Friday, May 27, 2016

Why the tablets in schools debacle is over

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”
“a disaster”
“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, na├»ve 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. 
Device fetish
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.   


Cal Armstrong said...

If I can push it further, they don't need laptops, they need pen-based tablet PC. Laptops are "good" for composition of text but science, mathematics, art, music and world languages benefit from the free form entry of digital ink.

Bryan Alexander said...

You were right from the start.

I tracked responses to tablets versus laptops when the iPad hit education. It was clear that the iPad was a fun thing for light consumption, and had some utility for primary school kids.

Well, the Jobs Reality Distortion Field works even from the grave.

Unknown said...

I have to echo what Cal said and expand upon it. I worked at Roland Park Country School and we started using Pen based tablet PC in the summer of 2004. Cincinnati Country Day School (with Rob Baker) was one year ahead of us in 2003. This is long before the iPad "tablet" was imagined. Now CCDS and my current school use the Surface Pro devices which are the perfect tablet / 2-in-1 / laptop whatever you call it for education. Yes iPad's were the wrong device and are starting to look like a fad, at least at the middle school and high school level. However saying that school's should only use traditional laptops is the wrong answer. They should use the right device and not the "wrong" device.

Leon Cych said...

I'd say they have a place in the arts and as a cheap video / editing device. Something you will NOT be able to do on a chrome laptop.

David Gilmour said...

Although clearly limited in direct video capture to the use of a webcam, Chromebooks work well with WeVideo, a cloud based collaborative video editing environment for which there is a Chrome Web Store app. This world is good at making use of whatever capture device is available, such as compact cameras, because it eliminates most of the issues in video editor compatibility with video file formats.

Bryan Alexander said...

I was going to suggest browser-based media editing tools.

Practically speaking, what are the limitations on using WeVideo on a Chromebook: file size?

Unknown said...

Even for the kids, I am a bit skeptical about tablets. They shouldn't replace the interaction with real environment, that is really 3d and with gravity among other physical properties and that provides a rich feedback even if sometimes it hurts ;). The tablets to me are a good complementary tool to ease the link between real and abstract world by providing a kind of intermediate.

Brad Hanks said...

As a tech guy working at a small startup, I can tell you that tablets provide me zero utility. The only use case I can thing of is using it to test an app that you are building. I know I'm not alone in thinking that the underlying motive behind iPads is padding apple's bottom line on a device that has no business or educational use case that isn't better served with a keyboard.

Anonymous said...

Brad - no educational use? Clearly, you haven't visited schools / classrooms where iPads are being used successfully.

Mark Walker said...

I'm not sure if this is an either or debate as I use both plus my iPhone (all are connected vis the iCloud). I think students and teachers main use is a laptop still but I use an iPad for lots of field type work, filming on the spot, recording students performances etc... PS there is software out there now that lets you write your notes on the iPad as well.

Donald Clark said...

I agree Mark. Indeed make this point in the article. Fine with tablets in primary. The problem is that schools turned it into an either.. or issue by opting, blindly, for large scale tablet purchases, without doing the thinking.