Archive for August, 2012

Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

Thursday, August 16th, 2012
800px Apple iPad Event03 Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

iPad with on display keyboard. Photo by matt buchanan / Wikimedia Commons

In Finland the discussion on tablets in schools has reach a new level. It looks like a real hype. Principals, heads of school districts and library directors are feverishly trying to find out cash from their budgets to acquire some of these devices to be used in education.

Those who praise tablets usability in learning have dominated the discussion. There have been some critical comments, like the one made by a City of Helsinki’s early-childhood learning expert saying that there is scientific evidence that walking in a forest is good for learning and to replace that with tablets is very hard.

I have been testing and studying tablets for two year now. I have not myself tried them in a classroom teaching but have studied several cases and think that I have a relatively good picture of the usage.

Tablets are great media devices. They are good for reading, for watching videos, for listen music and other audio. They are also extremely easy to use for taking photos, shooting videos and for doing audio recordings. They are more exciting than any other information and communication technology for playing games. There are tens of good and interesting click-drag-and-drop-drill-and-practice educational games. Children really get excited about them and may also learn something by playing these games.

So why not tablets in schools?

I really do not have any scientific evidence to back this (this is all my intuitions based on my limited understanding of human cognitions) but I think writing and drawing are the most important (meta-)skills in all kind of learning.

What I know for sure is that with tablets writing and drawing is very difficult — mostly painful experience. With the virtual keyboard you may write short messages. Writing a blog post like this is impossible even for an experienced keyboard / tablet writer. Drawing with your fingers is fun, but if you really need to sketch, draw a diagram or a map that is not possible with finger paints. To draw you need a sharper tool and precision grip.

Giving up writing and precision grip is like going backwards in a human evolution. Is that what we really want to do in schools?

So how tablets could be better?

We should have much better virtual keyboards. Or we should have a proper keyboard in a tablet in a way that it is always available for use (does this sound like a laptop?). Microsoft surface is an interesting proposal to this direction. Whatever virtual or mechanical, a tablet for learning should be a powerful writing tool.

742px Archives of American Art   Blanche Grambs at work   2129 Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

Blanche Grambs at work. Photo by Bofinger / Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the keyboard we should have a drawing pad that resemble closely paper and can be used with sticks, paintbrush etc. – practically with everything you may want to hold in your hand. Like the keyboard, the paper-like drawing pad should always be available with the tablet.

I know that there are other people promoting same things and even designing and developing things along these lines. To make sure that it will happen, in the research group we have started to design our own (experimental) prototypes of devices, too. Let’s see how it will be.

Learning Environments research group is hiring

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The Learning Environments research group (LeGroup) at the Media Lab Helsinki of the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture is looking for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers interested in to work in several new research projects starting in Autumn 2012.

For the doctoral students position(s) there is still a week to prepare your application materials. The applications should arrive no later than on August 14th 2012. You will find the official call text and instructions from the Aalto University web site. Please read it carefully and prepare your application.

If you are interested in to the postdoctoral researcher post(s) , please send an email to Teemu Leinonen with a (1) cover letter, (2) CV, (3) design portfolio and (4) a statement of your research interests.

Further information
Associate Professor Teemu Leinonen
tel. +358 50 351 6796