The MySchoolWorx Community Blog

Tablets: the ultimate learning devices?

It may surprise you to know that tablets are not all that new. The concept dates back to the late 1950’s and personal computers themselves. Since then, several companies have had big dreams for the devices, which have gradually evolved through trial and error into what they are today. And while the first commercially introduced tablets and tablets operating system was the Microsoft PC tablet (running a licensed specific tablet enhanced version of its Microsoft Windows OS, and designed to address primarily business needs as note-taking devices for field work) the device that started the consumer revolution was the iPad, in 2010. (It wasn’t until then that the devices no longer required being plugged into separate personal computers for initial activation and backups.)

The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Like many other types of consumer gadgets, tablets have rapidly become smaller, bigger, lighter, and more powerful, with a wide range of capabilities and a dazzling array of applications. And probably most importantly to widespread use – affordable. For the most part, the first iPad was initially viewed as an entertainment device, and others, like the kindle, have quickly morphed from eReader status to full-blown tablets with powerful operating systems. Of course, you can’t do everything on a tablet as you can on a PC – yet—but that day is fast approaching.

It’s little wonder so many schools have either begun using or are investigating the benefits of use in the learning environment. They are small, convenient, easy to fit in the hand, and relatively inexpensive compared to standard PCs and laptops. And, their irresistible touch screens make adoption by children a natural thing.

A couple of groundbreaking studies last November have begun the dialogue in earnest on mobile devices in education.  The studies were conducted by Project Tomorrow and as part of a new Making learning Mobile project.  Researchers were looking to quantify and qualify the benefits of mobile technology in education and the infrastructure needed to support mobile activities.

Two groups of students and teachers in two different schools were given tablets with wireless access: eighth-graders at Stone Middle School in Fairfax County Public Schools and fifth-graders at Falconer Elementary School in Chicago Public Schools.

Over the course of a year researchers followed the students’ tablet use with the goal of evaluating how access to them for communication with teachers and classmates might create comfort with technology, allow students to develop digital skills safely within a secure learning environment and perhaps even extend the learning day.

According to the researchers, use of the devices for educational purposes by students exceeded researchers’ expectations. (The study of 8th grade students in Chicago is continuing for another year.)

Students changed their learning behaviors in positive ways as a result of having the devices, and contrary to some fears, students did not engage in detrimental behaviors as a result of having access to mobile devices at home. While the study found that teachers needed support and clear goals for instructional use of the mobile devices, overall, access to the tablets increased teachers’ communications with students and prompted them to use them in a number of creative ways to engage students more in learning.

What about your school? Are you using tablets in the classroom or allowing students to bring them as part of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program? What are your thoughts and concerns about tablets in K-12 education? We’d like to know.