Tablets can be a great way to aid instruction and learning in a classroom, but they must be used effectively with careful planning and background thought. Getting to grips with tablets starts on day one with how tablets are introduced in the classroom.
Students must be taught not only how to operate the tablets, but also the reason the tablets are being used in the classroom and how they can help in the learning process. Failing to introduce tablets to students properly can make these exciting pieces of technology become little more than expensive toys and miniature video screens instead of the amazing educational tools they have the potential to be.
Exploring a Tablet
With all of the technology that is part of their daily lives, chances are most students already know how to operate a tablet or will be able to catch on very quickly. However, they may not be aware of all of the things a tablet can do. Take some time to explore the tablets in your classroom with your students. Go beyond the basic functions and show them a few cool tips and tricks. Give them a chance to share some tips and tricks of their own too. You may also want to have students brainstorm the different ways they think they can use a tablet in the classroom. Click on a specific app or built-in program and simply say, “how do you think we can use this in our classroom?”. You may be surprised at all the uses they come up with. Jot their ideas down on the whiteboard or your own tablet for future reference.
Of course, while exploring a tablet, teachers must also introduce rules for tablet use. If school filters allow it, can students access Facebook or e-mail while in class? What happens if students are caught playing a game or otherwise off-task while they are supposed to be using a specific app? How should tablets be handled, cared for and stored? Give students some input into this discussion and some ownership over the tablet rules to help ensure they respect the technology they have access to. Many tablet using schools print out a list of rules and have it hung up in a prominent space in the classroom.
After establishing a few rules for tablet use, you can also allow students to explore the tablets on their own or use them to complete an open-ended task. For example, “Use your tablet to create a guide or other resource to help you study for next week’s test on the Periodic Table.” Students may then create videos, slideshows, drawings or a series of notes to serve as a study guide for the test and they will get practice exploring the tablet at the same time.
Choose two apps and then expand
With so many apps clambering for your attention on iTunes, it can become overwhelming and confusing at the start to select which ones are the most beneficial for your students. Aim to choose two core simple apps at the beginning and move from this to more complex apps over time. It can be a good idea to choose a group of student ‘software testers’ to test out new apps and give feedback before presenting it to the whole class.
Asking questions about the usefulness of the app before purchasing can also be helpful. For example:
- When was the app released? Some apps can be outdated or irrelevant to current teaching standards.
- What do others say about the app? Read the app reviews before hitting the buy button. These can give you a good indication of the app quality.
- Does it have technical support options? Some apps lack support from the developers which can cause headaches when you come up against technical problems. Check the apps have a working website and email address.
- Is the app compatible with your tablet? Check what operating systems the app works with. It can be easy to download an app only to realize that it doesn’t work with your iPad version.
Swap one classroom activity at a time
Rather than jumping head first into tablet usage with your students, choose one classroom activity and swap it with a digital version. For example, use a classroom behavioral management tool such as Class Charts to take the roll in the mornings, or use Google Docs to share documents with students. This helps both you and your students to get used to the new technology without introducing wildly different concepts that they are unfamiliar with.
Ask yourself why?
A key point to take into account when you are starting to use a tablet with students is ‘why’. Will it be for presentation, for classroom management, for assessment, for interaction, for sharing documents, for creating texts and media or for learning new educational concepts? Developing a Rationale Document listing your expectations, and reasons for using the tablet can help focus your tablet usage and be a resource to relate back to if you are finding yourself overwhelmed by the new technology.
Incorporating Tablets into Daily Instruction
No matter how many tablets you have available in your classroom, over time they can become a regular part of classroom instruction. Instead of regular textbooks, students may use the tablets to access digital versions of their textbooks. They can also look up specific websites and articles or conduct research on their tablets. They can even use apps to take notes and annotate their textbooks or other content they find. In a math class, a tablet can replace a graphing calculator, serve as a student’s own personal whiteboard for solving problems or, with the right app, become a way for students to see and log their answers to questions during a pop quiz.
Tablets are expensive, so it is easy to think that they must always be used in a new or innovative way. However, it is okay to also occasionally use the tablets as an extension of the whiteboard, as a personal video player or to replace a pencil and a piece of paper. Perhaps students will want to take notes on a tablet so they can more easily organize their notes or incorporate them into a slideshow presentation. Tablets may also help teachers set up a paperless classroom, sharing assignments, grades, letters to parents, links and other important information online and through the tablets instead of requiring students to keep track of multiple pieces of paper every day.
Resources for introducing tablets to a classroom
Teacher bloggers are an important resource for any teacher looking to introduce tablets to a classroom. Not only do they give a personal perspective on their experiences with tablets, but also give practical advice on how to actually implement the technology.
Learning with iPads is an Australian blog based in the suburb of Parramatta, with reports on how iPads have had an impact on schools, reviews of specific apps for using with an iPad, and toolkits for using with iPad apps.
iPadsforEducation, an initiative from the Department of Education in Victoria, Australia have an excellent booklet containing classroom ideas for learning with an iPad. The booklet goes through selecting apps, online collaborations, and how to practically get started with tablets with your students.
Sabrina Huber has written another report on implementing iPads in the classroom with prerequisites for teaching, useful software, and guidelines for any new iPad teacher.
Tufts University have a Getting Started Guide developed for their pilot project that have a list of initial apps useful to consider when starting to use an iPad with students.
The PACER center for children with disabilities have an ‘All About Apps for Education’ handout with a huge list of resources for new iPad users. This handout asks simple questions such as ‘Which device is right’ that are highly important to consider prior to handing out iPads to students.
Newington College, in Linfield Australia has another excellent report of their experiences implementing tablets with their students. The have a list of recommended apps for student use, samples of work and handy tips and tricks for using tablets in the classroom.
Acer and European Schoolnet have produced a report based on a project implementing tablets in 63 European schools in 2012. In the report, there are some recommendations that are worth reading into before starting tablet usage in any classroom. These recommendations give food for thought and guidance to schools looking to take on this major change to traditional teaching methods.
Teachers can help students understand what awesome tools tablets can be by taking the time to introduce the tablets to students, letting them play around a bit and then exposing them to multiple ways tablets can be used, even the less creative and innovative ways. Teachers should also pay attention to students and be open to hearing their ideas for how tablets can be used. The more tablets are used in a classroom and the more students are encouraged to explore the different ways they can be used, the more integral they will become in the classroom environment.
Samantha Kotey is the editor for AvatarGeneration and has a background in educational technology and virtual worlds. A mom of two, she is passionate about all things related to toys and technology.