Comments Off on Tablet PCs in the Classroom: Good or Bad? Tablets & Technology

Sci-fi movies; wondrous visions of the future from Eden to dystopia

We’ve all seen the scenes, high tech classrooms in idyllic settings and students mindfully tapping away at some form of computer or electronic tablet. Yes sir, tomorrow’s classrooms will make NASA’s mission control center look like a student film. Perhaps the only thing that can rival tomorrow’s classroom is tomorrow’s high tech police crime lab; well… at least on TV.

So, let’s have a closer look at this utopian world, and ask ourselves, why not? Why can’t this vision be made a reality? Just imagine what students can do with this kind technology at their fingertips. Tablet computers are a reality, so that hurdle is out of the way. Let’s make this happen.

Well, like most things, this picture is idyllic on the surface. Everyone’s lawn looks good at 30 MPH, but as the expression goes “the devil is in the details”. Understandably, manufacturers of tablet PCs will sponsor studies, and paint their products as a panacea if they are included in classroom curriculum. In certain cases that may be true. Tablet computers, like other electronic devices can bring a world of knowledge immediately to the user. There are graphs, visual displays, and instructional videos, to name a few, however a world of information can also become a world of distraction. After all, it wouldn’t be unlike a teenager to be texting during class.

At the present time in Canada, electronic devices such as cell phones, smartphones, game boxes, and tablet computers are largely disallowed in the elementary school system. According to one elementary school teacher, the policy is, “if we see it, we take it”. Fair enough. Distractions like this can result in the student’s mind not being on task. Furthermore there can also be a host of other concerns relating to privacy issues, photos being taken without permission, and the recording of inappropriate activities. Remember this little gem and the outrage it sparked?

A close friend of mine is a high school teacher in the greater Toronto area. There has been many a night where he has regaled me with the horrors of teaching high school in our modern day and age. Often our conversations turn to issue of electronics in the classroom. In many cases, electronics provide a host of unwanted side effects.

Tablets Are Not Necessarily a Good Fit for all Audiences

If, as an educator, you are dealing with an audience that is lacking in maturity and/or self-discipline, the inclusion of electronics in the classroom is probably not a good idea. In cases like this, electronic devices can provide a world of distraction. A student lacking in focus can easily be swept into any number of mediums, from music, texting, social media, and surfing the Internet, etc.

One might then say that the teacher should monitor the situation more closely, and to a point, they can. However, if a student is bound and determined to be distracted, eventually the teacher will give up on monitoring that specific student; after all, a teacher is responsible for the well being of an entire class, not simply one student. One might then say that the electronic device should be taken away from the student, but this too is not without its problems.

Like many organizations, schools can unwittingly impose regulations that contradict one another. Policy may allow a teacher to confiscate an electronic device, with the caveat that they hand in the device to the principal’s office. At the same time, a teacher is not allowed to leave a class of students unattended. In order to turn in the device, it would require that a teacher get a stand-in while the device is brought to the principal’s office. In a practical sense, this is not always possible. In the meantime, if the device is stolen, the teacher becomes responsible for replacing the device and possibly faces reprimand for not turning in the device in the first place. For this reason, some teachers will turn a blind eye to the situation.

In terms of educating students, we come to the vexing issue of how to go about conveying complex concepts. Difficult to comprehend ideas require a student’s undivided attention. For some students it may be simply easier to “check out” mentally. In cases like this, electronics can provide easy escapism for which the student is longing. In order to go unnoticed, the student then may choose to disguise their distraction. Stories of students using their hair to hide earplugs are common. With their hair covering their earplugs, a student may be listening to music as the instructor walks the students through the lesson. Unbeknownst to both the student and instructor, the student is gradually slipping away from the flock to their own demise.

A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything. – Ecclesiastes 10:19

Another very real hindrance to the wide use of electronic devices in high schools is the reality of financial inequality. While I in no way claim to know of a solution to this age-old problem, it nevertheless remains a reality in our present day and age. Due to socio-economic realities some families simply cannot afford electronics such as smartphones and/or tablet PCs.

In the realm of public school, they also are dealing with limited budgets and resources. Let’s face it; it’s far less expensive to replace a pad of paper than it is to replace an iPad. Another harsh reality is that some elements of society place little to no value on the cost of educational equipment. Imagine having to constantly replace broken and/or lost tablet PCs. Also imagine the theft rate.

For better or worse, technology pushes ever forward. If a school board bought a slew of tablet PCs, imagine how quickly these devices would become obsolete. Physical books on the other hand, don’t have nearly as short a life span. Understandably all of the above leads educators further down the path to lower expense resources.

So where does this leave us? So often in life, it is ourselves that must provide the solutions to our problems. Despite all I’ve covered, I still feel that tablet PCs are tremendous tools. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the right tools be placed in the right hands. If your child is responsible and self-controlled then by all means purchase them a tablet PC. It will open up a world of resources and information to them. On the other hand, simply providing your child with an electronic device is unlikely to make them better students.

Lastly we come to the world of higher education and this, my friend, is another kettle of fish altogether. Universities and colleges are a perfect fit for tablet computers. Presumably if a student has reached this level of education, they have also likely reached a certain level of maturity and self-discipline. In this world, a tablet PC can prove invaluable. There are apps for taking notes. The student can video record lessons and/or demonstrations. There is also access to the Internet. The possibilities are endless. Here, the tablet computer in truly in its element.

In conclusion, I want to state that I am in no way discouraging the use of electronics and/or tablets PCs in the classroom. On the contrary, they are enormously powerful resources of which I am very fond, but like anything they are not a panacea. Quite simply, they are just another tool in the educational toolbox. There are times when they are appropriate and times when they are not. In keeping with this thought, please check out this related video on YouTube:

The 21st Century Learner Video

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