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

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.

Share and Enjoy:
  • services sprite Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?
  • services sprite Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?
  • services sprite Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?
  • services sprite Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?
  • services sprite Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?
  • services sprite Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?
  • services sprite Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

5 Responses to “Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?”

  1. Tomi Dufva says:

    Thanks for importan topic and important argument.
    Still I feel have to.comment a bit.. Tablets are hyped about these days, for many reasons, but I dont think any school is completely abandoning writing and drawing skills. The question is more about that there finally is a way to use computing in a easy way in education that also makes sense. Also tablets presents teachers and students way to manage their devices pretty easily.

    As you said you have not used tablet in education, so your opinions are understandable. Most apps one relates to education are the ones that are easy to spot: games aimed at teaching some basic skills, like numbers, simple math, alphabet, with little gamification aspects bundled in. They are nice apps and useful, but there is more. Because many kind of content creation is pretty easy with tablets (video, music, sound, animation, interactive books and presentations etc) they make many teaching methods easy and interesting. Like flipped classroom, and generally the methods of constructivist pedagogy. Also tablets enable us to study many topics easily anywhere. ( the benefit of tablets are their size and connectivity. Something not easily done in schools with it-rooms or even with trays of laptops)
    They also may encourage students to seek and explore subjects and engage in learning. Something not easily seen in schools. There has been some encouraging examples of that already.
    So my point is that tablets can be useful and can be used together with other tools like pencil and paper. Right now, in my opinion, tablets offer the best bang on the buck, when schools consider investing in computers.

  2. Tomi: I think school should completely abandon handwriting. Learning to writhe with a keyboard is more powerful, and we will not loose anything if there will be enough time to practice drawing. This is because if there is ever emerging need to write something with your hand, you can write with your hand (draw letter on a paper) if you know how to draw.

  3. I disagree with you Teemu. I invite you to visit Lappeenranta to see how tablets are used in education – in practice. In our Sormet project you could easily discuss with several teachers that are far away from hype. They just enrich their teaching and use iPads with students in very different ways – writing, drawing, communicating and producing media.
    Teachers and students in our project are excited, not because of the device but because they have rich variety of tools (apps) and different learning methods to use. Writing and drawing is not very difficult using tablets. I think virtual keyboard in suitable for school assignments because texts are not so long. I you write large essays like in university it is different.
    Tablets are handy portable device -best so far – to use in eduction.

  4. Niklas Läckström says:

    Teemu misses on one crucial point. Writing is also an essential part of working on your motorics. I don’t think working with a keyboard (virtual or real) will ever do the same for a child as painting and writing. There are many studies that show correlation between motoric problems and learning challenges. As there seem to be more and more to accomplish in school in less and less time I dont think we can afford to leave out handwriting, it serves the purposes better than typing on keyboards. None the less, Todays pupils need to learn to work with keyboards as well but I’ll have to agree on Flosses comment that the virtual keyboards still need some improvement. Personally I still consider the various Pads beeing merely toys and not suited for work. Working still requires a real keyboard. Pads with better keyboards on the other hand… that could make me change my mind.

  5. Timo: Thanks. I am aware that tablets are used in various ways. Smart people are able to make good decisions on the ways of using these tools. I also agree that tablets are so far the best portable device to be used in education. I think, however, that they could be even better.

    Niklas: You are right. I, however, do not see any difference in the development of motor skills if we practicing fine drawing (with a stick / pen) and handwriting (with a pen). The difference is that practicing drawing can be far more diverse than practicing of handwriting / model cursive. The drawing “classes” should include calligraphy (japanese, chinese, arabic), drawing graphs and diagrams, technical drawing etc.

Leave a Reply

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree