Part One of a three-part series: Tablets Make the Grade
Devices like the iPad and Windows 8 tablets are being deployed in school systems around the world as educators have begun to turn learning into a 1:1 technology initiative.
The transition toward digital learning has been occurring for years. But the explosive adoption of tablets and smartphones within the last 4 years and their potential as learning tools have changed how students are educated in the 21st century.
“Tablets are visually stunning and really get into other worlds that you couldn’t get into before,” said Amy Hollingsworth, a biology lab coordinator for natural science at the University of Akron, based in Akron, Ohio. Hollingsworth teaches high school and continuing education for adults.
Indeed, tablets are being embraced nationwide and globally in schools to replace textbooks and supplement traditional learning models.
Districts such as the Clear Creek Independent School District in League City, Texas, have successfully deployed Dell Windows 8 tablets last year to students and faculty.
St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama, rolled out Lenovo tablets to its fifth and sixth grade students this past August after instituting a 1:1 initiative for its middle and high school students.
Others have used iPads or similar devices with comparable goals in mind. With the back to school season in full swing and new tablets available for a variety of platforms, educators are discovering new ways for moving away from the traditional mode of textbook-based learning.
Using Tablets Offers Upsides
But like any new technology, experts believe tablets that tablets have advantages and drawbacks as learning tools.
“Tablets may well replace text books for some really important reasons,” said Dr. Paul Yellin, director of The Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education in New York City and associate professor of pediatrics at the New York University School of Medicine.
Tablets will help kids with reading problems, he said, adding that educators can embed features such as text-to-speech. In addition, Yellin noted that digital textbooks can enable students to highlight words and reinforce information that students learned.
Indeed, the ability to use technology helps level the playing field for all students, especially those with physical challenges like visual impairment or dyslexia.
“The technology gives all my students a voice,” said Jena Sherry, a middle school math teacher at the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, Madison, Wisconsin.
Even for kids without learning problems, immediate access to a subject and the ability to search online for additional information are hugely beneficial.
However, the upsides of the new technology also breed concerns over potential overuse and excessive screen time. Students will need to find a balance between the use of screens at school and in the home.
“There is evidence that when you sleep at night, our pineal glands produce melatonin to regulate sleep,” Yellin said, but screens lit up at night interfere with melatonin production so parents need to limit screen time.
But experts believe that potential downsides of using a tablet are outweighed by the benefits for providing advanced learning.
For example, in a biology class, tablets can provide students with “on-the-go” learning.
Sensors can be plugged into a tablet, the device taken to a stream, data collected by the water, and then analyzed by software on the tablet, said Hollingsworth. The tablet also provides a tool in which students can take pictures and identify species quickly to provide an immersive experience.
“Learning is mobile,” said Hollingsworth. “If all your textbooks are on one tablet, then you always have that information with you.”
And with digital technology encroaching upon students in all ways, the lost of art neat handwriting or learning how to write cursive is sometimes a worry for teachers and parents. Tablets enable students to continue learning how to handwrite despite more children now learning how to type at a young age.
For instance, students use OneNote in some classes at St. Paul’s Episcopal School. In math, students used to have to pass around small white boards, write a solution, and erase their work. Now, students can write their solution on the tablet in OneNote, save it, review the problems from class at home, said Kelli Etheredge, director of teaching and learning resources.