It took a single covetous glance around the offerings available in my local O2 store to convince me that I had an immediate problem. There are some features and functions that are only available in Windows Phones, and other apps that I rely on that are not available within the Windows store. So which do I choose?
And why is this relevant to my title?
You can almost guarantee that students coming into FE will already have exposure to tablet devices. In this sense they will have a preferred device, and applications of their own that they rely on. As an educational institute we need to be prepared for a huge variety of devices. Logically, we also need to avoid relying on apps that aren't available on all devices.
So what is the alternative? Many people seem to think that the apps available are the be all and end all of tablet devices. In reality, you can get a massive amount of use from a tablet without installing anything onto it by taking advantage of a browser and cloud products.
So from a technical point of view an educational institute can offer an infrastructure which allows students to use their preferred device.
But how does using any device benefit learning? There are three key factors in learning which are enhanced by tablet or mobile devices:
That isn't actually an ideal circumstance for learning. Communication of information is essential for the learning process - if you never see any new information you will never need to learn anything new - but it is equally important that a teacher knows that their students are able to keep up with the lesson. We need a two way communication channel, and tablets are ideal facilitators of that.
I had to "shut up and learn" because the class was large and the teacher couldn't reasonably facilitate a discussion where every member made a contribution without significant disruption. However, if you consider a circumstance where each student has access to a tablet/ mobile device, you can quite easily have an open communication channel where students post questions and thoughts, which the teacher can follow up appropriately without causing any significant disruption (via twitter, VLE forums, mentimeter, etc). In fact, the anonymity of such feedback has been found to encourage students to admit they do not understand.
Here there are various websites or tools that can be embedded within a VLE to generate random problems for students and grade them all immediately. This still gives the teacher the information they need - who has answered correctly, but it requires the student to work alone, and gives those who need it the opportunity to experience the problem repeatedly.
In summary: any implementation of tablet devices to improve learning must be carried out with the specific intention of targeting the learning process. Simply having tablet devices is not enough. Since we have to be able to respond to changes in use over time, and the trends that young people adopt, confining ourselves to a specific device is not the ideal solution. We want to create a situation where the technology can evolve, the gadgets can change, but the tools we use stay consistent.
To ensure that the tools we use improve learning, we need to apply good pedagogy to their implementation. Therefore, I recommend developing methods and processes where tablet devices are used in a teaching environment to enhance communication, allow participation and foster enjoyment of the learning process.
This blog, for instance, is being written on a Mac. No one would ever have known that, if I had kept it to myself. Usually it is written on a Windows laptop, and occasionally on a Samsung S3. The device isn't the important thing. What matters is the tool, in this case Blogger, and how I use it.