Tablet computers arrived at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Children’s Hospital in Charleston this week, allowing the hospital to offer flexible learning opportunities to their pediatric patients. Not only will medical staff be able to use the tablets’ apps to allay the children’s fears about their medical care, but the tablets computers also open the way for bedridden or chronically ill children who cannot attend a traditional school to receive an education. Through online instruction and the use of digital communications and collaboration tools, the children can complete assignments and share their work with classmates and teachers. This kind of flexible learning, however, does not just benefit medically fragile children. Used correctly, tablet computers offer collaborative opportunities that bring about a new level of flexible instruction. Customization of educational activities fit each child’s individual learning style and academic level while laying the foundation for essential 21st century technological skills that today’s children will find indispensable in tomorrow’s work life.
In a 2010 study at the University of Notre Dame that pioneered a paperless education in assistant professor Corey Angst’s project management class, students not only used the tablet computers to take notes, write papers, submit and present work, but also complete class readings and conduct research. Results of this study agree with reports from anecdotal evidence from the Riverside Unified School District where students report finding learning and homework more enticing when they are allowed to use a tablet. Further study at Riverside produced indications that the use of iPads raised proficiency scores in higher-level math classes by 30 percent in comparison to the time-honored textbook approach.
The iPad or other tablet computer devices have a high degree of versatility in terms of what opportunities they can afford students in pursuit of learning. There are apps for note-taking, annotating, reading, graphic design and listening to music, in addition to tools for collecting information, creating and communicating in written, spoken, visual or musical form through text, images, videos and collaboration programs such as VoiceThread. A survey by Tablet PC Review found that students take advantage of the flexibility of their mobile devices with a large majority of devices being used for multiple purposes, both educational and recreational. As a result, teachers and parents wanting to incorporate the leeway a tablet offers in how to structure learning opportunities must keep in mind that the device is only as educationally useful as the apps installed. The users must practice self-discipline to ignore the distractions available on a device to focus on the schoolwork.
A common drawback to iPads or Windows tablets in the classroom, according to Tom Daccord, an educational technology trainer, speaker and author at the Center for Teaching History with Technology in Boston, is to simply transfer traditional schoolwork to a digital format instead. Rather than zeroing in on single subject apps and keeping the subjects segregated, mobile devices offer a cross-disciplinary learning experience that is available to students whether they are confined to a hospital, home sick, on the road, at the library or most anywhere life may take them. Voice recording for language practice and collaborative discussion, presentation software such as Animoto, video, test and tutorial creator apps and more available on tablet computers have the potential to drive children’s learning to richer opportunities. Children will develop hands-on understanding if parents and teachers take the time to prepare and discover all the possibilities that tablet-driven education has to offer.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser