Are Tablets in the Classroom a Good Thing?

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According to a Pew Internet survey on mobile device use, 35% of Americans age 16 and up own a tablet. K-12 districts, universities, and corporate learning programs are also driving the tablet trend, with some purchasing iPads and other tablets to replace textbooks and expand education capabilities with the hardware students already use to communicate and access entertainment. But the experiment doesn’t always proceed as planned.

A plan to distribute iPads to more than 30,000 Los Angeles students hit a speed bump last year when students figured out how to disable security features that were supposed to keep them off social media sites. A school official observed that problems were inevitable because the iPad program was “rushed” and “ill-thought out,” and it seems to be a common theme.

Too many educators are rushing to join the tablet trend because such programs are considered “cool” or “cutting edge,” when what they should really aim for is measurable benefits. Fortunately, there are strategic ways to use mobile technology in education—it just requires a focus on using technology to drive positive outcomes rather than fixating on the hardware.

Improve Functionality With Software

To get the best results with an iPad, for example, educators can pair the hardware with software that has a proven track record of success in deepening learner engagement. Interactive software can enable teachers to embed questions directly into presentations, poll students in real time, and instantly chart responses. This enables teachers to gauge students’ grasp of the material in the classroom, letting educators know when it’s okay to move on to the next topic and when more time is needed to go over the material.

Software solutions can also enable students to replicate virtually any action they can produce on paper on a touchscreen, such as labeling display items, moving featured graphics around, and responding to essay questions. But with a tablet, students’ work can be instantly uploaded, stored, and viewed, giving it a key advantage over paper. With the right software solutions, educators can significantly expand capabilities while increasing student engagement.

Identify Best Practices in Real-Time

Better student engagement and expanded capabilities are reason enough for educators to look for the right software package, but data is another important factor to keep in mind. By generating and analyzing data—both in the context of a particular classroom session or assignment as well as aggregate data across the wider program—educators can identify what’s working and what’s not and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Tablets are quickly becoming an essential part of the everyday life and a prominent feature on the education landscape. But, to make mobile devices an effective part of the learning process, educators must ensure that they pair their new hardware with effective software assets. By finding the right combination, educators can achieve greater levels of student engagement, significantly expand capabilities and generate incredibly valuable data. And that’s truly cool.

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