After the California debacle, schools in five states (Virginia, California, Maine, Texas and North Carolina) are starting to swap out tablets for the laptops they should have purchased in the first place. It started with a survey in Maine, where teachers and students expressed a preference for laptops over tablets.
To be exact, 88.5% of teachers and 74% of grade 7-12 students wanted laptops, not iPads. The observations were clear, that while iPads may be appropriate for young children, they are not suitable for older children who need to acquire writing and other more sophisticated skills using tools that don’t work on iPads,
“shortcomings for older students”
"provide no educational function in the classroom” “students use them as toys”
“word processing near to impossible … I applaud this change.”
“largely students’ gaming devices”
“WE NEED LAPTOPS!!!” a student said, three times.
Apple has caved in and swapped the tablets for reduced price MacBook Air laptops. This reflects the fall in sales of iPads, now at their lowest since 2011. What went wrong?
(Tablets) Disaster in the taking
So tablets have been swallowed by the hundreds of thousands in education but shown to have serious side effects. I’ve been writing and talking about this impending disaster since the start of 2013. My claim is that for learners beyond young children in primary schools, tablets do more damage than good.
7 reasons why tablets should NOT be used in education
When this madness began, in 2013, in ‘Too cool for school: 7 reasons why tablets should NOT be used in education’, I argued that tablets were not the device of choice for teachers and students, poor for writing, encouraged facile creativity, were consumer not producer devices and awful for coding. They were vanity projects, too expensive, as well as teacher and student unfriendly.
7 reasons why buying tablets is lousy advice
In ‘Keep on taking the tablets: 7 reasons why this is lousy advice’, I argued that the perfect storm of aggressive vendors, naïve buyers, little or no cost effectiveness analysis (different from cost benefits), placebo research and groupthink, led to a tsunami of poor procurement. I’d add the cult of ‘Leadership’ in schools, that has become shorthand for a few folk making decisions without consulting the rest, also contributed to the lemming-like rush to buy them.
7 researched ways 'tablets' can inhibit learning
At that time, I also detailed ‘7 researched ways 'tablets' can inhibit learning’. Physical and cognitive ergonomic principles were used to show that tablets are inferior in all sorts of learning tasks, especially writing, where they inhibit the development of complex writing but also in coding, graphics, sustained tasks and so on.
Beyond this, I have argued that education suffers from ‘device fetish’, which is to concentrate on the wrong end of the problem, using student opinion to show that tablets were unsuitable for sustained skills development. When students reach secondary they have to learn higher order skills which tablets do not, in general, support the sort of digital literacy they need to know. To progress they neeed to have an input device that allows quick and low errorinput with haptic feedback - not a touchscreen keyboard. They also need more control over what that device does. iPads were designed to be consumer, not producer devices - they inhibit progress.
This is a near perfect example of how and why technology in education so often shoots itself in the foot. Obsessed by devices, itself a function of the refusal to do any serious analysis on what is actually needed, schools, ‘leaders’ and vendors opt for easy, but ill-fated, solutions - it was a gold-rush mentality. Rather than focus on good tools, content and services, they rushed towards hardware. Why? I suspect it’s less challenging, doesn’t threaten ‘teaching’ and is seen as an adjunct, rather than core, pedagogic approach. Here's the solution - do the research, listen to what learners actually want. Stop this amateurish, device madness. Note that I'm happy with their use in primary school and also with tablets that have full keyboards (those are really laptops) but even here one has to be careful on costs.