom of access given to students and the pressures this puts on teachers and IT departments to monitor for any signs of inappropriate behaviour.
Can a teacher really be expected to check that a boy in the back row is completing his geography assignment and not watching Transformers in HD? Will the new kind of nasty note passed around the classroom take the form of harsh emails? Can security settings in school be relied upon to stop offensive or adult material being downloaded and shared? As with all new technologies, tablets are morally neutral; their propriety in the classroom depends entirely on how the students decide to use them. But keeping check on this use represents a significant challenge for schools. The open access to information and media enabled by tablets can facilitate learning, but could also pose serious problems.
Then there is the cost to consider. Can schools, colleges and universities afford to equip their students with tablets? If not, will the children’s families be expected to foot the bill? Would this not lead to an imbalance in the classroom, with children from higher earning families equipped with tablets sat next to children from lower earning families who cannot afford a tablet?
It seems in these early stages of new mobile computer technologies, what is needed is a gradual adoption of tablets in classrooms as a handy educational tool, an addition to existing course materials and textbooks, rather than as a complete replacement for traditional teaching and learning methods.
Approaching the integration of tablets within the classroom slowly, building on the pros and addressing the cons, will enable the education sector to tailor the evolving shape of new classroom technology to fit the needs of all students, ensuring an equal opportunity to benefit from exciting innovations into the future.
This article was written by super gadget and design fan Ally.