Reasons to be cheerful: The return of the laptopPaul Harrison
As a teacher, I love using my iPad in the classroom. It allows me to distribute soft copies of materials to students quickly and efficiently using Dropbox or Box (and students don’t lose these or leave them in the classroom at the end of the lesson); I can annotate worksheets more creatively with Notability than I can with Adobe on the laptop; and it affords me mobility as a presentation device that isn’t possible with a computer – I can wander around the room monitoring students and still be in control of the display. What’s more, there are some fantastic interactive educational apps (Nearpod, Kahoot!, Pear Deck! for example) that I love using and truly engage students.
However, when we return from the summer break, we will be discarding our iPads and rejoining the world of students with laptops, so here are a few thoughts on the reasons to be cheerful about this.
Fun flash activities for every occasion
Remember when there were all those nifty little games and fillers that you could send to your students to amuse, entertain and educate. Where did they go? Guess what – they’re still there.
Imagine the situation: You’ve been working on the past tense with your students. There are 10 minutes left in the lesson. Your usual impeccable planning and time-management deserted you that morning and has left you floundering for something to fill the gap. A solution – quickly Google for a game. You find something that looks perfect: Blast the Rocket. You send the link to your students. But wait…what’s that message?
‘We were unable to detect the correct version of Flash on your computer…’
“Never mind, students. You could have played it if you’d had laptops. Class dismissed!”
Just out of curiosity, I Googled ‘past tense game’, and of the first 10 hits, 6 required flash.
Improvement in writing skills
Be honest – how many of you when writing anything more detailed than a shopping list, a status update or a quick email reply would choose the iPad over a computer keyboard? All those fiddly, time-consuming, little issues that halt your train of thought: Where’s the apostrophe, semicolon, square bracket, etc.? How do I move the cursor back a few words to make a correction? Why does it keep changing the words that I mistype to something completely diffident? So how do we expect students to improve their writing skills when they are constantly battling the inadequacies of a virtual keyboard?
Greater attention to accuracy and error correction
Some research* suggests that while predictive text generally allows you to deliver your message faster, it is training younger people to be less accurate. Students can type one or two letters and then choose one of the suggested words. They are being conditioned into putting too much trust in the device and not enough in their own ability to learn, use and spell words correctly. This over-reliance on predictive text makes them more impulsive and more prone to making mistakes.
Acquisition of professional skills
An important, but sometimes overlooked, function of the Foundations program is to prepare students for their future studies and careers. While an iPad has many useful applications, it is still seen by many as a toy. A very well-developed toy, but a toy nonetheless. Despite the advantages of portability that an iPad can offer, I do sometimes secretly want to be carrying a laptop into the classroom again, like faculty from other departments do. And I believe many students feel the same. We’re trying to get students to focus on their studies while Snapchat or Plants vs. Zombies 2 are just a swipe away. Admittedly, these distractions do not disappear by switching to laptops, but hopefully we can begin to familiarize students with the basic computer skills they will need.Better multi-tasking capability
Better multi-tasking capability
True multi-tasking can be very difficult on an iPad. Ever tried to play an audio file while completing a listening worksheet? How about taking notes from a web page? Or perhaps something as simple as copying text from one document into another? All of these are possible with an iPad but many of the windows-based tasks we take for granted with a laptop are frustratingly more difficult with an iPad.
From workaround to whatever works
I know that many of the limitations of the iPad I have mentioned here are avoidable – I can attach a Bluetooth keyboard that will help me type, there are browsers available that will convert Flash activities to HTML, and there are even solutions to the split screen issue. But why should we waste time searching for workarounds when we have something that works already? Similarly, for those of you, like me, who don’t want to dispose of your Nearpods or interactive iBooks, phones have developed so much over the past few years that there is very little that can’t be accomplished on the latest iPhone or Samsung that every student has in their possession. What’s more, they can even keep it charged by connecting it to their new, gleaming laptop.