The great tablet de­bate

Some ex­perts still have reser­va­tions about the wifi class­room

The Kids Post - - Tech Feature - By Ju­dith Muster

The lat­est ad­vance in ed­u­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy was spawned in the board­room. It’s called “bring your own de­vice” ( BYOD), and it en­cour­ages stu­dents of all ages to bring their giz­mos and gad­gets into the class­room where the new­est tech­nolo­gies are com­bined with cut­ting-edge learn­ing pro­grams and strate­gies.

Depend­ing on the school, BYOD can re­fer to lap­tops (old news for most stu­dents), smart­phones (great for up­dat­ing Twit­ter but not an ed­u­ca­tor’s first choice) and the new­est mem­ber of the per­sonal com­put­ing fam­ily: the tablet. It has only been three years since iPads first sur­faced on the mar­ket, but their ubiq­uity — and a mar­ket crowded with com­peti­tors — makes it feel like much longer. With touch-screen tech­nol­ogy and con­ve­nient porta­bil­ity, tablets have be­gun dis­plac­ing lap­tops at ev­ery level of ed­u­ca­tion, from the pri­mary school class­room to the univer­sity lec­ture hall.

At Toronto pri­vate schools, such as Bayview Glen, Saint An­drew’s Col­lege and Holy Trin­ity School (HTS), ed­u­ca­tors are div­ing head­first into this brave new world.

Af­ter a pilot run in 2011, HTS launched its rec­og­nized iPad pro­gram this past school year. From ju­nior kinder­garten all the way to Grade 12 classes at HTS, iPads en­able peer col­lab­o­ra­tion, fa­cil­i­tate test tak­ing and re­search and pro­vide a mul­ti­me­dia plat­form for stu­dent projects.

The school’s iPad pro­gram in­cor­po­rates pop­u­lar Google ser­vices such as Google Docs, along with the lat­est apps in ed­u­ca­tion, such as Ex­plain Ev­ery­thing and Nota­bil­ity (both of which are so new that you’re for­given for never hav­ing heard of them).

When HTS head of school, Barry Hughes, de­scribes how these apps ac­tu­ally func­tion in class, it is clear a seis­mic shift is un­der­way in the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. “Ap­pli­ca­tions like Ex­plain Ev­ery­thing al­low stu­dents to make their think­ing vis­i­ble through the cre­ation of screen casts. Stu­dents can create a video of them­selves solv­ing a math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lem or an­no­tat­ing a piece of text, or they can even make a time-lapse video of the cre­ation of an orig­i­nal piece of art.”

The con­nected HTS class­room that Hughes is de­scrib­ing is truly the class­room of the fu­ture. The 2013 New Me­dia Con­sor­tium (NMC) re­port on emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies in­di­cates that more and more schools are im­ple­ment­ing BYOD strate­gies and mak­ing use of the ever-mul­ti­ply­ing num­ber of mo­bile apps and pro­grams spe­cially de­signed for ed­u­ca­tion.

“How stu­dents use tech­nol­ogy at school should align with how they use tech­nol­ogy in the rest of their lives,” Hughes says. “Through ac­cess to in­di­vid­u­al­ized re­sources and en­gage­ment with in­ter­ac­tive and mul­ti­me­dia soft­ware, stu­dents can have a far more per­son­al­ized learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Yet when HTS stu­dents ar­rive at univer­sity, tablet in hand, they might be in for a sur­prise: where post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion is con­cerned, the lap­top is still king.

As head of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy at Ry­er­son Univer­sity Li­brary & Archives, Fang­min Wang ex­plains that tablets don’t yet pos­sess all the ca­pa­bil­i­ties needed by the av­er­age univer­sity un­der­grad.

“So far, lap­tops are still the most im­por­tant de­vice for stu­dents,” he says. “It is not prac­ti­cal for stu­dents to type an as­sign­ment on an on­screen key­board, and a lot of the soft­ware used in higher ed­u­ca­tion is only avail­able for desk­top or lap­top com­put­ers.”

Be­yond his hes­i­ta­tion about the suit­abil­ity of tablets for univer­sity stu­dents, Wang also has qualms about the po­ten­tial mo­nop­oly that a hand­ful of com­pa­nies could have on the tablet mar­ket. Busi­nesses have a stake in pro­mot­ing the dig­i­tal class­room since schools im­ple­ment­ing BYOD re­quire stu­dents to pur­chase their prod­ucts. There is also the is­sue of who is cre­at­ing the con­tent for ed­u­ca­tion apps.

“Com­pa­nies like Ap­ple and Ama­zon have be­come con­tent providers, which has a huge im­pact on our be­hav­iours and think­ing,” says Wang. “Crit­i­cal think­ing is ex­tremely im­por­tant for ed­u­ca­tion. My hope is that the con­tent and me­dia that are de­liv­ered to K to 12 stu­dents won’t be con­trolled and de­liv­ered by just one or two big tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies.”

Ul­ti­mately, this cri­tique is part of a broader dis­cus­sion about a tech­nol­ogy still in its in­fancy. Many reser­va­tions with re­gard to the wifi class­room re­main, in­clud­ing ques­tions about stu­dent dis­tractibil­ity, tra­di­tional lit­er­acy skills and universal ac­ces­si­bil­ity. What is cer­tain is that the learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by mo­bile tech­nolo­gies far out­weigh the pos­si­ble draw­backs.

As the NMC re­port re­minds us: “Tablets, smart­phones, and mo­bile apps have be­come too ca­pa­ble, too ubiq­ui­tous and too use­ful to ig­nore.”

Some ex­perts say tablets are just too use­ful to ig­nore

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